Traveling with pets can be a bonding experience or a nightmare, depending on a pet’s temperament and the owner’s preparedness.
It was hard to tell whether Donna Schuch or Miss Kitty was more frazzled as this disheveled duo stood between two conveyor belts at the security area of Southwest Florida International Airport.
Other passengers tried to help as the 84-year-old in stocking feet attempted to simultaneously locate Miss Kitty’s carrier, her shoes, her purse and her carry-on bag, all with an officer waiting to swab her hands for a random security check. Tucked under Schuch’s arm, Miss Kitty — a fluffy, six-pound calico who is normally quite spirited — seemed just as overwhelmed as her owner. She had already gotten sick and soiled herself inside the carrier, and they hadn’t even boarded the plane.
“She looked like a drowned rat and she stunk,” recalls Schuch of her first attempt at flying with a cat last year. “I was so embarrassed. Thank God for nice people.”
Although the experience was stressful, Schuch had done her research and made sure Miss Kitty had an airline-approved carrier. And thankfully, she had arrived at the airport early for their flight from Estero to her northern residence in Pittsburgh.
“I’m so glad I lived to be 84 to experience this!” she recalls with a sense of humor. “One of the highlights of my life was getting my cat to Pittsburgh.”
Since Schuch spends several months up North each summer, she had little choice but to take Miss Kitty with her. For shorter trips and vacations, however, pet owners should consider whether their animals might be happier in a boarding facility, say local pet experts.
“Pets are close to the emotional level of a two-year-old,” explains Dr. Laura Laxton, a Fear-Free certified professional and hospital administrator at Pets First Wellness Center in Estero. “A change in their routine can be very stressful.”
If your dog likes playing with other dogs, then a kennel may be a welcomed experience, she says. However, senior pets and cats may be happier at home with a trusted pet sitter.
For pets who are up for traveling, advanced planning is the most important tip for having a fun adventure, Laxton advises. Step one is a trip to the vet.
“For the health and safety of your pets, they need to be up-to-date on vaccinations and monthly parasite prevention,” she notes. “Pets are easily exposed to infectious diseases and parasites at rest stops or airports where numerous animals have visited.”
It’s also important to have proper identification, she adds. Bring along health records, and have your pet wear an ID tag with the owner’s mobile phone number and other important information. Microchips are also a good idea.
Next, you will need to line up pet-friendly accommodations along the travel route and at the final destination.
“The only time I would recommend you bring your dog along is if you’re absolutely certain your dog is going to be welcomed wherever you are,” advises Debi Braendle, co-owner of Bonita Boarding Kennel and Pet Camp. Clients frequently tell her of relatives who refuse to let their dogs stay there, or hotels which were once pet-friendly having changed their policies.
Traveling with a pet is similar to traveling with an infant or toddler: you’ll need extra luggage, proper safety equipment and supplies for regular feedings and potty breaks. When traveling by air, check the airline’s policies and requirements for carriers. It’s best not to fly with animals too large to be in the cabin with you unless it’s absolutely necessary. If your dog must fly in the cargo hold, book a direct flight when possible, and travel only when temperatures are not too hot or cold, Laxton advises.
For car travel, proper restraints are still necessary. Enthusiastic pets can distract drivers and cause accidents. Securing pets also prevents injury and ensures they won’t go flying in the event of an abrupt stop.
There are a variety of restraints available, including pet seat belts, vehicle pet barriers and pet car seats (ranging from $40 booster seats to deluxe “snoozers” of more than $100). If pets are not accustomed to traveling, it’s best to go on several short trips to acclimate them to the restraints.
Cats and dogs which will be traveling by crate or carrier also need to be positively conditioned for the experience.
“Train them that the carrier is a fun place to be by leaving it out for several days in advance, having tasty treats inside for them to find, or putting their favorite toys inside,” Laxton advises. “Never force your pet into or out of a carrier; they should feel safe inside.”
Likewise, if you decide to leave your pet in a boarding facility when you travel, it’s best to do a “test run.”
“If a dog has never boarded before, I recommend a day of daycare first so they know you will return,” says Braendle. “They also get comfortable with the smells, and the staff can see if they will have any problems getting socialized.”
Most dogs love playing with other canines, she adds. Many cats also enjoy time in the feline play room.
“It’s like a children’s daycare,” says Braendle. “They make friends here.”
Social interaction is just one reason Braendle recommends kenneling over leaving pets at home with a neighbor looking after them.
“I think it’s better when you leave your dog or cat with a professional and make sure they are getting proper care, attention and exercise,” she adds. “All of our technicians are certified in pet CPR and pet first aid. Will your neighbor recognize signs of distress?”
Whether pet owners decide to take their four-legged family members with them on vacation or to send them to pet camp for the week, advanced planning is a must.
When Schuch and Miss Kitty head back to Pittsburgh at the end of the month, she will be more prepared. One thing she will do differently is to limit Miss Kitty’s food and water intake the day of travel.
“I am going to see if I have learned anything and if she has learned anything,” Schuch says. “I know what to do now; I’m prepared.”
TIPS FOR TRAVELING WITH PETS
- Always use proper safety restraints for air or vehicle travel
- Bring health and vaccination records for your pet
- Make sure your pet is microchipped and has a tag with your phone number on it
- Pack a travel kit with food, water, a bowl, leash, bedding, waste supplies, favorite toys, first aid and medications
- Keep feeding to a minimum and plan plenty of pit stops
- Never leave your pet alone in a parked vehicle
Find more tips on traveling with pets at: