Pet Talk: What to know when traveling with your pet

From College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University

Vacation season is officially upon us. With the kids out of school and the temperature rising, it’s time to get in your car or to the airport and go to that tropical (or historic) destination. While you may opt to board your pets during your trip, if you decide you want to include them in your vacation, there are some things to consider.

“If you are driving with your pets, it is great to know ahead of time if they get car sick,” notes Dr. Mark Stickney, director of General Surgery Services at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Before your trip, take short drives around town to see how your pet reacts.”

If your pet does get car sick or is very anxious on car rides, your veterinarian can prescribe a sedative or an anti-nausea medication such as Dramamine.

“Although Dramamine is an over-the-counter medication, it is still important to check with your veterinarian on dosage,” says Stickney. “I would also take a couple of short rides after giving them the medication to make sure that it is working.”

Once you’ve established that your pet can comfortably ride in the car, you will have to start packing up their stuff to take with you. Leashes, collars, bowls, food and identification tags should all be a part of any pet’s traveling bag.

Stickney says: “It’s important to make sure that your pet is on a leash when you stop at a gas station or rest stop. These are high-traffic areas, and there are a lot of new smells that can distract them. Even if your pet is on a leash, make sure that their identification tags are on their collar just in case. Microchips are even better because a collar or ID tag can get lost.”

If your pet is on any kind of medication, make sure you stock up before your trip in case you cannot get it where you are going. While you may be able to buy your pet’s food at your destination, it is a good idea to make sure so you don’t have to feed them an unfamiliar diet.

“While you can test your pet on new foods at home, you really don’t want to change their food on a trip,” warns Stickney. “This could upset their stomach and cause diarrhea—something you really wouldn’t want to happen on the road or in a plane.”

Proof of vaccinations and medical records are good things to have on any trip with your pet in case of an emergency, but might be necessary if you are flying with them.

“Most, if not all, airlines will require proof of vaccination and a health certificate in order to put them on the airplane,” explains Stickney. “You have to get the health certificate from your veterinarian 10-15 days prior to a trip, so make sure you leave yourself enough time to do this.”

Checking with an airline on their rules and procedures can help make sure all the paperwork is in order and can also give you a chance to ask any questions you may need to make sure you have peace of mind.

“I would ask them what arrangements they make for the animals aboard in case of a layover,” advises Stickney. “You want to make sure they don’t leave them waiting out on a hot tarmac.”

As much as you wouldn’t want your pet sitting on a sweltering runway, it would be even worse to leave your pet in the car on a hot summer day.

“NEVER leave your pet in the car for any length of time,” urges Stickney. “You might think that a couple of minutes are OK because you could stand it, but pets don’t sweat, they pant. Because of this, they need cool air to regulate their temperature, and if they can’t get it, they get into trouble quickly.”

Another safety note Stickney adds is that because your pet might not be in a temperature-controlled environment on an airplane, you don’t want to give it sedatives or anything that might hinder their internal temperature regulation.

Once you have made all the arrangements and precautions for your pets and your family, you are set and ready go.

“If staying at hotels, make sure ahead of time that they are pet friendly,” advises Stickney. “Before you leave, make sure everyone has had a chance to use the bathroom, and if you have any cats, bring a litter box and fresh litter. If you do all these things you should be set for a great vacation with your family and your pets.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

From the October 14-20, 2009 issue

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