When you’re packing up for an assignment, there’s a lot to think about. That goes double when you’ve got a furry family member traveling with you. There are so many rules to navigate—especially if you choose to fly—and it’s important to make sure both your pet and any passengers traveling around you are comfortable for the duration of the trip.

Preparation is key in these instances, so in our continued efforts to prepare our traveling healthcare professionals for every scenario, we’ve put together a list of tips for traveling with pets that’ll help your trip go off without a hitch.

Get Comfy in a Carrier

For some pets, traveling can be stressful. This is especially true for animals who aren’t used to being confined to a pet carrier or a bustling airport environment. Needless to say, a some pet anxiety is to be expected.

Cat in a travel carrier with the gate openTo help your furry friend prepare for takeoff, introduce them to the carrier they’ll be traveling in over the course of two or three weeks prior to leaving. The last thing you want to do is introduce them to the carrier the day you leave because the unfamiliar space will seem even more scary if they’ve never seen it before.

(Note: check your airline’s policy regarding the size, shape and type of carriers allowed onboard.)

Two to three weeks before your departure, place the carrier in a spot your pet already enjoys. For example, if your cat loves sitting in front of the living room window, place the carrier there where they lay, leaving it open. Place treats or favorite toys inside the carrier to entice them to investigate it on their own. If possible, encourage your pet to sleep in the carrier by placing their bedding in it. You want to condition your pet to see their carrier as a place of comfort, so try not to force or push them inside until they’ve had at least a week to get used to it.

After your pet has become more comfortable with the carrier, it’s time to try closing the doors with them inside it. Once your pet is in the carrier, close the door, making sure to stay with them the whole time. Use soothing tones to offer encouragement and reward them for calm behavior with a few treats.

Start by closing the door for less than a minute if your pet seems nervous, gradually increasing the time they spend with the door closed with each new attempt. Once they’re more comfortable with the door closed, practice leaving the room with your pet in the crate with the door closed. This is especially important if you’re traveling with a large dog who won’t accompany you in the cabin.

Next, you’ll want to practice carrying the crate, if your pet is small enough or if wheeling it around for larger animals. Movement inside the crate can be intimidating at first, so it’s good to practice traveling for yourself and your pet.

Driving your dog to the dog park or simply walking your cat around the living room in the carrier can help them acclimate to the feeling of movement in it. Once your pet is comfortable doing this, they’ll have a much easier time dealing with the stresses of travel.

Prepare a Pet Pack

Another way to prepare Fido for flight is by preparing his pet pack. A pet pack should be a carry-on item or part of the carrier which holds everything you might need for your flight. Pet carriers with pockets are perfect for keeping everything in one place. Include any medications, bowls, treats, leashes, poop bags, toys, food and pet identification information you’ll need to make your flight go smoothly.

Black and white Shepard-mix dog wearing a red and white tie with a matching carry-on bag Additionally, mark your pet’s carrier with identifying information for both them and a designation of “Live Animal.” This way, you’ve prepared the airline for a search in case your pet pulls a Houdini and escapes their crate—an unlikely but possible scenario.

 

Plan to Take Off

Look into your airline’s pet policy to make sure you follow all the guidelines. This helps ensure the safety of your pet and the comfort of the passengers around you. Breed restrictions are especially important to research, as some types of animals (mostly dogs) aren’t allowed to fly. BringFido has a list of most major airline policies around the world.

Additionally, it’s important to note traveling with pets on airlines can be dangerous for them. Each year, airlines are required to report the number of complaints they receive regarding loss, injury or death of animals during flight. You can find that information here to research which airlines have the best record for keeping pets safe throughout their journey. If you’re worried about a pet traveling with the cargo, consider booking them their own seat. Just make sure to check your airline’s policy before doing so.

Do’s and Don’ts for the Big Day

There’s a lot to think about while navigating the airport on your planned travel day. Here are some quick do’s and don’ts that will help you get through it smoothly.

chiwawa sitting in a pet-friendly carry-on bag wearing sunglasses ready for the big tripDO:

  • Walk pet frequently: For dogs, a quick walk before the flight, during an extended layover and immediately after your flight will ensure they have enough time to stretch their legs, use the bathroom and get some fresh air. Look for designated “animal relief areas” in major airports. Taking a good, long walk before going to the airport isn’t a bad idea either.
  • Make sure your pet is clean before travel: Not only is it rude to other passengers to have a smelly pet on a plane, there’s a chance it could get you kicked off. There are plenty of stories about people whose smell got them removed from a flight—same rules apply for your pet.
  • Get a harness: If you have a larger dog who loves people, airports can be difficult to navigate. When walking your dog in a public place like an airport, a harness can help you gain better control of pets who wish to wander.
  • Get a clean bill of health from a vet: Consult your vet before flying to ensure your pet is in good enough health to fly. Even if your airline doesn’t specifically require it, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Talk to your vet about getting certification to show your pet has all its necessary vaccinations.
  • Skip breakfast: Well, at least for your pet. By waiting to give your pet food and drink until after you’ve landed you decrease the risk of them having an accident in their carrier.
  • Tell everyone about your pet: Not in a “look how cute she is!” way, but in a “I’m traveling with a live animal who needs care” way. This is especially important if you encounter any delays. Insist on a welfare check if delays occur and, during extended delays, request your pet be released from the cargo hold for a quick walk and potty break. If no one knows your pet is in the cargo hold, they can’t help you care for it.

DON’T:

  • Sedate your pet: Sedating a pet before air travel can be risky for its health and has been known to cause serious medical issues and even death. Never sedate a pet, even an anxious one, before flying.
  • Let them ride loose in the car: Even after you land, keep your pet in the carrier during car travel. It’s not only safer, it’s most likely required by whatever method of ground transportation you choose.
  • Leave your pet unattended: Even if they’re snuggled calmly in their carrier, never leave your pet unattended at the airport. Take them with you everywhere you go or, if you’re traveling with a partner, ask them to watch your pet.
  • Wait until the last minute: Waiting until the last minute to plan your travel day is the easiest way to ruin it. Spend time carefully planning your day from start to finish so your pet has the safest, calmest trip possible.

Secondary Transportation and Lodging

Once you land, there’s still the question of getting to the place you’re staying. For that matter, there’s the hassle of booking a pet-friendly room to consider! Here are a few tips to consider when looking into secondary transportation from the airport and lodging.

Rolling With Your Pet

Whether you’re renting a car, taking a cab, calling a Lyft or Uber or catching a bus from the airport to your next destination, it’s still technically traveling with a pet. Keep them in the carrier at all times to ensure safe car travel. In the case of Lyft and Uber, the driver can decide whether he or she will allow animals in the car, so contact them to let them know you’re traveling +1.

The same is true for most cab companies, so inquire about pet friendliness when you call. Bus policies vary throughout the U.S., but most allow small pets in a carrier to travel freely with their owners. Check the destination city policy your before committing to public transportation.

Rooming With Your Pet

If you’re staying at a hotel, check policies to ensure they are happy to roll out the pet welcome mat. Some hotel chains, like Best Western and La Quinta, are mostly pet friendly across the board, while others limit pet friendliness to certain locations.

A Chow-Shepard-mix brown dog laying on a hotel bed next to a green-eye catRemember to put your pet in their crate if you’ll leave the room in case housekeeping comes by. Most hotels require you do so to ensure the safety of their own staff.

The most important thing to remember is great planning leads to smooth travel for both you and your furry friend. Keep that in mind, and you’re both onboard for travel adventures.