Bark Voyage: Traveling With Pets

Pet owners choosing to travel domestically while following the appropriate precautions or those planning a post-COVID adventure may be apprehensive about leaving their animal companion at home during their vacation. Carrying a critter cross-country may seem daunting, but with the proper planning, owners should be confident that they can get their furry friend where they need to go.

A black and white dog travels in a car

Dr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that pet owners need to notify their airline, lodging, and veterinarian of their intention to travel with their pet as early as possible. Owners should also reach out to the appropriate authorities to ensure their pet has the proper documentation.

“Technically, any transport of an animal across state lines requires a USDA health certificate issued by a USDA certified veterinarian,” Rutter said. It is best to check the specific requirements of your destination to ensure that you are in compliance with all relevant laws and regulations when you arrive.

When obtaining the proper documentation from your veterinarian, owners should ensure that their pet is up to date on all vaccinations, heartworm prevention, ectoparasite (such as fleas and ticks) prevention, has a registered microchip with current contact information, and has a legible tag on their collar or harness. Tags should include a pet’s name, an emergency phone number, and any pertinent medical information.

“If your pet receives daily medications, be sure you have enough to last through your trip and ask your veterinarian if it would be worth having a paper copy of prescriptions in case medications get lost,” Rutter said.

Owners of pets who rely on a medical device, such as a glucose monitor or pacemaker, should speak with their veterinarian about what resources are available near their destination. If your pet struggles with anxiety or motion sickness, ask your veterinarian how to best accommodate their needs during travel.

“Many of our pets don’t live terribly exciting lives when it comes to travel, so the hustle and bustle of travel can come as a real shock,” Rutter said. “Weeks before you travel, familiarize your pet with the crate or carrier that they will be traveling in. Hiding treats or feeding your pet in the carrier, providing a comfortable bed in the carrier, and going on short drives in the car (full of praise!) in the carrier can help make the travel experience less scary.”

Rutter also recommends keeping your pet in a travel crate or carrier when they are unattended in a new environment. This keeps your pet out of mischief and ensures that your pet is in a safe and familiar place. 

Owners can also help foster a familiar environment for their pet by using the same litter their cat uses at home when traveling, and by feeding them a consistent diet. Avoiding the introduction of new food and treats while traveling may also reduce the risk of digestive incidents.

Most importantly, Rutter recommends that pet owners anticipate the needs of their furry friend and prepare for emergencies. This includes carrying waste bags, water, time-sensitive medications, and at least a small portion of your pet’s food. Owners should also be aware of airport pet relief areas, as applicable.

Owners may wish to research where local emergency veterinary centers are along their route or near their destination. They may also wish to purchase pet insurance for their animal and should keep their policy on-hand when traveling. If possible, include insurance information on your pet’s collar or harness tag.

Finally, Rutter reminds owners that their furry friend may behave differently when exposed to the stressors of travel. Be sure your pet wears a collar or harness with a tag at all times while traveling in case of escape attempts. Fearful pets may also bite, so give your pet ample time to acclimate to new environments before challenging them with meeting new people and other animals, and ensure that they are properly monitored.

Although traveling with pets requires additional preparation and consideration of their special needs, it is possible to transport your furry friend safely and comfortably to wherever they need to go.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.