Traveling With Your Pet

Planning a trip with your pup? There are a few things to keep in mind when sharing travel adventures with your pets, which often requires preparation long before the journey begins.

Road Trip!

Driving over the river and through the woods to grandma’s is pretty easy most of the time — especially if you’re staying with grandma!  If not, do some research ahead of time to find out local hotels that allow pets. Also plan to have a list of local emergency veterinary clinics, just in case.  Bring your dog's medical records, attach a current ID tag to their collar, and have a recent photo of them in case you get separated. Be especially careful at pit stops, because pets can escape from the car, get spooked, and get lost. Rest areas also tend to be germy places for pets and people alike. Make sure those vaccines are up-to-date!

Some states require a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (health certificate) by an APHIS-accredited veterinarian. This document states that your pet is healthy enough for travel and does not have evidence of contagious disease. It's usually good for only 30 days, so plan this appointment to be done with your veterinarian shortly before your trip. Check out the the American Veterinary Medical Association pet care web page for links to help you sort out what you’ll need depending on your state of destination.

Come Fly With Me

If you’re planning on travelling by air, keep several things in mind:

  • Usually only very small dogs (under 20 lbs.) and cats may travel in the main cabin, and must fit in a carrier small enough to fit underneath the seat. Larger pets must fly in the cargo area, and only newer planes have temperature/pressure-controlled areas for these animals. 
  • Certain airlines have weight and breed restrictions for areas in the cargo hold as well.
  • Cold winter and sweltering summer temperatures can make the cargo area inhospitable for dogs and many airlines won’t take any pets during these times. This is a good thing — they have your dog’s safety in mind!
  • Some airlines require official health certificates (Air Canada and United) while some do not (Delta and U.S. Airways). This changes regularly, so check with your airline when you book your tickets. The website dogfriendly.com has a good chart on the airline-specific requirements.
  • Many domestic carriers only allow a certain number of pets per flight, so book early!
  • Book non-stop when possible. It’s far less stressful on you and your dog.
International Excursions

Getting to Mexico or Canada, whether by car or by air, usually only requires a health certificate, current vaccines, and some recommended parasite prevention. (Ask your vet which one is best depending on where you’re going). The rest of the world, however, takes a little more prep work. Check out agriculture.gov.ie/pets for specific country requirements. 

Most countries in the European Union require proof of vaccination, a special international health certificate (completed by a veterinarian), and an international microchip as a means of permanent identification. It can take some time to put all of these things together, so start planning your trip at least 6 months in advance in order to expedite the process later on. 

Some places — usually islands — require even more work. To prevent the spread of rabies into these rabies-free areas (UK, Ireland, Malta, Sweden, and Finland to name a few, as well as the state of Hawaii), your pet must not only be up-to-date on their rabies vaccine, but also have a blood test by an approved laboratory demonstrating adequate antibodies against the rabies virus. There is usually a 90-to-120 day waiting period after the blood test. If you do not go through this step or the paperwork is not filed properly, your pet could be quarantined in your destination country. As you can imagine, this whole process requires a lot of time and usually several hundred dollars to complete. I usually tell clients that if they are permanently relocating to these places, it’s worth the effort. However, it’s an awful lot of hoops to jump through if you are only going for a week or two.

Do I Need to Sedate?

Usually, no. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends against sedating pets. Sedation can affect an animal’s equilibrium, which can increase their risk of injury. I have also found that up to 10% of pets can become more anxious while on medications because it makes them feel abnormal, which in turn fuels their panic. If your pet is at risk for hurting themselves during travel due to their personality (extremely anxious or fearful), ask your veterinarian for a trial dose of sedation and experiment long before your departure date to know how it will affect them. 

Natural remedies can also be an alternative to sedation. For example, Zuke’s Enhance Calming Functional Chews contain natural herbs like chamomile, L-theanine and valerian, which help to support a calm disposition. 

It takes some research and some preparation (see Amber Pickren’s “Road Tripping With Your Dog” for even more tips), but you’ll find that taking your pooch with you can lead to some wonderful experiences!


Dr. Jen Deming

Jennifer Deming, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and member of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition. She strives to improve her patients' wellness through nutrition counseling and preventative medicine. Dr. Deming lives, works, and plays in the beautiful community of Durango, Colorado.

Main image courtesy of wildlife photographer and dog lover, Jaymi Heimbuch.