Family vacations are for furry members of the family as well as human ones. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, over two million pets travel by plane each year1. If you want your cat or dog to accompany you via air travel, you'll want to take the time to prepare them for a safe and healthy trip.
Visit Your Veterinarian
If you've decided to take your pet along with you on a flight, your first step should be to visit the veterinarian. Your vet will perform a full physical exam, including checking for fleas and ticks as well as listening to the heart and lungs, to make sure your pet is healthy to fly. You'll want to share your travel plans and ask whether there are any particular risks and precautions you should know about based on the area you are going. This is important because some parts of the country have increased risks of parasites, such as fleas, ticks, heartworms or intestinal worms, and knowing this information allows your vet to take action for your pet accordingly. You may also wish to discuss the use of sedatives for your pet during plane travel.
While you're at the vet's, take the time to snap a photo of your pet that you can store on your phone. You'll have a current picture of your pet should you need it during your trip.
Do Your Research
Long before boarding the plane, you'll want to make the time to check your airline's requirements about traveling with pets. Depending on the weight of your cat or dog, your pet may be required to travel in the cargo hold, which will affect how you choose to pack their crate. Even if you've traveled with your pet previously, ask for updated regulations, as these may have changed since your last trip.
If you're flying outside the United States, you'll also want to find out what the destination requires in the way of vaccinations and, in some cases, quarantine. Not all pets can be brought into another country, and in certain cases, they may have to be isolated for a period of time before you can be reunited with them.
There's one more bit of information you'll want to gather during your research phase, and that's the name and contact information for a vet at your destination. You hope you won't need this information, but in case you do, it's best to have it at the ready.
Prepare Your Pet
If your dog or cat is not used to transportation in their carrier, take the time to make them comfortable with it. The goal is to make the carrier a pet's safe space where they can be at ease and feel secure. Make sure the crate leaves them enough room to turn around while inside. Offer your pet their food in the carrier, leaving the door open so they become accustomed to it before your trip. If you are going to use a sedative, make sure you have discussed it with your veterinarian first and do a test run.
This may seem obvious, but avoid introducing other changes, such as the type of food you give them or the frequency with which you walk them, during your trip. Travel is stressful enough (for people AND pets!) without adapting to a new routine.
On the day of your plane trip, do one last review of your pet's travel gear and don't forget to pack their flea, tick, and heartworm prevention and use it according to the vet's directions. Tape your contact information inside your pet's crate. Leave plenty of time for getting to the airport so that your pet can relieve itself ahead of time. If your flight is long, you will want to also line their crate with absorbent pads.
Bringing your beloved pet along on a family vacation, particularly one involving air travel, definitely adds work to your preparations. But by planning ahead, travel with pets can be a more pleasant and enjoyable experience for the whole family.
Pet Travel 101: In the Car