By Ramona Marek
The global COVID-19 pandemic disrupted travel as we knew it for us and our pets. New travel bans, restrictions and regulations have been imposed which may be temporary or permanent. They are all subject to change in a moment’s notice. When travel restrictions ease and we’re ready to travel with our pets again, these trusted pet planning tips help make travel relatively stress-free, safe and fun.
Travel during the pandemic is limited to essential travel only or completely prohibited. Many countries, provinces and states have closed their borders to travelers, including pets. As some places ease their border restrictions allowing travelers in, many require a 14-day quarantine for people and pets. You, yourself, may need health documents to travel since some places require a recent, negative COVID-19 test. Again, border openings/closures are fluid, therefore can change quickly.
Offices responsible for providing required travel/entry documents for pets may, or may not, be open regardless of the border restriction.
The airline industry has been hard-hit by the pandemic forcing stringent changes in air travel, most notably for pets. Some airlines allow pets to travel in the cabin following breed, weight, size guidelines while others have discontinued the in-cabin service until further notice. Many airlines have stopped carrying pets at all, which includes the service of pets traveling in cargo. Some airlines have exclusions for military pet transportation, others ban all pet transportation.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recommends people postpone traveling with their pets right now, if possible. If you must travel with your pet it is prudent to thoroughly research travel conditions, start planning early (at least six months or longer), expect increased screenings, additional quarantines, and keep up with the fast and frequent changes to avoid added stress, costly expenses and potential heartbreak of being stranded somewhere together, or worse, separated from each other. It may be wise to work with a travel adviser to help plan your trip if you want to travel with your pet during the pandemic.
The first travel consideration is your pet’s comfort. Does your pet really enjoy travel? Some dogs and adventure cats can’t wait to hit the road while other dogs and most cats find travel stressful. If your pet doesn’t travel well, arrange for a personalized staycation with a trusted pet sitter or boarding facility. You’ll both be happier. Once you are sure your pet can travel, prepare, plan, pack and have patience.
Health check-up. Before your trip, schedule a pet checkup with your vet to make sure your pet is healthy enough for travel and that his or her vaccinations are up-to-date. For airline travel, some campgrounds and if you need a pet sitter/boarding facility while traveling, you’ll need a health certificate and proof of vaccinations. Make copies of your pet’s records along with a current photo and download them to a flash drive to keep with you in case of an emergency. Keep the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center phone number in your phone: (888) 426-4435. A consultation fee may be applied to your credit card.
Identification. Make sure your pet has current identification tags with your cell number and an emergency backup phone number, any medical condition your pet has and a telephone number and address where you can be reached during your trip.
Consider microchipping your pet and be sure to register the microchip. If your pet is already microchipped, double check that the microchip is registered with at least one microchip registry and that your contact info is current. See my article “Do I Need To Check My Pet’s Chip With My Vet.”
Practice. If it’s been a while since your pet last traveled, make a few practice trips around town to reintroduce the car, accessories and movement. During this time, reintroduce the harness, carrier and other accessories. Leave the items out around your house so your pet can get reacquainted with them. Creating familiarity with the objects reduces stress for both of you when it’s time to travel.
Sleeping arrangements.If you’re staying with family or friends during your getaway, is your pet welcome? Will your pet be allowed on the furniture or required to sleep in a crate? If crate sleeping is expected, practice staying off the furniture at home and sleeping in the crate a few weeks in advance using positive reinforcement. Take along your pet’s bed so he or she will be sleeping in a place with a familiar smell.
Plan your travel, whether by car or air, and if you need accommodations. Pet-friendly accommodations are more common than ever, but you’ll need to research pet policies—fee or free, smoking rooms only, crated, etc. Read online reviews to get an idea of a property’s pet-friendly room; you do not want to arrive tired, hungry and sleepy to find inhospitable accommodations. Make reservations well in advance.
When making reservations be sure to speak to a real person, get a receipt and reconfirm before check-in, ask for a ground floor room, near an exit for easier access and schedule walks during housekeeping visits. If you leave your dog unattended be sure to give your cell phone number to the front desk in case of emergency. Many lodging venues frown on leaving a dog or cat unattended in a room; check their policies. Some accommodations do not accept pets—please don’t try to sneak in unnoticed, that’s not only disrespectful, it’s unnecessarily stressful to you and your pet.
Map it out. When traveling by car, plan your driving route, where you’ll stop every two hours for potty and exercise breaks, and where you’ll stay the night. When you stop for breaks, make sure your pet is on leash before opening any doors to prevent escape. Never leave your pet in the vehicle unattended, even in the shade. Pets can’t regulate their body temperature which could cause irreversible harm or death.
Flying. Air travel is an experience unto itself these days with so many different and ever-changing airline and airport security policies. To keep your sanity and reduce stress for you and your pet, call the airline ahead of time to discuss its policies. Some airlines have breed, weight and seasonal restriction; some will take online reservations while others won’t. You’ll also need to know which carriers meet airline and IATA guidelines. The safest bet is book with a person and get a pet confirmation.
Prepare yourself for sticker shock for the price of a pet ticket, it may cost more than yours! Expect to take your pet out of the carrier before going through x-ray screening; put your pet on leash to proceed through with you and expect additional screening.
Comforts of home. Packing your pet’s familiar things such as favorite toys, blanket and bedding helps reduce travel stress. Bring enough of your dog’s regular food and treats for the duration of the trip plus extra in case of an emergency. Don’t forget a can opener if you’re taking canned food.
Pack enough medications, supplements, etc. for the length of trip plus extra. Fill a bottle with water from home to keep your pet’s tummy settled. Don’t forget food and water bowls.
For cats, the list includes ample supply of litter, litter box and scoop. Don’t forget the pet first aid kit! Other items include plastic bags for clean-up, a roll of paper towels, an old towel; consider carpet cleaner—because accidents happen. Housekeeping staff will appreciate your courtesy.
Plan extra time. Traveling with a pet requires patience, understanding and flexibility. Plan to follow your pet’s daily routine as closely as possible as it relates to exercise, playtime, feeding schedule and sleep. You’ll need to stop more frequently than you think, stops will take longer than you planned and it will take longer to get where you’re going. Go with the flow and expect the unexpected. Advanced preparation at home before your vacation starts ensures summer pet travel can be fun, happy and stress-free for the whole family.