Planning a trip can be stressful no matter the circumstances. When you want to include the family pet in your plans, you have a whole new list of things to worry about, including packing the right equipment, checking your hotel’s pet policy, and making sure your pet meets the travel criteria for the state or country you’re visiting. But if you’re aware of the steps you need to take, traveling with your pet can be a positive experience for all involved. Mental Floss spoke with Dr. Danielle Bernal, a veterinarian with Wellness Natural Pet Food, about what to keep in mind before hitting the road with your furry companion.
1. Keep pets comfortable in a travel crate.
You may be tempted to give your pet plenty of room on long car trips, but giving them a confined space that’s their own is usually the better option. According to Bernal, “It’s often better for the dog, because if they’re crate-trained, that’s their area of security.” It’s safer as well: An animal is much better off in a durable crate than it is sliding around untethered in the backseat of a car.
2. Don’t fill your pet’s crate with toys.
Giving your pet lots of toys to play with at home is a good thing—but on long car trips it’s a different story. Packing every toy your pet loves into their crate takes up what little room they have to themselves. If the crate is too full, it can be impossible for them to move around and adjust their position. “Yes, you want them to be comfortable, but also you don’t want to fill that crate up,” Bernal says. “So almost less is more.”
3. Make sure you have all the correct paperwork.
If you’re planning a long trip with your pet, you won’t get very far without the right paperwork. Many places require incoming pets to have an up-to-date health certificate signed by an accredited veterinarian. Before signing the documents, vets will confirm that your pet is healthy and up-to-date on all vaccinations required by the receiving state or country. If you’re flying, contact the airline to see if any other special paperwork is required to transport your animal.
4. Make it easier to find your pet if they get lost.
An unfamiliar location miles away from home is the worst place to lose your pet. Before your trip, make sure they’re easy to find in case the worst happens. Implanting a microchip under your dog or cat’s skin will make them trackable no matter where in the country they wander off to. If you’re not willing to commit to that procedure, at least make sure the contact information on their tags is up-to-date—that way, they’re more likely to be returned to satefy if someone finds them.
5. Skip a meal on travel days.
No matter how accommodating you are to your pet, some anxiety on their part is inevitable. Bernal says a common symptom of this is stress diarrhea—which is the last thing pet owners want to deal with on a long car or plane ride. Even if your pet doesn’t seem stressed before the trip, plain old motion sickness can upset your animal’s stomach rather quickly. Bernal recommends feeding them less than you usually would prior to traveling to avoid future accidents: “If you have a pet you know has those sensitivities, I would keep their tummy empty. It will be good for the pet and it will be nicer for everyone in the car too.” That doesn’t mean you should starve your pet if they’re begging for food; just skip the last meal you would normally feed them before beginning your journey.
6. Keep your pet hydrated.
Without regular access to water whenever they need it, pets can get easily dehydrated when traveling. Keep this in mind when traveling and pack extra water for your four-legged passenger. Allowing animals to self-regulate their water intake, perhaps by attaching a bowl to the inside of their crate, is ideal, but if that’s not possible, stop frequently to give them a chance to drink. Another way to keep them feeling good is to feed them wet food instead of dry; according to Bernal, the water content in wet food can help hydrate pets.
7. keep them occupied with a toy.
If you can only give your pet one toy on a long trip, choose something that will keep them busy for as long as possible. Bernal recommends puzzle dog toys like those you’ll find from the pet brand Kong. When your dog is preoccupied on reaching the treat inside the toy, it’s harder for them to focus on anything else—including the stress of traveling to a new place.
8. Never leave your pet in a car alone.
Hopefully this is common sense for most pet parents, but Bernal emphasizes that this is the most important thing to remember when traveling with an animal—especially during the summer months. “Don’t leave them in a locked car,” she says. “It takes seven minutes for them to basically move into a situation where it becomes fatal.” It doesn’t matter if you crack a window or if you’re only stepping out of your car for a few minutes. If it’s a hot day, dogs should never be left alone in a vehicle. “We need to make sure that all pet parents are aware of that,” Bernal says.
9. Choose pet-friendly accommodations.
You may love your pet, but that doesn’t mean the owner of the hotel or Airbnb where you’re staying will love them, too; be mindful of this when booking accommodations for your trip. There are plenty of hotels that offer perks for pet owners, like doggie daycare, but even if a place doesn’t advertise their pet policy, it doesn’t hurt to call and ask (or simply confirm what you’re reading online so that there are no surprises when you arrive).
10. Make your travel destination feel like home.
Your pet’s crate may not be the best place for all their toys, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pack them when going on vacation. Bringing their favorite items from home can make pets feel more at ease when they arrive at an unfamiliar destination. “Pack things that are familiar to them, so when they arrive at a new spot they’re like: ‘Ok, I feel a lot more comfortable,’” Bernal says. “It helps with their anxiety.” And you shouldn’t stop at toys: Packing their bed, bowl, and blanket can have the same calming effect.
11. Know when it’s best to leave your pet at home.
Not every vacation is improved by bringing your pet along. If you plan on spending most of your trip in places that don’t allow animals, like museums, restaurants, and theme parks, it may be best to leave your pet at a kennel or with a sitter or trusted friend. Even if the vacation is pet-friendly, it may not be a good fit for an animal that’s especially anxious. “If you have a nervous dog, he’s actually going to be happier in his home if someone just comes in and feeds him,” Bernal says. Your pet will forgive you for having fun without them.