Traveling With Your Pet

Pet Safety Tips

For many individuals and families, warming weather brings plans for leisure travel and the challenge of deciding if and how to bring a pet on vacation. If you plan to travel with a pet, whether by airplane or car, here are some safety tips from the animal lawyers at the Levin Firm to follow to keep your fur baby safe and secure.

Before You Travel

Anyone who has traveled with a pet knows that it is not as simple as loading up the car and taking off. Taking a pet with you when you travel requires significant preparation to ensure you and your pet have a safe, others around your pet are safe, and stress-free journey.

Before you travel:

  • Consider whether your pet has the necessary health and temperament to make the trip. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, some pets are simply too old, too young, too injured, or too frail for traveling. Other pets have the wrong temperament for taking a trip. They bite, bark, or simply cannot abide tight spaces. Also, animals in heat or pregnant should never travel. Brachycephalic animals—those with a pressed-in nose, such as pugs, bulldogs, or Persian cats—should not travel on airplanes, because their short nasal passages make them susceptible to oxygen deprivation and stroke. If you decide against bringing your pet with you, make plans for your pet’s care by enlisting a friend or family member as a pet-sitter, or by making a reservation at a certified, trustworthy, boarding kennel.
  • Is your pet up-to-date on his or her vaccinations? Plan ahead if not. Pets traveling by air to or from the United States must have a current rabies vaccination. Dogs, in particular, must be 12 weeks old to receive a rabies vaccination, and it takes 28 days for a first rabies vaccination to take effect. Do not get caught realizing, at the last minute, that your pet lacks the necessary vaccinations.
  • Do you have a kennel? American Humane reminds all pet owners that, regardless of the mode of travel, all pets should remain properly kenneled when traveling, particularly cats. Begin training your pet to use a kennel well in advance of your departure date, to get your pet accustomed to remaining confined for hours at a time.
  • Make sure your pet has proper identification tags or has been microchipped, to give you peace of mind in the event your pet gets lost during your trip.
  • As a backstop for your own planning, contact all of the following before traveling to ensure that your pet meets the necessary requirements to accompany you: Your veterinarian; the airline or travel company; the places where you plan to stay overnight; The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal & Plant Inspection Service, Veterinary Services, online at www.aphis.usda.gov/vs/sregs or by calling 800-545-USDA (8732) and pressing #2 for state regulations; and the foreign consulate or regulatory agency if traveling outside of the United States (at least four weeks in advance).

Regardless of your mode of travel, if your pet makes the trip with you, be sure to bring the following:

  • Your veterinarian’s contact information, as well as the names and locations of veterinarians located at your destination or along the way.
  • A current color photo of your pet, to make identification easier if your pet should get lost.
  • An identification tag for your pet that includes your name and contact information, as well as a travel ID label containing the same information as well as the contact information for your overnight accommodations, such as the hotel where you are staying.
  • Current copies of your pet’s medication records, including any health issues, medications your pet needs, and record of vaccinations.
  • Any medications your pet has been prescribed—bring enough for the duration of the trip as well as some extra in case you encounter delays.
  • Your pet’s belongings, including his or her food and water dish, toys and blankets, collar, crate, harness, and leash.
  • A first aid kit for your pet.

If Traveling by Air

According to the Humane Society, contact your airline to find out its specific rules for traveling with a pet. Some of the questions you should ask include:

  • Can my pet travel in the cabin with me?
  • Are there any special health or vaccination requirements for my pet to be permitted to fly? Note: Most airlines require a certificate of veterinary inspection that was completed within 10 days of travel.
  • Do you require any specific type of carrier? Note: Most airlines will accept either hard or soft carriers. However, some may require a specific type of soft carrier, and may limit the size of carrier that you can bring into the cabin.
  • What are the restrictions for transporting pets in the cargo hold?

Before opting to transport your pet in the cargo hold, you should know the dangers of doing so. While many pets have arrived safely to their destinations via airplane cargo area, some pets die or get injured when flying this way each year due to excessively hot or cold temperatures, poor ventilation, and rough handling. Dogs have also escaped or disappeared while loading into the cargo hold.

Be sure to arrive at the airport early so you can allow your pet time to exercise before the travel begins. Exercise care when taking your pet through security. If your pet is securely harnessed, security screeners may permit your pet to remain with you while the carrier gets X-rayed. Otherwise, the airline may permit special screening procedures that will allow your pet to remain inside a kennel.

If your pet must ride in the cargo hold, you should do the following:

  • Avoid feeding your pet four to six hours before the trip. Give your pet small amounts of water. Food and too much water before traveling may cause your pet to get sick, urinate, or defecate in the carrier.
  • Make sure the carrier your pet travels in is large enough for your pet to stand up and turn around comfortably.
  • Affix stickers to the outside of the carrier stating “live animal” and “this side up” to help prevent injuries to your pet during loading and unloading. Affix travel labels with your contact information to the carrier as well as to your pet’s collar.
  • Ask the airline if you can watch your pet be loaded and unloaded from the plane.
  • Let your flight staff know that your pet is in the cargo hold. The pilot may have the ability to take special precautions for your pet to prevent unsafe conditions.
  • Use direct flights when flying with a pet. Not only does this reduce the time your pet must stay contained in a kennel, but also avoids compounding the risk of repeated loading and unloading. It also may reduce the chance of the airline losing your pet.
  • Pay attention to the weather and plan your flight accordingly. Pets do better in the cargo hold during early morning or late evening flights in the summer and during afternoon flights in the wintertime.
  • Avoid giving tranquilizers to your pet before flying unless a veterinarian has prescribed them and the vet understands that you plan to travel by air.
  • Trim your pet’s nails so that they do not get caught in holes or vents in the carrier or other crevices.
  • If you witness an airline worker mishandling a pet—either your own or someone else’s—be sure to report the incident to the airline as soon as possible.
  • Once you have reached your destination, retrieved your pet, and arrived at a place where it is safe to remove your pet from the carrier, carefully inspect the animal for injuries and, if necessary, seek veterinary help.

If Traveling by Vehicle

Although preparing to travel by vehicle with your pet is not as labor-intensive as air travel, you should still take some basic steps to ensure a safe and comfortable journey, such as:

  • The best way to travel with a dog is to have it secured inside a crate and the crate anchored to the seat with a seat belt. While dog seat belts are good for preventing your dog from roaming and becoming a distraction to the driver, they do not protect the animal during a crash. Cats should always travel in a carrier that is fastened into the seat by a seat belt. The best place for an animal to ride in the car is always in the back seat, away from the airbags.
  • Do not allow your pet to ride with his or her head sticking out the window. This can cause the animal to become injured by airborne debris or sick from having a heavier flow of oxygen into his or her lungs than normal. Additionally, pets should never be transported in the back of a pickup truck due to the heavy flow of air and debris, the risk of death or injury in an accident, and metal surfaces that can become heated by the sun and burn your pet.
  • Never leave your pet in the vehicle for any amount of time. Even on a mild day, the temperature inside a car can become too hot for a pet within a very short period of time.
  • Take frequent breaks so that your pet can eat, drink, go to the bathroom, and get some exercise. However, never let your pet out of the car unless without wearing a collar, identification, harness, and leash.

Other Modes of Travel

Very few cruise lines accept pets, with the exception of service animals. If you want to take a pet on a cruise with you, be sure to contact the cruise line to find out if it is allowed. If so, then you should also ask about the cruise line’s policies for whether your pet can be kept in your private cabin or if your pet must stay in a kennel on the ship. If kenneling is required, ensure that the cruise line keeps kennels out of the elements and be sure to check on your pet frequently.

Service animals are allowed on all train lines, and some train lines accept pets too. Be sure to verify that a train line allows pets before traveling, and be aware that it will be your responsibility to take your pet to exercise and eliminate during stops.

Staying Overnight

Overnight trips with animals also raise these considerations:

  • Ensure that the hotel where you plan to stay is pet-friendly. You can find pet-friendly hotels in the area where you plan to travel through an internet search or through recommendations from family and friends.
  • If you stay with family or friends, be sure before traveling that your host knows that you plan to bring your pet and can accommodate an animal.
  • If you plan to camp overnight with your pet, ensure that the campsite is pet-friendly. Be aware that your pet may encounter wild animals such as skunks, raccoons, or snakes that could not only attack your pet but could also carry disease. Ask your veterinarian before traveling about flea, tick, and heartworm prevention.

Traveling with your pet can add joy and companionship to a vacation, so long as you make adequate, informed preparations well ahead of time. Every year, unprepared pet owners encounter difficulty, and even tragedy, because of a failure to plan ahead to ensure their pets’ well being on a trip. You cannot eliminate all risks to an animal while traveling, but careful planning can keep them to a minimum (and reduce your stress, too!).


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Philadelphia, PA 19102
215-825-5183