Behavior and Training, Pet Care Basics

Fourteen Tips for Traveling with Pets

Donald Bramlage, DVM

December 2, 2021

cat in crate

Taking the family on a trip quite often includes pets. Here are fourteen easy steps you can take to make your travel experience and visit pleasant for everyone, including your pet.

Cat and Dog Travel Tips

  1. Make sure your pet’s identification tags are up to date. If your pet is not microchipped, think about getting them chipped and registered for permanent identification. If something happens and they get away from you, the chip will trace them back to you and you can retrieve them quickly. Local shelters all have microchip scanners that will read their chip and find the information to get them home. If you take your pet to Canada, you will need a universal microchip (also called an ISO chip), as well as a health certificate from your veterinarian.
  2. Get a carrier just big enough for them to sleep and turn around. Our pets are den animals – they like a secure place where they can guard the door and feel secure.
  3. Bring a bed, rug or a blanket they sleep on at home. Place it in an out-of-the-way spot in the same area you are in, like the living room, and show them. They will know where to go to safely take a nap when they need one. Dogs sleep 14 hours a day and puppies sleep at least 16.
  4. The safest way to travel is with your dog or cat in a kennel. Pets that are kennel trained as babies find this very secure and enjoy getting to ride along in a familiar kennel. Should you have a traffic crash or even need to swerve to avoid an accident, your pet will be much safer in a crate or kennel than if they are loose in the car. If you travel with your pet out of the carrier, train them to stay on a rug covering the back seat or use a seat cover. If they jump in with muddy feet after a rest stop, the mess stays on the rug or covering. No stress for anyone, including the dog. Place the bed on top for comfort on long trips.
  5. Have identification on the outside of the pet’s crate indicating the dog’s name and your contact information. This is important if you are injured or otherwise not with the vehicle or the crate. Include an alternate phone number in the event you are incapacitated.
  6. Leash your dog or cat before opening the car door when traveling. Be sure the leash is one you cannot slip and preferably a one-piece like Mendota leashes. These leads relax when calm but tighten when they pull or get excited without warning. If you don’t know Mendota leashes, get one. These are handmade by a dog owner in Minnesota; it’s the last lead you will buy!
  7. If your dog is nervous or a first-time traveler, start a calming agent like a ThunderEase Dog Calming Collar. For pets who become car sick, ask your veterinarian for a prescription for Cerenia prior to travel. If you believe your pet suffers from anxiety, ask your veterinarian for an anti-anxiety medication for short-term use, and be sure to try it out in advance of travel so you can adjust the dose according to their needs.
  8. Feed them lightly before you leave. You can put a little shredded cheese in their food to get them to eat one hour before leaving. If your pet is prone to car sickness, feed them ginger snaps two hours before leaving and repeat one hour into the trip. Ginger prevents car sickness and works well for kids as well!
  9. If you are camping with your pet, call ahead to make sure pets are accepted where you plan to stay. Some campgrounds ask for health certificates to make sure your pet will not give diseases to other pets. It is a good way to ensure disease prevention by the campground. There are many pet-friendly hotels and campgrounds, so plan your trip accordingly.
  10. Airlines have different rules and regulations when it comes to flying with a dog or cat, but the common one is first come, first serve. Most have a limited number of carry-on pets and usually only allow one. If your pet must travel in the cargo area, arrive early and place your pet in the carrier yourself – it will be less stressful if you place them in a carrier that has a familiar home scent. Airline personnel have pets of their own and will do their best to accommodate your pet. They should sleep the trip and arrive safely.
  11. Bring food/water bowls. Most rest areas have water access for your pet, but you should use your own bowl to prevent exposure to disease from other pets that drank from the water. Water is easy with collapsible bowls, which take up no storage space in the car. When you get to your destination, ask permission for a good place to put the bowls, such as a kitchen or back porch; give them water and show it to them. A place mat keeps area easy to clean and catches water drips, as well as prevents people from stepping on the bowls and spilling.
  12. On arrival, bring the dog in on a leash and allow him to greet people. Keep the dog on a leash when putting down water and beds. Let them drink and take them on a short walk outside to be sure they empty their bladder after the excitement of being in a new environment. When they have calmed, you can take them inside and remove the leash. When company arrives, leash the dog before they come in. This allows some control until the initial excitement passes. Not everyone appreciates an excited dog, but your dog feels they came just to see them. Leash the dog before they overwhelm company!
  13. Place the pet carrier in your bedroom and open the door for access. Place the bed in the family room and be sure the pet knows where it is. For cats, place the bed on the furniture after you ask permission and put the cat in it. Cats like being up high.
  14. Always place the pet in their carrier when leaving the house. They know the carrier and won’t get into trouble there. They will soon settle and sleep as they are usually behind on naps. Never lock them in a room or a bath! Think of it like being trapped in an elevator; the pet does not understand it is temporary. You risk coming back to a torn up carpet or door; not worth the risk. It helps to put a treat or toy in the carrier with them. It will keep them busy for several hours, and then you’ll be home!

Some pets hate to travel and would prefer to be left at home. If this is your pet, you should consider getting family or a friend to care for your pet while you are gone. There are also many good boarding facilities that can accommodate the family pet.

Most pets will tolerate traveling, but with a little planning, you can ensure your pets are safe and comfortable – and your traveling memories will be positive!

For additional tips on traveling with dogs and cats, call us at 800.786.4751.

Last updated by Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine 

Written by: Donald Bramlage, DVM

Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.

If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.