Traveling alone as a human can be a nightmare. Traveling with a companion — or several — can be worse. Imagine what it's like for your pet, who is not free to roam the cabin of a plane, ask for a sick bag or tell the person sitting above them to cut out whatever annoying thing they're doing.
Save yourself and your pets headaches, anxiety and potential illnesses with these tips for preparing for your pet's trip as soon as you book your flight or make a plan to hit the road.
Book a direct flight.
The ASPCA recommends booking the shortest travel day possible to avoid keeping your pets stressed for too long — whether checked onboard and in your care or in the cargo hold where they are subject to rough weather, baggage handlers' mishandling and long layovers. "As soon as you know, the better off you'll be," says Dr. Rachelle Biondolillo with Prytania Veterinary Hospital (4907 Prytania St., 504-899-2828, www.prytaniavet.com).
Talk to your vet.
Your destination and airline may require health certificates before your pets can travel. Make an appointment with your vet to ensure your pet is up to date on vaccinations and any other requirements, particularly if you're traveling outside the U.S. This also is a good opportunity to talk about "gentle anxiety" medications to help stressed pets have a more comfortable flight, Biondolillo says. Airlines "generally frown upon" overly sedated animals on flights, so your pet shouldn't be "too drunk" to drink water.
Talk to your airline and prepare your crate.
Your airline likely will require a kennel be stored under the seat in front of you unless it is checked into cargo. Make sure your crate is approved by the airline — check the kennel guidelines on your airline's website. Generally, a crate should be well-ventilated, large enough for an animal to stand, sit, turn and lie down, and have all your contact information somewhere accessible on its exterior. It should also be lined with a towel or something soft in case your pet has an accident (and bring a trash bag). "Being prepared is better than just letting them sit there," Biondolillo says.
If your pet does well in a car ride around the block or in the neighborhood (or on regular trips to the vet or kennel), it likely won't have trouble aboard a plane. "It's good to just kennel them and let them get comfortable in a kennel," Biondolillo says. "Being in a cabin is probably similar to being in the car."
Stock up on food and water.
Bring your pet's regular food and ensure it has access to water on the plane. Bring treats, but don't overfeed before the flight. "Don't let them eat a huge breakfast," Biondolillo says. "If they have a big meal, they might throw it up or have a bowel movement." Instead, feed them a "light snack" and give them "ample opportunity to do their business," including one more walk before takeoff if possible, Biondolillo says.
If you're hitting the road with your pet, ensure they're as strapped-in and safe as anyone else in the car. Biondolillo has heard "horror stories" about pets hurt by airbags and sudden stops, and unrestrained animals bolting when the door opens after a long ride and running away. If your pet isn't crated, there are seatbelt-friendly harnesses for cats and dogs and seat-separating nets and webbing for excited animals that are trying to get into the driver's seat. Your pet might be more comfortable in its kennel — some animals might be too stressed about going outside and see their carrier as its own respite from the road, Biondolillo says.
But as you prepare your travel kit with food, water, leashes, bowls, plastic bags, medication, toys and other must-haves, take time to know your stops and "know where the bathroom breaks are," Biondolillo says.