How to Take Your Pet Along for the Ride (or Flight)
When Caroline Perkins, 61, was planning to fly her springer spaniel Calvin from Sacramento to Seattle a few years ago, she asked her veterinarian for something to help him keep calm in the cargo hold. The sedative had “the opposite effect,” she said, and during the flight the dog chewed a hole the size of his head in his hard plastic carrier.
“Since then, we’ve been driving,” said Ms. Perkins.
Millions of American households adopted a pet during the pandemic when they were stuck at home. Now, as many have started to travel again, they want to take their animals with them.
At Vacasa, a vacation-rental management company, reservations that included guests with dogs this summer were up 59 percent over last. “Pet friendly” has become the third most-used search filter by guests looking for rooms on Hilton Hotels’ website and the “pets allowed” search filter is one of the most popular filters on Vrbo, the home rental site, according to those companies.
The hospitality industry is encouraging the trend. According to the website BringFido.com, which focuses on travel with pets, 44 percent of U.S. hotels now allow pets compared with 22 percent before the pandemic, with some newly offering dog beds, bowls, toys, treats and recreation information for nearby parks. Last year, Hilton partnered with Mars Petcare, a company that owns animal hospitals and multiple pet food brands, to offer guests online help with veterinary questions about their cats and dogs while they were staying at its properties. And more airports now have “pet relief stations” to make traveling easier.
“People got very attached to their pets during the pandemic,” said Brian Collins, a veterinarian at the Cornell Riney Canine Health Center, in Ithaca, N.Y. Another reason for bringing an animal along, he said, was that some pets adopted during the pandemic are more prone to separation anxiety because they were rarely left alone, and they didn’t get the chance to be socialized with other people and animals. “Those pets may not do as well in a kennel or with a sitter,” he said.
There are benefits and limitations to traveling with your companion animal. When Heather Beebe, a management consultant from Quebec, and her family travel with their golden retriever mix Mila, “people stop us to pet her and talk to us,” she said. “It’s a way to make connections.” On the other hand, “We can’t leave her alone in a hotel room because she barks and so we always have her with us, which limits the places we can go.”
Dr. Collins said that choosing to take the family pet on vacation means the planning should revolve more around them. “You can’t leave them alone at your campsite if you want to take a hike. You shouldn’t leave them in the hotel room all day while you are out sightseeing.” If your plans involve having to leave an animal alone for a substantial amount of time, it may be better for it to stay home.
But if you’re thinking of bringing your pet with you on vacation, these tips will help make the trip safe and comfortable.
Check the rules
Make sure your pet is allowed in the hotel room, R.V. rental, ship, train or plane. Some travel company websites will specify rules regarding the type of animal, size, age minimum, inoculation status or number of pets allowed. You can also call or email ahead to check.
For instance, Amtrak allows small dogs and cats to travel (in their carriers) for train journeys up to seven hours in coach class. Larger animals are prohibited, except for service dogs. Rental car and R.V. companies generally allow pets, but rules may vary between locations. Bringing a towel to place where the dog will sit can help avoid extra cleaning fees. Cruise ships generally take only service animals aboard. One exception is the Cunard’s trans-Atlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2, which offers kennels and a place for dogs to play and exercise. The animals are not allowed in the passenger cabins.
At national parks, pets are generally allowed but each park has its own rules so it’s best to check ahead. Pets are often restricted to developed areas like picnic and camp grounds and must be on a leash.
By law, service dogs are welcome everywhere and do not need to be in carriers.
Know before you fly
Only pets small enough to fit in a ventilated pet carrier that fits under the seat in front of the passenger are allowed in the cabin and only a certain number may be allowed per flight, so make your reservation early. Airline passengers must agree to keep the pet in its carrier under the seat for the entire flight.
While service dogs do not need to be in carriers, emotional support animals are no longer considered to be service animals, so you can’t take an emotional support animal out of its carrier to snuggle.
Each airline has its own rules and prices. For example, United Airlines charges $125 for a dog or cat in its carrier, and it cannot be accompanying a minor. Some airlines count a pet carrier in an airplane cabin as one piece of carry-on luggage.
Some airlines allow animals to be flown in the climate-controlled cargo hold. Rules vary based on airline, type of plane, and even dates and breed. Brachycephalic, or “short-nosed,” dogs such as pugs, may be barred from cargo hold travel because they are more likely to have conditions that compromise their breathing and can worsen with the anxiety of travel. If the temperature is too extreme on the ground, airlines may refuse to fly the pet in the cargo hold.
Adam Katz, 29, of Thurston County, Wa., trains dogs for protection, companionship and obedience. He advises clients not to ship dogs in the cargo hold if possible. “There are so many avenues where something can go wrong,” he said, especially if your dog is anxious at all. “There’s all that loud noise, an unfamiliar place, turbulence, and they’re being handled by different people,” he said, “The experience can create a lot of fear in the dog.”
One option for people whose animal is too big for the airplane cabin, but needs to be moved, are companies like Citizen Shipper, of Tyler, Texas, which matches animals in need of transport with drivers.
Make sure your pet is fit to travel
The American Kennel Club suggests checking with your veterinarian to make sure your pet is up-to-date with its shots and is healthy enough to travel, especially on extended trips. It also suggests keeping the contact information of both your vet and a 24-hour veterinary emergency hospital at your destination handy, in case you need it. Health and inoculation records may be required for flight at check-in, but bring them on car trips as well to aid the vet if they need to treat your animal.
International animal travel rules are stricter and Dr. Collins suggests planning any checkups well in advance so you’re sure to have the paperwork when you get to the airport, “or you might not be able to get on the flight.”
Help your pet feel comfortable in its carrier
Training your pet to be content in its carrier will also reduce the barking, meowing or whimpering you or those around you will have to endure. The container should be big enough for your pet to stand in and turn around. In the weeks or days before your trip, place the carrier in your home and encourage your pet to spend time there for extended periods with praise and treats, said Gayle Martz, the owner of Sherpa, which sells pet carriers. En route, many pets will sleep. If yours is awake, offer a toy that will keep its attention for a while, to make the time go by more quickly for both of you.
Dr. Collins suggests a rigid crate for car rides and a soft carrier for airplane rides so it can fit under a seat but perhaps expand in the terminal.
If possible, skip the sedation and find other ways to reduce your pet’s travel anxiety, like an extra-long walk to tire them out and relax them, said Nelva Bryant, Delta Air Lines’ first-ever staff veterinarian. Medications that cause sedation may worsen underlying health conditions, she said, and owners should talk to their vets about their particular pet’s needs.
If your pet is distressed and whining in its carrier, speak to the animal in a reassuring voice to let it know you are there, said Dr. Bryant, “or give them a toy or calming treat.” The best remedy, though, is prevention, she said. “With proper training, which may take at least six to eight weeks prior to travel, your pet will view the travel crate as their safe haven.”
Make a checklist
The American Veterinary Medical Association suggests packing your pet’s favorite toys, water and food bowls, treats, leash, medication, waste bags, food and any required travel documents. If you are traveling by car, bringing a bed or favorite blanket can make an animal feel more comfortable at its destination and can help avoid stress-induced accidents, noise or destructive behavior.
Withhold the pre-travel meal
If you are worried that stress or motion sickness will upset your pet’s stomach, it’s OK to reduce or skip the last meal before the journey, said Dr. Collins. Keep your animal hydrated, though, with some access to water.
Reflective collars personalized with the pet’s name and your phone number can help reunite you if you get separated. Some owners attach an Apple Airtag to the collar. Microchipping pets is very important, said Dr. Bryant. If they are not chipped and they slip their collar, all your contact information will be gone, she said.
Use a pet harness that attaches to a seatbelt or a carrier for road trips, including in R. V.s, to keep animals safer in case of accident. “It’s imperative they are fastened and secured so they do not become a projectile,” said Ms. Martz, of Sherpa.
Pets loose in the car can also distract the driver. “When Arwin’s not in her crate, she’s trying to climb into the front seat and we have to keep pushing her back,” said Monika Bromschwag, a third-year veterinary student at Cornell University of her boyfriend’s 1-year-old golden retriever. The couple and the dog drove last spring from Colorado to Wyoming.
Other gear can make the journey easier on all involved. Specially designed pet water bottles have little bowls attached but collapsible water bowls do fine as well, said Dr. Collins. Pet backpacks allow small animals to be carried. Cat harnesses let your cat stretch their legs at a rest stop without running off. “But make sure you’ve used the harness a few times around the house first,” said Dr. Collins, so that you can put it on properly and the cat can get used to it.
Never leave a pet alone in the car, especially when temperatures are severe.
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Check out lodging before checking in
Some hotels that allow pets charge a fee per animal per night for the extra amenities and cleaning required. Travelers should look closely at the lodging’s rules and notify the property if they will be bringing a dog or cat. While Airbnb has no specific policy around pets, hosts can prohibit pets from their property and if one is brought and additional cleaning is required or damages occur, the guests may be charged an extra fee, according to the company.
Basic etiquette applies — don’t leave your dog alone in the room if you think they will bark incessantly. Don’t bring the dog into an elevator if someone already inside looks fearful.
Examine your lodging closely for any hazards. Ms. Bromschwag’s dog, Arwin, started vomiting during their road trip. “We had to find a vet that was open on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend in Nebraska to find out what was wrong,” she said. It turned out the golden retriever had found a sock (“not ours,” said Ms. Bromschwag) under the hotel bed and had eaten it.
While more doors are opening to canines and felines, “you have to be sensitive,” said Ms. Perkins, Calvin’s owner. “Even if you think your pet is perfect, the people around you may not be ‘dog people,’” so keep your dog close and on a leash.
Some travelers object to pets on flights and in hotel rooms. Gail Pratt, 59, of Seattle has several family members who are allergic to dogs and cats and they would all “probably start sneezing immediately” if their hotel room had previously been occupied by a pet, she said. “I have to remember to ask the hotel before we arrive,” she said.
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