by Kerry McKinney, DVM

Christmas is almost here and for many Americans—over 100 million each year—that means traveling for the holiday! Increasingly, we’re also choosing to take our furry companions along with us.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you’ll be traveling with your pet this holiday season:

Make sure your pet is comfortable with travel, and welcome

  • Some pets shouldn’t travel due to temperament, injury or health conditions. If you have an older pet or one who’s nervous with travel or unfamiliar surroundings, consider a reliable pet-sitter or boarding facility. Ideally, make arrangements early and have at least one back-up plan to ensure accommodations are available.
  • Check ahead to ensure your pet will be welcome and safe in hotels along the way and at your final destination. Not everyone is pleased to meet the ‘grand-dawg’ and some homes and yards aren’t pet-proofed.
  • Traveling pets should be comfortable and well-behaved on a leash with at least basic obedience skills. Teaching “Leave it” and an emergency stop command like “Freeze” can save your dog’s life.

What to arrange ahead of time

  • Schedule an exam with your veterinarian to ensure your pet is healthy enough for travel and current on vaccinations and preventive care. Update your contact information as needed. For domestic ground travel, you may need a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (health certificate) and proof of rabies vaccination. Airline and international travel have additional and very specific requirements (more information is available here).
  • Refill prescriptions and heartworm, flea, and tick preventives as needed. Obtain copies of your pet’s recent medical records including lab work, vaccinations and rabies certificate.
  • Have your veterinarian scan your pet’s microchip to ensure that it is functional or, if you haven’t already done so, have a microchip placed. Update your contact information, including a cell phone and an additional emergency contact at your destination site.
  • Let your veterinarian know if your pet is staying locally while you travel and you’d like to authorize treatment if an emergency should arise and you’re not available.
  • A secure collar and ID tag are essential for safe travel. Have a current photo of your pet to help with identification if he should become lost or separated from you.
  • For car travel, small dogs and cats should be familiarized with an appropriate carrier and larger dogs with a safety harness. Place pets in the rear of a car that is equipped with front airbags. Most carriers can be safely strapped in using the existing seat belt equipment. To minimize injury, dogs shouldn’t travel with their heads outside the window as airborne debris can easily injure their eyes.
  • Take some short practice trips to familiarize your pet with the car and never transport your pet in an open truck bed.
  • Consider a grooming appointment, including a toenail trim, before departure.

What to bring and do on the trip

  • As a general rule, dogs bond with their people and feel safe with the right humans, while cats bond with their places and feel safe in familiar surroundings.
  • To make your pet comfortable, bring along a familiar blanket or bed if possible and of course their usual litter, food, dishes, toys and treats. Adaptil collars for dogs and Feliway spray for cats are pheromone products that can relieve anxiety.
  • Remember to pack prescriptions in their original bottles and the medical records you carefully arranged, including the contact numbers for your veterinarian and microchip registry.
  • Bring enough water for everyone on the trip and offer a drink at every stop. Try to maintain your pet’s meal and exercise routine.
  • Stop every 2 to 3 hours and give your dog a chance to stretch and eliminate. However, limit access to pet rest stops to minimize exposure to parasites and viral illnesses.
  • Never leave your pet unattended in a car. Use the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign for hotel rooms when leaving your pet behind.
  • Carry a pet first-aid kit. This could include a roll of gauze for wounds or use as an emergency muzzle, non-stick bandages, adhesive tape, a clean dropper or syringe, and a towel or blanket to use as a bandage or stretcher. Triple antibiotic ointment, diphenhydramine, saline eye drops, and hydrogen peroxide are additional considerations.
  • Know how to find veterinary care along your route and at your destination should the need arise. The American Animal Hospital Association maintains a searchable database of AAHA-certified veterinary hospitals and 24-hour emergency facilities.
  • Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680 and Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 are available to provide rapid, accurate information on a variety of toxic exposures.

Best wishes for a safe holiday season!

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Ann Arbor Animal Hospital is a locally-owned animal hospital operating for over 90 years in Ann Arbor, MI.