Our pets aren’t just pets, they’re our friends and family members, too. So sometimes, a family vacation isn't complete without them. Whether you're driving a couple hours or flying across the country, there are some important variables to consider when you travel with a pet. Travel can be especially stressful for them and, if you’re not prepared, that only makes the trip more stressful for everyone. Before you book your travel, keep these five tips in mind.
1. BRUSH UP ON PET SAFETY.
Before anything else, you want to make sure your pet travels safely, and that means heeding some basic precautions. For example, leaving your pet in the car can be life-threatening, especially when the weather heats up. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that hundreds of pets die from heat exhaustion every year. And at least one study, published in the Journal of the Louisiana State Medical Society, found that cracked windows make very little difference in how hazardous your car’s temperature is to your pet. Your best bet? Just don’t do it.
Dee Power, a travel blogger who frequently brings her two dogs along when she travels (and writes about their adventures), tells mental_floss it's important to prepare for the worst—your pet getting lost in an unfamiliar place. “Have your pet microchipped. Engrave your cell phone—not your home landline—on the back of their license tag,” she says. “Have a recent photo of your dog with you when you travel. That way if, heaven forbid, your dog gets away from you, the photo can be used for flyers.”
Make sure to write your pet’s name and identification on the carrier, too, including both your origin and destination addresses. This way, if your pet gets lost at any point during the journey, you’ll have both locations covered.
2. GET THEIR MOTION SICKNESS UNDER CONTROL.
Just like people, pets can get carsick, airsick, or seasick. "If you know that your pet is nervous by nature, traveling can be extremely overwhelming,” veterinarian Dr. Carol Osborne tells mental_floss. “If your pet becomes motion sick, bring along some ginger cookies to help settle the stomach.”
While ginger is safe for dogs and cats and can help ease their motion sickness, you can check with your veterinarian for more powerful medications if you know your pet has a history of nausea while traveling. According to Veterinary Centers of America (VCA), some motion sickness and anti-anxiety medications need to be given days before your trip, so make sure you’re clear on the dosage requirements. VCA adds that it’s best to withhold food 12 hours before travel, as an empty stomach will help reduce nausea. They also suggest hanging a water bottle (like this one) from your pet’s carrier to keep them hydrated during the journey.
3. OBTAIN THE RIGHT PAPERWORK.
“If traveling to another state or by plane, you will need a health certificate from your vet 10 to 30 days prior to travel,” Osborne says. “Make sure his ID tags are up to date and legible.”
Regardless of whether or not you’re crossing state lines, you should make an appointment with your vet before any big trip. This way, he or she can confirm that your pet is healthy enough to travel and is up-to-date on vaccinations.
Depending on your destination, the state or country might have additional health or documentation requirements (this is particularly true for exotic pets, like reptiles or birds). The United States Department of Agriculture has a useful online tool to help you sort it all out.
4. PREPARE FOR TAKE OFF.
Pet policies vary by airline, too. Make sure to research these policies thoroughly, including how much it will cost to fly with your pet, where they’ll have to stay during the flight, and whether there are any restrictions on how many pets you can travel with.
Here are the basic policies of a few popular airlines:
American Airlines: They charge $125 per carrier each way and allow small cats and dogs in the cabin of the aircraft. The combined weight limit of the pet and its carrier can’t be over 20 pounds. For the most part, only cats and dogs are allowed.
United Airlines: Cats, dogs, rabbits, and birds over 8 weeks old can travel in the cabin on most U.S. flights, and the cost is $125 each way.
Virgin America: They allow cats and dogs over 8 weeks old in the cabin for a fee of $100 each way. You’ll need a veterinary certificate that proves shots are up to date and verifies your pet’s date of birth.
Keep in mind, these are just the basics, and every airline has very specific, detailed requirements (down to how big the carrier can be), so always make sure to read the fine print and check with the airline before you travel. You don’t want to be caught off guard when you arrive at the airport.
Worried about a larger pet traveling in the luggage hold? Author and active pilot Patrick Smith says, “There’s a lot of misunderstanding with respect to how pets are transported in the luggage holds. The under-floor holds are always pressurized and heated. Usually there is an area of the hold designated specifically for pets. This tends to be the zone in which temperature is most easily regulated.”
Smith adds that pet owners should take comfort in knowing that it’s fairly straightforward to maintain a comfortable temperature during a flight, and the flight crew is always notified when there are live animals below.
5. BOOK EARLY AND ARRIVE EARLY.
As travel site Bring Fido points out, many airlines have a limit on how many pets can travel on each flight, so you may want to book your ticket sooner rather than later. And it's best to do so the old-fashioned way: over the phone. Bring Fido suggests calling the airline to confirm there’s room for your pet on board, then booking while you have them on the line.
You also want to get to the airport early. Airlines usually recommend arriving two hours before departure if you’re checking in with a pet. They also require you to check-in at the counter instead of curbside or at a self-service kiosk.