How to Travel with Your Pet

Whether you’re moving or taking a vacation, making arrangements for your pet can be stressful for both the animal and yourself. However, with the right preparations, pet parents can help their animals feel safe during travel.

Dr. Shawn Sanders suggests practicing travel with your pet before leaving.

Preparing Your Pet

If your pet has never traveled before, it can be a frightening experience for them. Dr. Shawn Sanders of Animal Health Center LLC in Laramie, Wyoming has been a veterinarian for ten years and has several pets of his own. He recommends preparing pets for travel far in advance to minimize stress.

“If your pet only goes in the car or a carrier when they’re going to the vet, they’re going to be afraid,” Sanders said. “Try to get your pet used to the carrier over time. You can leave them in a carrier for a few hours while at work or take them somewhere fun like the park.”

Calming Solutions

Another option is sedatives. If your pet absolutely must travel (such as a permanent move) and is afraid, sedatives can help stay calm and relaxed. Sanders advises against using sedatives for air travel and most airlines will not allow animals in the cargo hold to ingest sedatives. Make an appointment with your veterinarian to see if sedatives are right for your pet.

“You don’t want a negative reaction to anesthesia on a plane,” Sanders warned. “When you’re in a car, you can stop and address any problems. You can’t do that up in the air.”

The Thundershirt can make your pet feel safe and secure. Photo courtesy of Thunderworks.

For those that prefer a drug-free solution, Thunderworks, a pet supply company based out of North Carolina, makes a line of pet-calming products, including the Thundershirt. The Thundershirt is a weighted vest that calms your pet with constant, focused pressure. Dr. Sanders has seen this product work for dogs, but Thundershirts are also available for cats.

If your pet is a nervous traveler, it may be best to leave them behind for a short vacation. This can mean leaving them with someone you trust or paying for boarding. Many veterinarians offer boarding services in-house. Food, daily exercise, and administering necessary medications are included.

Dylan Sharkey and his sister spend Christmas with all of their pets together. Photo courtesy of Dylan Sharkey.

In the Car

Dr. Sanders advises getting to the destination as soon as possible for cats, reducing the amount of time they have to spend in transit. For dogs, frequent stops for exercise and bathroom breaks works better.

Dylan Sharkey, a Wyoming native who now attends University of New Orleans in Louisiana, brings his dog Oreo with him to visit family.
While traveling cross-country, Sharkey used a travel pet bottle to make sure his Oreo stayed hydrated and stopped every few hours for breaks.

“When I drove to Wyoming for Christmas, he just laid in the backseat,” Sharkey said. “He likes going, from what I pick up. Though I’m no animal behaviorist.”

If, for whatever reason, your pet cannot travel with you but still needs to be moved, a pet transportation service may be able to help. Pet Relocator, based out of Colorado Springs, Colorado, will drive your pet to neighboring states with their own vehicle.

“We meet the pet and let them smell us,” Deana Davis, a relocation specialist for Pet Relocator, said. “We use calming voices. We know it’s stressful for them; they don’t know what’s going on. We just try to make them as comfortable as possible.”

If the destination is too far, Pet Relocator will match customers with another agency.

“We didn’t get into the business just to move pets,” Davis said. “We do it because we love animals and we care about them.”

On a plane

Although flights are often shorter than driving, a car ride may be the only option for your pet. Several airlines have changed their travel requirements for pets following the death of a dog in the overhead bin on a United Airlines flight in 2018. Restrictions such as a ban on snub-nosed breeds, no pets in the cargo hold during hot weather, and a limit on connection times should be considered when making travel plans.

United Airlines requires pet carriers large enough for the animal to stand up and turn, but small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.

Airlines typically charge a fee and have size restrictions for pets in the cabin. Unlike a car, you can’t stop for breaks while flying, but you may be able to find a “pet relief area” in the terminal.

Be sure to check your airline’s pet policy before booking your flight as well TSA security procedure. If your pet is traveling with you in the cabin of the plane, it will need to be removed from its carrier and walked through the metal detector during screening. 

When it comes to traveling with a pet, there are many options. Decide what will be best for your pet the next time you have an adventure. No one knows them better than you.