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June 19, 2013

Traveling: Should Your Pet Stay or Go?

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Pet owners planning a trip or vacation have an important decision to make: whether to take their companion animals along, or leave them behind at home.

What are your options?

It's tempting to want to bring your pet with you, but you have to consider that some animals aren't suited to travel due to temperament, illness or physical impairment.

Putting their interests first: The most humane approach is to think of the animal's (not your) needs first. You may think that your dog won’t be able to tolerate separation from you and that taking him is a good idea. But if you are vacationing, will you have to leave him in a hotel room or strange kennel? That will make him more anxious than ever, so finding a pet-sitter and leaving him in his own home would probably be a better choice. 

Check out our guidelines for traveling beyond the greater 48 states with your pet »

Cats do not enjoy change and taking them on trips is usually not a good idea. Unless you are moving or going away for an extended period, get a pet-sitter so that your cat will not have to experience the stress of riding for hours or days in a crate and adjust to a new, temporary living arrangement.

Talk to your veterinarian

If you have any doubts about whether it’s appropriate for your pet to travel, it's a good idea to talk to your veterinarian and make sure he or she is up to date on all vaccinations and in sound health before you leave. A veterinary examination is also a requisite for obtaining the legal documents required for many forms of travel.

If your veterinarian thinks your pet is suited for travel, they may also prescribe a sedative or tranquilizer and recommend a trial run so you can observe the effects of the prescribed dosage. Do not give your pet any drug not prescribed or given to you by your veterinarian.

If your pet's along for the ride

If you decide it's best for your pet to accompany you, you'll need to have all the supplies necessary to keep your pet comfortable while he's away from home. You'll also need to familiarize yourself with any pet-related restrictions or requirements set by airlines, destination countries or states, hotels, etc.

When traveling with your pet, you should keep a health certificate and medical records close at hand. If you and your pet will be traveling across state lines, you must obtain from your veterinarian a recent health certificate and a certificate of rabies vaccination.

If you're traveling by plane, we strongly discourage having your pet travel by air in the cargo hold of a plane.

Read about the dangers to pets traveling in cargo holds »

If they stay behind

If, on the other hand, you decide your pet should not travel, consider the alternatives.

Arrange for a responsible friend or relative to look after your pet at your house or theirs, board your animal at a kennel or hire a pet sitter. Pet sitters who can stay overnight give your animal(s) more of a sense of security while you are away.

If you've decided to board your pet, get references and personally inspect the kennel. Your veterinarian or local shelter can help you find a good facility. If you're hiring a pet sitter, interview the candidates and check their references. Be sure your pet is microchipped before you leave your dog or cat anywhere unfamiliar to the animal.

A pet sitter may be preferable if your pet is timid, elderly, afraid of strangers and needs the comfort of familiar surroundings while you're gone.

What to leave for the sitter

If you arrange for someone to care for your pet while you're away, give the caretaker your contact information, the name and telephone number of your veterinarian and your pet's medical or dietary needs. You should also make sure that your pet's comfortable with the person you've chosen by having him or her come to your home to visit a couple of times before you leave.

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