FX Excursions

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Traveling with Animals

by Mary Gallagher, RN, MSN, CCRN

Nov 1, 2017
Health

WHILE YOU MAY FIND IT HARD to be away from your pets, they may be more stressed by traveling with you. Some animals aren’t suited for travel due to temperament, illness or physical impairment.

Think about where your pets would be happiest. You may think they won’t tolerate separation; but if you must leave them in a hotel room or strange kennel, they will be more anxious. Leaving them at home with a sitter is probably a better choice.

Cats do not enjoy change. It can cause them major stress and lead to behavior problems. Unless you are moving or going away for an extended period, get a pet sitter so your cat will not have to experience the stress of a long ride in a crate and a new living arrangement.

Make sure your animal is up to date on all vaccinations and in good health for travel. Some modes of travel and destinations require a veterinary exam. If your veterinarian thinks your pet is suited for travel, he may prescribe a sedative and recommend a trial run to observe its effects. Do not give your pet any drug not prescribed by your veterinarian. If you decide to take your pet along, check into pet-related restrictions set by airlines, destination countries or states, and hotels. Keep your pet’s health certificate and medical records (especially rabies vaccinations) at hand.

The safest way for your dog to travel in the car is in a crate anchored to the vehicle using a seatbelt or other means. Dog restraints or seatbelts may prevent your dog from roaming around the car but cannot protect it during a crash. Most cats aren’t comfortable traveling in cars, so keep them in a carrier restrained with a seatbelt.

Keep your pet in the backseat. If your pet is in the front passenger seat (even in a crate), a deployed airbag could injure it. Pets allowed to stick their heads out the window can be injured by debris or become sick from cold air forced into their lungs. Never transport a pet in the back of an open pickup truck. Stop frequently to allow pets to exercise and eliminate, but never permit them to leave the car without a collar, ID tag and leash. Whenever possible, share driving and pet caretaking duties with a fellow traveler so you can use rest stops while someone keeps an eye on your pet.

Heat presents a particular danger. When it’s 72 degrees Fahrenheit outside, the temperature inside your car can reach 116 degrees in an hour. On an 85-degree day, even with windows slightly open, the temperature inside can reach 102 degrees in 10 minutes. If you are delayed just 30 minutes, you could return to a 120-degree car and a pet suffering irreversible organ damage or death.

If you plan to bring your pet on vacation, driving is usually a better option than flying. If you must fly, your pet will probably be healthier and happier left in the care of a pet sitter or boarding kennel. The Humane Society of the United States recommends weighing the risks if you must fly with your pet. Air travel is particularly dangerous for animals with “pushed-in” faces (brachycephaly) such as bulldogs, pugs and Persian cats. Their short nasal passages leave them vulnerable to oxygen deprivation and heat stroke.

Most airlines allow a limited number of cats or small dogs to travel in the cabin for a fee, but you must call well in advance; make sure your dog meets size requirements. Also find out if the airline has specific requirements for health and immunization, pet carrier types and rules for transporting pets in the cargo hold. Companies such as BringFido can help you navigate the process.

Your pet’s carrier will pass through security screening; you can harness your pet so you can safely contain it outside the carrier during the X-ray process, or request a secondary screening so the pet can remain in the carrier.

While most animals traveling in the cargo area are fine, some are killed, injured or lost each year, often due to excessively hot or cold temperatures, poor ventilation and rough handling. Most U.S. airlines must report companion animal incidents in the cargo hold; study the performance record of your airline.

If your pet must travel in cargo, use direct flights to avoid mistakes during transfers and delays and travel on the same flight. Request to watch your pet being loaded and unloaded. When you board the plane, notify the captain and crew your pet is traveling in cargo; the captain may take special precautions. Choose flights that accommodate the temperature extremes in summer and winter.

Fit your pet with a collar that can’t get caught in a carrier door, and affix a travel label to the carrier. Give your pet at least a month to become familiar with the travel carrier. Do not feed your pet for four to six hours before the trip. Try not to fly with your pet during busy travel times such as holidays and summer. Carry a current photograph of your pet. When you arrive, open the carrier as soon as you are in a safe place and examine your pet.

Aside from assistance dogs, pets are welcome on only a few cruise lines, usually on ocean crossings. Some lines permit pets in private cabins, but most confine them to kennels. Contact your cruise line regarding policies and availability of kennels. Make sure the kennel is protected from the elements, and check on your pet frequently.

Amtrak allows pets on select trains and service animals on all lines. The Humane Society supports the Pets on Trains Act that would require Amtrak to allow pets on passenger trains. Some smaller U.S. railroad companies permit animals, as do many trains in Europe.

The content of this article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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