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Pets Large & Small

Traveling with pets

Dr. Kimberly Brokaw, DVM
Walkersville Vet Clinic

(3/2016) Traveling with pets adds an additional challenge as opposed to traveling without them. Not only do you have to worry about their food, water, and excrement, but also how they will behave when stressed. I have had several clients that have asked the pros and cons of flying somewhere with their pet versus driving. While flying is usually faster, at least when you drive, you can stop the car and clean up if the pet has gotten motion sickness. Sometimes flying is necessary. When flying out of state, not only will you have to comply with the health certificate requirements of the destination state but also with the requirements of the airline. Each state, as well as airline, can have different requirements. Traveling out of the country with a pet adds its own challenges. Some countries require blood tests and serial vaccinations as well as parasite treatments in addition to their own, often very complicated, health certificates. These health certificates often require signatures of both the animal's usual veterinarian as well as an official state or military veterinarian. The preparation for flying your pet to a foreign country can sometimes take months.

Airline requirement for travel are usually stated on their websites. For example, United Airlines requires that a petís kennel or crate conform to IATA and USDA regulations. United will not accept pets who have been sedated. They recommend that small dogs and puppies be carbohydrate loaded by feeding Karo syrup or honey for 24 hours before departure. If a dogís blood sugar becomes low during travel, seizures or death can result. Delta Airlines will not accept certain breeds of dog in cargo, as bull dogs and other dogs with similar facial shapes are more prone to overheating. Airlines will usually not accept dogs in cargo if the weather is predicted to be hot or cold at the originating or destination airport. Some airlines will not accept any pets for travel as cargo. A health certificate, issued within 10 days of travel, may be required by the airline.

Traveling with pets in the airline cabin, under your seat, instead of the cargo hold, has a lot of advantages. The cabin is climate controlled. You are close by to continuously monitor your petís health. Unfortunately, for bigger dogs, traveling in the cabin with owners is not permitted. The exception to this rule is for service dogs. Service dogs have a different set of rules about flying in the cabin with their owners. If you are planning on taking a service dog in the cabin, be sure to check the airline website and to have the proper documentation of the dogís status as a service dog. If you are thinking about having your pet in the cargo area, do a Google search about pet travel. Many dogs have escaped from their cages, never to be seen again. Sometimes, there are unpredictable delays and the airplane cargo hold becomes too hot, leading to the death of the pet. If, during flight, the cargo smoke detector goes off, the pilot must activate a fire suppression system that will kill your pet. Air travel with pets is not without risks.

If you are traveling by car, bring plenty of food and water for you pet, as well as a bowl, leash, and harness for use at your stops. If your pet gets carsick, see your vet for some carsickness medication.

Although you are not likely to be stopped and asked for a health certificate when traveling by car, you are technically required to have a health certificate for most interstate travel. Check the state websites of the states you will be traveling through to find each stateís requirements. Your pet can travel by car, even if you chose to fly. Dog breeders often use professional shippers to send their dogs to shows. This is an option if you need to get your pet somewhere, and you are not able to do the driving yourself.

One of my clients had recently married and she and her husband were moving across the country. Her beloved cat "Fatty-Pants" aka "Pudge" was to accompany her. While they weren't moving until spring, Pudge's owner had started preparations in the winter. She was still trying to decide whether it would be best to drive the cat across the country or fly.

When Pudge's owner came into the clinic, she was accompanied by her aunt. She was very apprehensive about the travel and even though she new she had months to prepare, was quite anxious about the entire ordeal. She brought Pudge in one carrier, but had brought a second one that she thought would be more comfortable for airline travel under the seat. The new carrier was approved by the airline yet Pudge didn't want to go in and his owner was distraught. She was hoping that I could give him a sedative not only for the flight but also so he would go in the carrier. Pudge was sitting quietly on the table while I examined him and filled out his travel forms and vaccination records.

When I finished his exam I picked him up and calmly placed him in the new carrier. He walked in with no fuss and immediately lay down and stared out the carrier door and watched us. The aunt was laughing as she watched Pudge's owner fret about how Pudge would never walk into the carrier for her and voice her concerns to me about various modes of travel. The aunt suggested that the owner take Pudge's sedative or go to her doctor for some Prozac and that would likely solve all the problems. The aunt even offered to keep Pudge at her house for a few months until her niece got settled. Pudge had originally belonged to the aunt but after the niece had moved in with her, the cat had transferred his affections to the niece and had become her cat.

Pudge aka Fatty-Pants was actually named after my client's uncle. Her uncle had been a prominent member of the Emmitsburg chapter of the Former Former Boozers Association, and following one of their meetings had come home and told his wife that either the new kitten had to go or he would go. Not only did the cat stay, but he was given the uncle's nickname as well as the uncle's favorite chair, which now doubles as a scratching post. My client was also making travel arrangements for Pudge's chair. While it was quite worn and torn up, it was still the cat's favorite, so would be accompanying them to their new home.

While Pudge's owner had jokingly contemplated sending the cat in the moving van with his favorite chair, she new that flying was the better option. The drive would take multiple days but the flight would be under a day of travel, even if it was going to be a very stressful day. The airline had advised her that she would also have to take Pudge out of the carrier and walk him through security while the carrier was run through the luggage scanner. Pudge's owner had nightmares about him jumping out of her hands and running through the airport with her unable to catch him. While I reassured her that the sedative would help calm Pudge, he should also be wearing a harness so that if he did jump out of her arms, she would still have him on a leash. While she had made a request for a private room for security screening, no one from the airport had guaranteed her that her request would be accepted.

At the end of our appointment, I hoped Pudge's owner felt more comfortable flying with her cat. She had a copy of his vaccination record, a health certificate, a veterinarian completed airline pet travel form, as well as several feline sedatives. We had reviewed the proís and cons of sedation for travel. I'd also demonstrated how to put a harness on Pudge, as well as gotten him to calmly walk in his new carrier. The aunt laughed as her still anxious niece asked if she could make an appointment on the day of her flight to come in and have me give Pudge his sedative and put him in his carrier.

Travel with pets can be done, but requires a lot of thought and preparation. With good preparation, your pet can arrive safe and sound at your destination.

Read other articles by Dr. Kim Brokaw