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Best practices for traveling with pets

It’s summer time, which also means it’s time for summer vacations. Preparing for a trip can be stressful on its own, but for those with pets, it can seem like a daunting task.

When making travel decisions, be sure to first decide whether it’ll be best to bring your pet along for the journey. Unless you’ll be able to spend a lot of time with your dog, they’ll probably be more comfortable at home, and cats are almost always better off staying home.

If you’ve decided to bring your pet along, here are some tips to ensure a fun and safe trip.

Nancy Anderson, the founder of The Brittany Foundation, a nonprofit dog rescue, said traveling with pets is kind of like getting ready for an earthquake, meaning you need to ensure you’ve got all the essentials you need ready in case you can’t get back home.

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Packing for your pet

The first step in creating your pet’s “emergency bag” is to be sure to have enough food and water available for them for the entire trip.

“Always make sure that they have the water that they are used to drinking because water varies across states,” Anderson said.

Parasites in water could get your pet sick, so be sure to pack enough water, or plan to buy bottled water.

It’s also important to keep your pet’s food the same, as they might get an upset stomach from any changes, which would not be fun for them while on a trip, according to both Anderson and local vet Dr. Kathy Peters.

Peters and Anderson also both suggest taking some of the bedding your pet is used to, so they are comfortable.

“You certainly want to make the trip as familiar as possible, so they don’t get stressed out,” Anderson said.

“Don’t forget to pack your pet’s favorite toys as well — these will go a long way to making sure they’re staying happy,” Peters said.

Be sure to also verify that your pet not only has a collar and tag for identification with up-to-date information, but also that they are microchipped and that the chip is registered, Anderson and Peters said.

“Everybody carries their cell phone with them, so the best number (to go) on the tag would be a cell phone number,” Anderson added.

Don Belton, spokeswoman for Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control, also suggests making sure your pets are vaccinated, taking flea and tick preventive medication and have had a wellness exam within the past year.

If your pet takes any medications, don’t forget to pack those too, even if you don’t think they’ll need them during the trip.

“You also want to make sure you have some meds on hand in case they get sick,” Anderson said. “If they do get upset tummies or diarrhea, there are certain meds you can possibly get from the vet to take with you that takes care of bacteria or infection.”

Both Peters and Anderson agree that carrying some Benadryl can be useful in case your pet encounters a bee or simply to calm them down if they become stressed or anxious.

When packing, don’t forget to carry a working leash and walking vest so they will be comfortable when taking a walk in a new territory, according to Anderson. Belton agrees and added, “Make sure halters, collars and leashes are in good condition.”

Also, don’t forget to take into account the weather that you will be traveling to, Peters said. If your dog will be exposed to the elements, pack booties or paw wax if the temperatures will be high, and a sweater if your pet is known to be cold, Peters added.

“When hiking or going out for walks, caution with the hot ground or pavement,” Belton said. “If it’s too hot for you to go barefoot, it’s too hot for them too.”

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Choosing your method of transportation

When traveling with pets, it is always safer and most times cheaper to drive with them, according to Peters.

In cars, either travel with them in a crate or a restraint of sorts, Anderson, Peters and Belton agreed.

“Either put a crate in the car, so they are contained, or look for a little seat belt,” Anderson said. “And if you’re traveling alone with your dog, definitely strap them in.”

Cats should always travel in carriers as they aren’t typically comfortable in cars, Peters said.

“If they are going into a carrier, it’s important to restrain the carriers so that they can’t bounce around and hurt your animal,” Peters added. 

Even if you’re traveling alone, be sure to keep your pets in the back seats, both Anderson and Peters said.

“Just like for children, if an airbag deploys while your pet is in the passenger seat, even if they’re  in a crate, it could injure them,” Peters said.

No matter which method you decide on, you still must be as prepared as possible, Anderson said. That being said, you need to get your pet used to the car and desensitize them and used to crates as well.

If flying with your pet is the only or best option, first find out if they can travel in the cabin with you, Peters said.

“Most airlines will let you take a small cat or dog with you in the cabin for a fee, but it has to be planned well in advance because not all flights allow this,” Peters added.

Many airlines have specific regulations when it comes to allowing animals on the flights, so the first step is to call the airline you plan on flying with to find out what those are, she said.

If your pet is too big to fly in the cabin and must fly in the hold, your best bet is to ensure a direct flight when possible and to be sure to travel on the same flight as your pet, according to Peters.

“Don’t forget to take the temperature into account and work with the airline to pick flights in the early morning or late evening in the summer months, even if they’re more expensive,” she said.

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During the trip

When traveling, try to keep your pet’s routine as normal as possible, especially their eating habits, Anderson said.

You should also stop frequently to give your pet plenty of breaks to stretch their legs and go to the bathroom, Peters said.

When possible, it’s also a good idea to bring along a buddy to help care for your pet, so you can get food or use the bathroom yourself while knowing someone is keeping an eye on them, Peters added.

Don’t forget, it’s too hot out to leave your pets in the car as they, too, suffer from heatstroke in as little as six minutes, Belton said. Anderson suggests leaving the air conditioning on if you absolutely must leave them in the car.

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