Traveling with pets in tow: a vet's take
How about a monstrous topic now that we’re suffering the summer doldrums in the extreme (at least here in Miami)? Traveling falls under the category of “monstrous” because it’s one area where industry has notoriously failed to catch up to consumer demand. Here I refer more to the actual transportation industry and not so much to the hospitality industry, but even the more-progressive hotel trade could use a bit of bucking up.
Ever thought of taking a train trip with your pet? It’s not allowed. Flying with a dog over 15 pounds? Down below, please. Going on a cruise? No pets allowed. And don’t even think about a bus—I think you’d rather ride cargo with your dog in the belly of a plane than subject yourself to this misery anyway.
A few European ships do allow pets but its not so common as it once was back when first class meant you could bring aboard anything your heart desired. Even the Orient Express won’t let pets on board anymore, in case you’re looking for the ultimate in upscale transportation.
It drives me crazy that even people with assistance animals get the runaround when traveling. Show ‘em a wheelchair and airline staff becomes fastidiously solicitous. Show ‘em a big black Lab at the end of a leather harness and they fly into a tizzy (I’ve seen this happen, in case you think I make things up for fun).
And how about the paperwork aspect of travel? Health certificates for all types of interstate transport are technically required in the US (though this isn’t enforced for ground travel). Pets need to have an up-to-date rabies vaccine on record along with a physical exam within ten days of travel. If they’re in good health, the vet can then sign the required certificate. (NB: If you plan to stay longer than ten days at your destination, the airlines may require you to secure another certificate for the return trip.)
My rule with airline travel is to always call ahead and ask to speak with a manager at the airline about regulations concerning your pet. Don’t forget to get the person’s whole name and the date of the call so you can prove who told you what and when.
I’ve seen people crying in airports because their dogs weren’t allowed on flights at the very last minute because their paperwork was “incomplete.” On one occasion I was able to help out and write a certificate on the fly that the airline would accept. But how many of you will be lucky enough to run into a vet while making the connection from Buenos Aires to New York through Miami?
Apart from the above, the best vet-centric advice I can give you about traveling petwise is listed here:
- Dot every I and cross every T twice before embarking on your journey. That means confirming hotel acceptance and requirements and re-checking airline regulations and reservations. Check three times for international travel.
- Travel by car is always preferable, especially if you have large dogs who might otherwise be remanded to the plane’s cargo hold.
- If your dog must go cargo, be aware that it’s gotten much safer to do so. Airlines won’t let your pets travel down below when it’s too cold or too hot. If there’s a pet down below and the plane is delayed on the tarmac they must return to the gate to ensure the pet isn’t too hot or too cold (the temp controls don’t kick in until the engines are a go.) But just in case they don’t tell you, I wouldn’t let my Frenchies fly under 50 or over 85 degrees (other breeds are hardier).
- Have water bottles, ice and treats handy for traveling. Don’t sweat the small stuff like a full meal unless your trip is over 12 hours long.
- Don’t travel with pups and kittens if you can help it. They’re more easily physically stressed (and it throws their training into a tailspin).
- Don’t forget to stock up on food and meds—their diseases don’t go on vacation elsewhere when you travel.
- Drugs for transport are an unwise idea in most cases. Unless your pet is a very fractious creature, sedation isn’t usually necessary.
- Consider that travel can be stressful. Use calming oils (such as lavender) on their bedding or other aromatherapy products (like Feliway).
Until our pets get their own section on planes and trains, I won’t be happy about how pets are forced to undertake transport. This may sound like a pipe dream but some airline or train service is bound to respect the pet thing soon enough. It’s only a matter of time.
In the meantime, consider that boarding facilities are improving nationwide (not so much in my area but that should change soon, I hope). Unfortunately, not every pet will be welcome at every destination. Plan accordingly.