I have been getting a lot of calls and questions lately about traveling with pets or what to do in lieu of taking them with you. Hopefully, this is a sign that people are not only enjoying themselves with travel adventures to new destinations, but they are enjoying these vacations with their fine furry friends, as well. I’ll try and provide an overview of some suggestions regarding the various ways to travel with your dog or cat, and some tips for those who decide to leave them at home.
If your pet is not travel-savvy, your trip is too lengthy or it just won’t work out to include them in your travel plans, you have several options: You can kennel, hire a pet-sitter, utilize favors your friends and family owe you, or get the neighborhood dog- and cat-loving kid to help you out. If you choose to kennel, do your homework. Go to the kennel for a tour. The size and scope of the kennel should fit your needs so that you are sure that the way your pet is taken care of aligns with your idea of how your pet should be cared for. Trust your instincts. If you sense something isn’t right or not clean enough, or if the staff is outnumbered or inattentive, then something IS not right. The same holds true with pet-sitting services. Interview several different sitters and get referrals from previous or present users.
If you do take them, keep in mind that dogs and cats are pretty different animals, anyway, but especially so when it comes to becoming travel companions. Cats generally can travel or they can’t. You only know by trying. If you start traveling when she is still a kitten, you can generally get her accustomed to road trips. A good way is to treat your kitten like a dog and include her on short trips around town. Some cats do well in a carrier, and others with free reign. My late cat, Luther, used to love it under the brake pedal or clutch. Needless to say, he got crated when I couldn’t convince him to give up his favorite spot.
Air travel with cats falls into two categories: with you or in the cargo hold. Traveling with you is better for both parties, based on the mutual comforting factor of being able to see one another. There is nothing wrong with the hold though, as airlines have strict rules for when, where and how your cat (or dog) is transported. Check with your air carrier well before the trip to understand your options.
Dogs generally are more used to the car than cats, but may not be ready for vacation-travel distances. Tailor your carrier to your dog’s size, penchant for drooling and shedding capacity. Car sickness and travel don’t mix, so try to rid your dog’s queasiness early in life by making the adversity of the car a thing of the past. Train your dog not to be sick. Start without driving anywhere, just sit in the car and reward with treats before branching out on short jaunts to the end of the street, always returning before nausea sets in. Gradually extend those trips, always returning before the sickness begins, and you can usually beat motion sickness.
Frankly, the better behaved, socialized, and adjusted the dog or cat is, the more likely they are to be enjoyable travel companions. A well-behaved dog or cat will be content with the limits or rules you have about what is acceptable in the car or on the plane.
Then comes the great debate: to tranquilize or not to tranquilize? My opinion is that if your pet has never taken a tranquilizer, the last place you should try it for the first time is on a road trip. I really don’t like to recommend it for pets in the belly of an airplane. There is just no way to tell what is going on with your pet down there, so adding drugs can’t help matters. You can pre-test your pet’s reaction to tranquilization at home, but keep in mind, home is not Highway 70 or 36,000 feet in the air, so the results may be vastly different. If your pet can tolerate travel, even with some anxiety, I would say to travel drug-free. We have all heard the stories of the cat that yowled the whole way to Florida and back. Those guys need tranquilizers— two for you, one for the cat!
Always have plenty of fresh water on board. Bring all the food and treats and a litter box. Make frequent stops, if driving, and maybe make the trip in separate travel legs. Be extra cautious in these unfamiliar surroundings so your buddy doesn’t go missing at some rest area. Multiple travel days are not as conducive to tranquilizing animals, as you have to keep remedicating them and you could end up with one seriously ‘gorked out’ loved one. You may even want to map out some veterinary hospitals along the route, in case of emergency. So, hit the road, Jack, and take to the sky, and enjoy your destination with your best friend!
Dr. Kenneth Geoghegan, of Village Veterinary Hospital in Warson Woods (villagevethosp.com), has been a neighborhood veterinarian since 1992.