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Traveling Safely With Your Pet

People travel with their pet for many reasons, including business, vacation and relocation. After all, if you consider your dog or cat to be a member of your family, you want to include them on trips. And chances are, you’ll have options for how you and your pet travel, be it by car or by plane, depending on your destination. If you are thinking about traveling with your pet, here are seven questions to consider.

Is your pet healthy?

Whether traveling by land, sea or sky, your pet should be healthy enough for travel and current on his or her vaccinations. As part of your pre-travel planning, ask your veterinarian if your dog or cat is fit to travel. Pets with underlying health conditions or who are very skittish or aggressive shouldn’t be subjected to the stress of travel, although traveling by car with you will be easier for them.

Flying, in particular, can be stressful even for well-seasoned travelers. If flying is your only option to reach your destination, it may be best for your furry companions to stay home with a pet sitter or relative — or to enjoy their own staycation at a boarding facility.

Be aware that many airlines will not permit snub-nosed or smooshed-faced (or, in vet-speak, brachycephalic) dogs and cats to travel in the cargo hold. These pets can have trouble breathing even under normal conditions and may not make good air travelers. Traveling by car is definitely easier — and likely less stressful — for these breeds of dogs and cats!

If you’re traveling across state lines or flying, you’ll need a health certificate for your pet and proof of rabies vaccination (and possibly others). Your veterinarian can provide the health certificate, which most airlines will want issued no more than seven to 10 days prior to departure.

Is your destination and the route to it pet-friendly?

Be sure to do your homework and planning before traveling to a new destination with your pet. While more hotels, restaurants, parks and other venues are opening their doors to pets traveling with their owners, these businesses vary from one area to the next. Metro-area trains and buses may or may not permit your pet to board, depending on your pet’s size. If you’re planning on using public transit to move about your destination city, you’ll want to investigate their pet policies before you arrive.

If you and your pet will be traveling by car, map your route in advance to ensure enough stops for your pet to get out, stretch and relieve themselves.

Is your pet’s identification up-to-date?

Pets can escape and get lost, no matter how careful you are. That’s why your pet should have an updated identification tag that includes your cell phone number on his or her collar. Better yet, a microchip is a more permanent ID method and, if you’re traveling to another country, may be required. Just be sure your microchip company has your current contact information as well as your emergency contact’s current phone number.

Will some routes be less stressful for your pet?

Just as making connections can be stressful for us, being transferred from one plane to another can be stressful for your pet. Whenever possible, book a nonstop flight to your destination. You’ll also want to avoid scheduling cargo travel for your dog or cat during seasons with temperature extremes. During these times, the danger isn’t in the air but on the ground. In fact, according to, many airlines won’t transport pets as cargo during excessively hot or cold periods. Delta Cargo, for example, imposes temperature restrictions of 10 degrees Fahrenheit and 85 degrees Fahrenheit for safe, comfortable pet transport.

When traveling by car during spring and summer months, never leave your pet alone. Leaving the car windows partially open or parking in the shade isn’t enough to prevent the interior temperature from rising to deadly levels, even on a relatively mild day. And the majority of the temperature increase occurs in the first 15 to 30 minutes.

Cold weather travel has its risks, too. As with warm weather, leaving a pet alone in a car during cold weather can be dangerous. Cars can hold in the cold much like refrigerators and allow pets to freeze to death.

Should your pet be given a sedative or tranquilizer?

Dogs and cats that need a sedative, tranquilizer or motion sickness medication in order to travel are likely to be happier staying home, preferably with you, a pet sitter or relative. But if your dog or cat has to travel with you, consider traveling by car, train or ship. When flying, giving your pet a sedative or tranquilizer is not recommended because the effects of these medications on animals at higher altitudes are unpredictable. And unfortunately, calming devices including ThunderShirt® wearables are typically not permitted by the airlines.

Do you have an appropriate carrier or restraints for your pet?

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has regulations that specify what type of crate or carrier is acceptable for pet air travel. The pet crate must:

  • Be made of sturdy plastic or wood (check with the airline to ensure they’ll accept it)
  • Provide adequate ventilation on three sides for domestic flights
  • Have a waterproof bottom
  • Close with a spring-locked metal door

The crate must also be large enough that your dog or cat can stand, turn around and lie down. Any wheels that are present must be disabled, and except for smaller crates, no handles are permitted. Airlines also have requirements regarding crate identification and food and water bowls. You’ll want to review the specific airline’s guidelines well in advance so you can purchase any necessary supplies or equipment.

Even if you’re not traveling by air, you’ll want to take proper safety measures to secure your furry travel companion. Whether you use a seat belt harness, carrier or crate, it’s important to secure your pet while in the car to help protect them (and others) in case of an accident. Even a sudden stop at a low speed could hurt your pet if they’re not secured or contained.

Where will your pet travel? In the cabin or railcar with you? Or in the cargo hold?

Where your pet travels will depend on whether you’re traveling by air, sea, rail or land, and may also depend on your pet’s type and size.

Some airlines will allow cats, dogs and pet birds, to travel in the plane’s cabin — depending on the number of other pets already booked on your flight. The caveat, however, is that your pet has to be able to fit comfortably in an airline-compliant pet carrier under the seat in front of you.

According to, if your pet is too large to fly in the aircraft cabin, is an animal other than a cat or dog, or is traveling alone, then your pet will travel as manifest (air) cargo. In other words, your furry family member will travel in the aircraft’s cargo hold. You’ll usually check your pet in and pick it up at the airline’s cargo facility, which is typically located on airport grounds but not in the airport terminal. At the time you book your flight, you’ll want to contact your airline directly for booking your pet’s flight.

Amtrak, which provides passenger rail travel in the United States, will permit small dogs and cats to travel with you in coach, but doesn’t ship pets or allow them to travel as checked baggage. Pets must travel in carriers placed under your seat and weigh less than 20 pounds. Trips with pets cannot exceed seven hours.

And if you want to take your pet on a cruise? Currently, only Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 allows your dog or cat to travel with you in your cabin (unless your pet is a service animal). Certain transatlantic sailings will permit your pet to come along but they’ll be confined to the ship’s onboard kennel where dedicated crew members will care for them.

When arranging to travel with your pet, think about what’s safest and most comfortable for your pet. Once you determine what’s best for your pet, you can start making your travel arrangements. And regardless of your chosen transportation mode, know there are things you can do to maximize your pet’s safety and comfort.

RELATED POST: Pet Care Options for When Your Pet Can’t Vacation with You


The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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