Dog and cat owners: What you need to know before traveling with your pet

Dog and cat owners: What you need to know before traveling with your pet »Play Video
Photo courtesy loop_oh on Flickr (Creative Commons).

PORTLAND, Ore. - Most travelers choose to leave their pets at home, but what if you want to take your dog or cat with you?

Pet expert Cheryl Hansen stopped by the AM Northwest set this week to offer some tips.

She said to begin with, you have to adopt a 'I'm sending my kid off to summer camp' mentality. In other words, you will want to make sure they have all their belongings, necessities, snacks and identification.

Then of course, there's the mode of travel - will you be driving a car, flying in an airplane or going by train or bus? No matter which way you go, Hansen said planning is key. "There are a couple of things you absolutely have to do," she said. "You have to see your vet before you take off on a trip, for example."

One big question that pet owners often have is whether to sedate their dog or cat before heading out on a trip. Hansen said it's best to check with your veterinarian.

"I think it's important that you talk it over with your vet," she said. "Sometimes cats or dogs will do fine in the car without it, other times they're going to be nervous wrecks. And also, a lot of times they'll get car sick and you want to be prepared for that too. Be sure you have your paper towels and plastic bags."

Traveling by Air

The first thing to know when flying with your pet is that you will need to reserve well in advance and expect a significant expense.

Also, airlines require a health certificate from your veterinarian showing that your pet's vaccinations and rabies shots are up to date, but you won't want to get one too far in advance because the certificates do expire.

The Humane Society of the United States suggests you do not put your pet in cargo, unless you absolutely have to.

"There are a number of things you can do if you need to take that route," said Hansen. "Things like making sure you put your pet's ID is on top of your carrier - very carefully masked onto there so people can see it. And things like 'live animal' stickers. The airlines will tell you exactly what you need to do before you send them in cargo."

And if you can get a flight with no connections, even better. "You don't want them sitting on the dock waiting to get on to the next connection," said Hansen.

If you do have connecting flights, Hansen advises you take a red-eye or early morning flight during the warmer summer months and a late afternoon flight in the winter months.

As far as taking your pet with you on the plane, it's all about the carrier. And of course, you won't be able to take a large pet on board.

"The carrier is really important because it does have to fit under the seat," said Hansen. "And keep in mind that when you carry that on, it's a carry-on. So you're going to be down one piece of luggage because you're carrying your dog or your cat on board."

And on a final note, traveling overseas can be tricky due to quarantine rules.

"I know, for example, that you used to be able to fly into Portugal with a dog or a cat and not go through any quarantine," said Hansen. "But if you go to Hawaii, you have months of quarantine for a pet."

Traveling by Car

If you're driving to your destination, the first thing you'll want to do is make sure your pet's identification is current - just in case they get lost. And it's a good idea to bring along copies of current vaccination and rabies certificates.

Next, pack everything your pet needs for the trip - water, food, bowls, bedding, chew toys, a kennel and a leash. Bring some poop bags and clean-up products as well. And remember that leash style is important. Hansen recommends a harness or Martingale collar.

"One of the scariest things I can think of is if you have your dog at a rest area and that dog slips its leash and gets away from you," she said.

If you're staying at hotels, plan in advance so you know which ones are pet friendly.

And the most important thing to remember - NEVER leave your pet in the car when it's warm out.

Traveling by Train or Bus

Amtrak does NOT allow pets (just service dogs), although there is a federal bill that was recently introduced that would change that. You can also check with regional carriers - some of them might allow pets.

Taking a pet on board a bus is at the discretion of the bus company and is normally for pets under 25 pounds. You'll want to check with them first. Also, keep in mind that you may need to buy a seat for your dog or cat.