Going Home for the Holidays? Travel Tips for Dogs and Cats

Holiday travel — two words that are typically followed by “bah humbug.”

Before you head home with your pet this holiday season, you should know that there are ways to make long distance journeys more enjoyable for both of you.

With more than 103 million Americans expected to travel for the year-end holidays, according to AAA, we asked experts at Best Friends Animal Society for their best suggestions for traveling by car and in the air with furry friends.

“My two biggest bits of advice are planning and practice,” says Jenn Corsun, manager of Best Friends Animal Society’s Cat World. “Obviously, you can’t plan for everything but a little can go a long way.”

Read on for more top travel tips for both cats and dogs.

Traveling with Dogs by Car:

1. Make car travel a positive experience for your dog. Lexi Donnelly, behavior consultant team lead for Best Friends Animal Society’s Dogtown, thinks you should ask yourself a very important question before hitting the road with your pup: Does my dog like the car? “If yes, you are good to go,” Donnelly says, “If not, working on some basic counter conditioning can help your dog get more comfortable while riding. Anytime your dog is near, getting into, or in the car, make sure they get lots of yummy treats (as long as they don’t get car sick).”

2. Restraints or crates in cars are important. Listen up, drivers: it’s super dangerous to allow animals in your lap while you’re behind the wheel. Restraints can prevent this from happening, and also prevent dogs from slipping out a door that accidentally opens. “There are many devices on the market for this, many are seat belts and harnesses,” she adds. “Dogs can also ride comfortably in crates in cars, this is an easy way to keep them comfortable and in one place.”

3. Don’t forget to bring health information or medications. Maybe this goes without saying, but you need to pack your pet’s bag carefully. “Make sure to bring along a travel kit with food, water, and any medication your pet needs,” Donnelly says. “If you are traveling across state lines you will need a health certificate stating that your pet is up to date on vaccines and healthy to travel, this is completed by a veterinarian.”

Traveling with Dogs by Airplane:

1. Check your airline restrictions. Airline websites will be a good source of information, including what types of crates/kennels are allowed on board. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, call the airline prior to your departure date. “Certain breeds and sizes may not be allowed on board or in the cabin,” Donnelly explains.

2. Crate comfort will go a long way. Your departure date is not a good day to introduce your canine to his crate! Ease the dog into the travel process by planning ahead and giving him time to get used to the confined space. “You’ll want your dog to be very comfortable with a crate so that they feel comfortable while flying,” Donnelly says. “Give your dog ‘crate time’ before you fly by feeding them and giving them treats inside the crate to practice with the door shut.”

3. Supplies in the friendly skies are key. Definitely bring a travel kit with extra food, water, and any medication your pet may need during their flight. “Many airlines require a veterinary health certification if the dog is flying cargo stating that they are healthy enough for the flight,” Donnelly says, so do a thorough check on what’s required.

Traveling with Cats by Car:

1. Bring health and identifying information with you. Like, for instance, proof that your cat is up-to-date on all vaccinations, which can be obtained from your vet. Make sure the cat has a good quality safety collar with up-to-date ID tag (I recommend a microchip also, just in case) to wear while traveling,” says Corsun, manager at Best Friends’ Cat World. And, of course, enough of your cat’s medications to last the entire trip and at least a week afterwards (Hey, always expect the unexpected!)

2. Be careful when opening car doors. If you need to open your cat’s carrier during your trip do not open it unless all the car doors are closed. “Even the most predictable cat can become unpredictable while traveling,” she says. She suggests lining the carrier with pee pads, in case of accidents, and also putting a cozy bed inside.

3. For extended road trips, book cat-friendly hotels in advance. If you’re on the road more than one day, do your research ahead of time so you’re not left stranded. “You need to specifically ask about cats since some hotels who call themselves ‘pet-friendly’ do not allow cats,” she explains.

4. Staying at a hotel? Do a safety check. A large crate or cage can be a safe spot for your cat to hang while you recharge.Wherever you stop, check the area for hazards,” Corsun says, “be sure all doors are closed, and that all windows are covered with secure screens or closed before letting the cat out of the carrier.”

5. If your cat gets carsick, ask your vet for advice. “Talk to your vet ahead of time to come up with a plan that may include medications,” she says, adding that a small dinner the day before travel is best but it’s not advisable to allow free feeding (access to water is OK). “On the road, keep meals reasonable (this is not the time to overfeed) and don’t give them too many treats.”

Traveling with Cats by Airplane:

1. Check your airline restrictions. If the cat is flying in cabin, be sure to let the airline know you will be flying with a cat. Get necessary travel details from the airline in advance and make sure you purchase the proper carrier. There are also specific requirements when sending a cat via cargo,” Corsun says, so it’s important to research that in advance.

2. Familiarize your feline with your cat carrier. “If you do not know how your cat will travel it is a good idea to practice by putting them in the carrier and going for a short drive,” Corsun suggests. “Be sure to reward the cat for a job well done when you return home. You can go on more than one practice drive making each one a little longer and always treating on return.” Before you leave for your trip, try leaving the carrier open in your house, putting bedding inside of it, and feeding the cat inside of it.

3. Pack a small pet travel kit. Unscented baby wipes, paper towels or rags, and small garbage bags are all good to have on hand. Before you embark on your trip, Corsun also suggests spraying the carrier and bedding with Feliway, to help your cat remain calm in flight. It’s also helpful to check a bag with supplies needed at your destination — like food, favorite toys and a litter box and litter scoop.

4. Be ready to take the cat out of the carrier at the airport. This is easier said than done for many kitties, but there are ways to help facilitate it. “For cats that are used to it, it is great to have a comfortable harness on them in the carrier so you can attach a leash before letting them out,” she says. “If you have concerns about this, request that you bring the cat into a quiet, small room or other enclosed space before taking the cat out.”

For more pet care resources, visit Best Friends Animal Society’s website.

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Amy Jamieson

A former senior editor for People.com, Amy launched People Pets for People magazine in 2008. Now she writes about pets, lifestyle and more from her bucolic saltbox in Collinsville, Connecticut, usually with a cat in her lap and a dog at her feet.

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