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A comprehensive guide to traveling with pets

Sept. 09, 2020
10 min read
Dogs and their owners allowed to sit together on flight
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Traveling with a pet, especially for the first time, is a daunting and stressful task — for both you as well as your furry companion. (That's why we typically suggest only traveling with your pet when necessary.)

Of course, some animals don’t mind the jet-set life and make great travel buddies. Just like humans, each pet is a unique individual that adapts to the world differently. Whether it's your pet's first flight or they're a seasoned, four-legged world traveler, these tips will help guarantee you and your furry friend have a seamless journey.

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Before You Go

First, and most importantly, make sure your pet is fit to travel. Some animals simply cannot handle travel due to age, illness, injury or temperament. If you're unsure, consult with your veterinarian for an expert opinion.


Get ready to travel by making sure you have all of the proper identification for your travel buddy. Purchase an ID tag for your pet's collar that lists your home address and cellphone number, as well as a temporary tag with the location and phone number of the hotel you plan to stay at.

If you haven’t already, now is a good time to microchip your pet. Microchipping is a safe and permanent form of identification that can be extremely useful if your pet wrests free from his or her collar. If your companion is already microchipped, confirm that all the contact information registered on the chip is accurate and up to date before your departure.

Important documents

Take photos of your pet’s medical history documents and save them on your phone. In the event of a medical emergency, these documents could be useful for the vet treating your fur baby. Note that some states require specific documentation, such as a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection, an Official Health Certificate or proof of rabies vaccines — so a quick trip to the vet may be necessary even before traveling around the country. And if you plan on traveling frequently within Europe, it may be a good idea to get your pet its own EU Pet Passport.


Your pet’s travel crate or carrier should be well-ventilated and must be large enough for your pet to stand, sit, turn around and lie down. Always introduce your pet to the new carrier at home before using it on a trip — and be sure to check your airline’s pet carrier size guidelines and specifications before purchasing any new gear. Sherpa-brand carriers are well regarded and some sizes are approved for use on most U.S. airlines.

Hitting the Road

Whether you travel by car, plane or train, one way to calm animals is to tire them out before departure. Play a wild game of fetch or take your four-legged friend on a long walk before leaving — it will help them sleep through the trek. And be sure to cushion your pet’s carrier with a favorite blanket, or a T-shirt with your scent. A sense of familiarity can relax a distressed pet.

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Car travel

Before em-barking (see what we did there?) on a long road trip, give your pet time to become familiar with spending time in a car. Sit with your buddy inside a parked car with the engine off. Once your pet is comfortable being in the car, you can start taking short drives to a local park for playtime — not to the vet. This will create a positive association between car rides and fun. You should reward your pet with treats and praise after each ride. As your pet becomes more accustomed to car travel, start to gradually increase the length of your trips.

And, of course, pets are not excluded from the old adage to buckle up for safety! Make sure your pet is safe and secure in the back seat. You can invest in a pet car seat, travel crate or seat belt leash to keep your dog restrained in the back. Preventing your pet from wandering freely around the car will not only keep them safe, but it will reduce distraction for the driver as well. A travel crate is a great option, as it provides extra protection in the event of a crash.

No matter how much you love cuddling with your pet, never let him or her sit on your lap when you're behind the wheel. Not only is it a major distraction, but it's also extremely dangerous for your favorite canine (or feline). A slam on the breaks could squish them between you and the steering wheel. And even the most well-behaved lapdog can be startled by a noise and decide to hop down to the floor between the pedals.

Please, keep all paws inside the moving vehicle. As adorable as it is to see a furry face hanging out a car window, we do not recommend allowing your dog to do so. Another car, a tree branch or an unexpected obstacle could come too close and injure your pup.

Give your pet a light meal no less than four hours before leaving on your journey, and refrain from feeding Fido in the car to prevent motion sickness. Make pit stops every two to three hours to allow time for bathroom breaks and exercise. If your pet is notorious for, well, leaving their mark, invest in a waterproof seat cover and rubberized floor mat.

Keep your companion comfortable by regulating the temperature. Make sure the air is circulating in the back where your sidekick is sitting. If your car is capable of isolating the radio, keep the sound up front for the humans so you don't irritate your pet's sensitive ears. It’s bad enough they have to listen to your singing during the road trip.

This should go without saying but never leave your animal alone in a parked vehicle. Even with the windows cracked, the inside of a car can reach 104 degrees in just 10 minutes on an 85-degree day.

Photo by @5byseven/Tweny20
Photo by @5byseven/Twenty20

In-cabin air travel

Small animals, generally around 20 pounds or less, are permitted to travel in the cabin with an adult. Only a limited number of animals are allowed on each flight, so contact the airline as soon as possible to reserve a spot. If your travel plans are flexible, opt for a midweek flight, which will likely be less crowded.

Avoid flying with your pet during the holidays and take a nonstop flight whenever possible. If you do have a layover, let your dog stretch its legs and use the bathroom at a pet relief station (available at many major airports). Always be prepared for flight delays, and keep extra food and toys in your carry-on. It could be a lifesaver if your checked baggage gets lost en route to your destination.

Once you board, place your airline-friendly pet carrier under the seat or in a designated spot (if you fly first or business class on an American Airlines A321T, for example, you'll have to put your pooch in a special open compartment during taxi, takeoff, landing and turbulence). Never put your pet in the overhead bin, even if you're told to by airline staff.

Give your pet a bit of water or an ice cube during takeoff. Swallowing can help unpop their ears while the plane is ascending and alleviate any discomfort.

Tranquilizing an animal is not recommended prior to flying, as it could hinder breathing. Most airlines won’t even accept a tranquilized animal. If you’re worried about your pet becoming anxious mid-flight, try the Thunder Shirt, which has worked wonders for nervous, traveling pets. Consult your veterinarian, and see if they can offer any specific advice or medication for your pet.

Cargo air travel

We do not recommend flying your pet in cargo, but sometimes it's unavoidable. If you must bring a large animal on a flight, you'll have to check them underneath the passenger cabin. Many airlines forbid snub-nosed breeds of dogs and cats — which are susceptible to breathing difficulties — from traveling in cargo. Some airlines do not fly pets in the cargo hold at all, so check with your airline to confirm that your pet will be welcomed aboard. A separate booking is required for any pets flying cargo.

It's also important to avoid traveling when it’s extremely hot or cold. Most airlines will not fly pets in cargo during the summer months. Even though the cargo hold is temperature controlled, your pet will have to endure the extreme temperatures during loading and unloading on the tarmac. Book a direct flight to reduce the amount of handling. (Layovers allow the opportunity for your pet to be left out on the ground or mishandled by the baggage crew.)

Make sure your pet’s crate is clearly labeled with a "live animal" sticker and your contact information, including your name, cellphone number, address and phone number for your ultimate destination. If you happen to be traveling to an international location, you should also translate “live animal” to the local language, so baggage handlers understand they’re dealing with precious cargo.

Invest in a crate with a sturdy metal door (which some airlines require over plastic) that allows your pet plenty of room to completely stand up and turn around. The crate should provide adequate ventilation and a waterproof bottom with a spring lock door. Patty from the TPG Lounge suggested keeping your pet hydrated during the flight by freezing a water bowl to place inside the crate. This prevents spillage during handling before the flight.

Travelers should also request that the gate agent notify you once your pet has been loaded on the plane. When you board, alert the cabin crew that you have a live animal in the hold so they know to keep an extra close eye on the cargo pressure and temperature.

Photo by @Chalabala/Twenty20
Photo by @Chalabala/Twenty20

Booking a pet-friendly hotel stay

Do your research before you go, and make sure you're selecting a pet-friendly hotel before booking. In addition to noting special amenities and programs, be aware of fees that may be associated with bedding down with a pet in tow.

Request a room by an exit on the ground floor to conveniently take your dog for a walk, and note that some hotels do not allow pets on the furniture. You should always abide by the rules, but just in case your pet doesn’t, grab an extra towel and drape it over the furniture to avoid any rips or scratches. Even if your dog is potty-trained, an unfamiliar setting could leave them anxious and susceptible to having an accident. Put down a pee pad in the room, just in case. Better safe than paying a hefty cleaning fee.

Photo by Richard Atrero de Guzman/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Featured image by Getty Images