The Anxiety-Producing Activity You Likely Think Your Pet Takes in Stride

Written by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

traveling with pet

Story at-a-glance -

  • Many people are starting to look forward to warmer weather and summer vacations
  • If you’re planning to take your dog on vacation with you, there are many things to consider, including whether she’ll be comfortable and happy while traveling away from home
  • Traveling by car with your dog should be all about safety first, and should include an appropriate harness, carrier and/or crate
  • Traveling by plane with a dog requires extensive planning, with the understanding that air travel is inherently stressful for the vast majority of dogs

This is the time of year when many people, weary of winter, start looking forward to the warm months ahead and summer vacation. If you're a dog parent, you’re probably also facing the question of whether to bring your pet on your trip this year or leave her at home.

Traveling with dogs is commonplace these days, but the fact is, as bonded as we are to our furry companions, we’re much better equipped to handle disruptions in routine than animals are. As much as our dogs love to be with us, they thrive in a familiar setting with a structured daily routine.

Taking your dog away from home and her daily schedule for several days or weeks can generate a level of anxiety even your constant presence can't overcome. Now, that's not to say you absolutely shouldn't bring her along or that she won't have fun, but you should be aware that her travel experience will be very different from your own. If you do intend to bring your dog with you on vacation this year, plan ahead and keep your pet’s safety top-of-mind.

Traveling Safely by Car With Your Dog

Putting your dog into a crate, carrier or secure harness is for their safety as well as yours. An unrestrained dog or cat can be a distraction while you’re driving and can become a projectile in the event of an accident, which is life-threatening for both your pet and other passengers.

You'll want to choose a crate or carrier that fits your dog snugly, with enough room to be comfortable but not excess room (which poses a risk in the event of an accident). The crate or carrier should then be secured into the back seat or cargo area of the vehicle — not the front passenger seat.

While you can fasten almost any crate or carrier in your vehicle using elastic or rubber bungee cords, this method may not be secure enough in an accident, putting your pet at risk of injury. In addition, many pet restraint manufacturers claim their products are crash-tested and safe for use in a vehicle, but there are no established test protocols or standards required to make such claims.

Fortunately, the Center for Pet Safety (CPS) and Subaru have collaborated to perform crash tests on a wide range of harnesses, carriers and crates on the market. CPS actually provides a list of crash test-certified pet restraint systems (up to date as of November 2018).

The CPS and Subaru also crash-tested pet travel seats. These are portable booster seats for small dogs that are placed on the passenger seat or console to elevate small dogs so they can see out the windows. None of the four tested seats safely restrained the (stuffed) dogs in the crash tests,1 so while they may be fun for dogs, they shouldn’t be considered effective safety restraints.

Dogs and Air Travel

If your vacation plans involve air travel, unfortunately, the level of difficulty in bringing your dog along rises dramatically. Even under ideal circumstances, flying is very stressful for dogs. Airports and airplanes are strange and often frightening places full of unfamiliar humans, sights, sounds and smells.

Air travel makes most humans at least a little anxious, so it's easy to imagine how much more taxing it can be for a dog with no choice in the matter and no idea what to expect. For example, human passengers can anticipate pressure changes and the sensation of not having their feet on the ground.

Your dog can't, so the experience is emotionally and physiologically stressful, and needless to say, the stress increases exponentially for dogs that fly as “cargo” in the belly of the plane.

Since flying with a dog carries inherent risks and stressors, I recommend leaving your canine companion safely at home with a trusted caretaker if possible. Unless she’s a seasoned air traveler, in my opinion putting your dog on a plane, especially in the cargo hold, should be an option of last resort.

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7 Tips for Safe Air Travel With Your Dog

With that said, if you do decide to bring your pet on a flight, here are some tips to help keep her safe and relatively comfortable:

1. Make sure your dog is fit to fly — Very young animals, elderly pets, ill pets, pets with a chronic health condition, pregnant animals and brachycephalic breeds are among the types of pets for whom air travel is in my opinion an unacceptable risk. In fact, many commercial airlines have in recent years banned flat-faced pets from their planes due to the significant health risks involved.

Talk with your integrative veterinarian about whether your dog is a good candidate for air travel. You'll also want to get any required health certifications, for example, pets traveling to a different state by air must have a current rabies vaccination and a certification of veterinary inspection within 10 days prior to travel.

2. Make sure your dog is very comfortable in her carrier before heading to the airport — Long before your scheduled flight, your dog should view her carrier as a safe place. Purchase it well ahead of time and get her used to hanging out in it at home.

3. Make sure your dog is wearing a secure collar and a current ID tag — Also keep a photo of your pet on your person to help with identification in case he is lost.

4. Bring your dog in the main passenger cabin with you if possible — Whether or not your pet can fly in the passenger cabin will depend on his size and the airline you use. Most if not all airlines only allow dogs in passenger cabins that can fit in a carrier small enough to slide under the seat.

Having your dog right there with you, in a climate-controlled cabin, has obvious benefits and is by far the best way to travel by plane with a pet. Book your flights as early as possible since airlines only allow a certain number of pets to travel in the passenger cabin.

You won't be able to remove your dog from the carrier during the flight, so make sure he isn't traveling on a full stomach and has an opportunity to relieve himself shortly before you board the aircraft.

5. Avoid flying in very hot or cold weather and book nonstop flights whenever possible — In warmer months, book morning or evening flights so you're traveling during the coolest part of the day. In cold weather, try to fly during the warmest part of the day.

Nonstop flights are highly preferable to connections, especially if your dog is flying in the baggage compartment or cargo hold. Keep in mind that direct flights are neither nonstop nor connecting but are preferable to a connecting flight. If your pet will be traveling in the baggage or cargo area, retrieve her as quickly as possible when you land at your destination.

6. If your pet will be traveling in the baggage compartment or cargo hold, invest in a good-quality carrier — Defective or inappropriate carriers are behind most of the problems with escaped or injured pets during air travel. A suitable carrier will be TSA-approved, have secure construction (for example, locking bolts), metal doors (not plastic), metal rods that fasten the door to the container, a strong and effective lock mechanism, and no wheels.

7. Reduce your pet’s anxiety with natural remedies — I'm not a fan of sedating pets for travel except in the most extreme circumstances, and only in consultation with a veterinarian. If your dog is so anxious she needs to be tranquilized to fly, she really shouldn't be put through the experience if it can be avoided.

If your dog must be sedated for travel (usually due to hyperactivity) she must be in the cabin with you so you can monitor her throughout the flight. Never, under any circumstances, sedate a pet that cannot be supervised. Natural calming agents that may be beneficial include ashwagandha, holy basil and rhodiola.

To help reduce your dog's anxiety during a trip, consider giving flower essences such as Jackson Galaxy Solutions orally before, during and after travel, and mist her carrier with specially blended pet-friendly essential oils such as those from the Earth Heart line. I also recommend homeopathic aconitum for extreme fear, if warranted. CBD oil can also be very effective at reducing stress. Try out the protocol prior to travel to make sure you’re happy with the results.

If your dog has never flown before, you can gauge her potential response to air travel by how well she travels by other means. If she relaxes comfortably in her crate during car rides, chances are she'll handle air travel reasonably well.

Most if not all the major air carriers have information about traveling with pets on their websites. If you're thinking about flying with your dog, I recommend you contact the individual carrier as a first step. Find out what pet restrictions apply, approved carrier/kennel dimensions and other critical information you'll need for planning purposes.

Resources for Pet-Friendly Travel

The following resources provide a wealth of links and information on pet-friendly hotels, vacation rentals, timeshares, campgrounds and RV parks, restaurants and bars, attractions and activities:

PetFriendlyTravel.com

Bring Fido

GoPetFriendly.com

PetsWelcome.com

Take Your Pet

DogTrekker 

PetFriendly.Travel

Pet Hotels of America

Pet Friendly Travel on Facebook

National Geographic's The Dog Lover's Guide to Travel

AAA Pet Travel