Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, ASPCA Executive Vice President and Science AdvisorAugust 1, 2008
It being summer and all, a lot of you have been hitting the road or jaunting overseas with your furry friends. We brought in Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, ASPCA Executive Vice President & Science Advisorheck, our resident expert-on-everything!for some sage advice on keeping your pets safe and happy while traveling.
I know that pets can’t travel without vaccinations or rabies shots, but how young is too young for the little ones to go on a trip? Especially when they are flying?
Yu Yu Din
Federal regulations require pets to be at least eight weeks old to fly commercially. They need to have veterinary health certificates that were issued within 10 days prior to travel.
Keep in mind that the general formula for bathroom breaks for dogs is about one hour per month of agethis means that a two-month-old dog will have to go to the bathroom about every two hours. I think it is usually best to wait until a dog is at least six months old for air transport. A dog that age is more likely to be able to handle the time frame of a two-to-three-hour flight, including loading, travel and unloading.
If you are going to travel by car, you just need to make sure that you have time for frequent bathroom stops and a little bit of exercise.
Is it okay if we bring a kitten on a long trip, like from Louisiana to Florida?
Kittens can travel pretty well, Kathryn. You do need to keep them in a carrier for their own safety, and yours. If you are going on vacation it is often best to leave cats/kittens at home. It takes them time to get used to new places and locations. It is usually easier on cats to find someone to care for them in your home or in a boarding facility.
Which is safer for my dog, a seatbelt or a guard? She weighs 25 pounds and likes to look out the windows. When she is in the seatbelt, she pulls it and that concerns me, but I don’t mind her sitting in the passenger seat when I am the only one driving. Any suggestions?
You dog should either ride in a carrier or with a seatbelt and harness, Allicia. This is especially important if the dog is in the front seat, where she might interfere with driving.
Don't allow dogs to ride with their heads outside the window, since they may be injured by debris from the road. You may also want to disable the airbag on the passenger side, as is recommended when a small child rides in the front seat.
What pet carrier would you choose for planes, hard plastic or collapsible?
Plastic carriers provide better protection and security for your pet. They prevent things from getting into or stuck on the carrier. They also tend to shield the pet from visual distractions that may over-stimulate them.
My boyfriend and I are adopting a new bunny at the end of August. I was wondering, what is the best way to travel with my bunny so I don't stress him out too much? I was going to use a cardboard pet carrier, because that’s all we have. Is there something better I can use?
Vonnie, a plastic travel carrier would be safer. It’s worth the investment, because you should also use it when you need to take your bunny to the veterinarian. If your bunny goes to the bathroom in a cardboard carrier, there could be leakage that might damage the carrier and your car seat.
Put something soft on the bottom of the carrier and secure it so it does not slide or shift around in the car. Given that you will be traveling in August, be aware of temperature and sunlight so your bunny does not overheat. Keep in mind that the front of the car may be comfortable, but the back seat may be exposed to bright, strong sun, and the AC may not be as effective at cooling that part of the car.
Hello! Where's the nicest place you have been?
If you are talking about places where I've gone with my dog, Morgan, who is a beagle from the ASPCA Adoption Center, I would say I really enjoy going home to visit my parents in Western New York. While I now live in New York City, we do visit upstate a couple of times a year and Morgan makes the trip with us. My parents live in the same small town where I grew up, and I take Morgan for walks to the same places I took my first dog, Tiny, who came from the SPCA serving Erie County.
I’ve heard good things about those gates that you put in your SUV to keep larger dogs in the back seat. What do you think of them?
The gates for the back of a SUV or station wagon do work very well. I used one when I traveled with a Dobie. Take care to mount it securely using the directions from the manufacturer. I used to hop into the back of the Jeep and push and pull on it to check that it was really secure.
Make sure that the area in the back is clear of loose items like tools and lubricants, etc., and give your pups a bed or blanket to lie on.
We have a healthy two-year-old, 22-pound dog whom we need to take with us from California to Italy. We are concerned about him flying “cargo” for such a long trip. We have heard that if it gets too hot, the airline will deny flight for the dog and it can be dangerous. Are there other alternatives for transporting him to Europe? Private pet airlines? Barge? Or are there specific things we can do to ensure his safety while he is flown over?
For something like this, Geri, I recommend a professional pet transport company. These companies are familiar with the regulations regarding vaccinations and veterinary certificates for entering Italy with your dog. You can ask your veterinarian for a recommendation, check the yellow pages, or search online. When you contact the company, ask for references from past customers to ensure its reliability and safety.
Why do cats cry when in a car? I took one of my kittens in a car to go to PetSmart, and all she did was cry and cry and cry. Even in the store! But she didn’t cry on the drive homeand the next time I took her in the car, she again cried on the first leg of the trip, but not on the return trip. Why does she do that?
By cry, I suspect you mean meow. Cats will do this for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes it is to get attention, but other times they do it because they are anxious. If you don’t take your cat around in her carrier very often, it may just be something that she is not used to. I once had a cat who would sometimes meow up a storm when we were going somewhere, even though she was always happy to hop into her carrier!
I have a seven-year-old kitty whom I adopted from people who couldn’t care for her anymore. I don’t think she traveled much with them. My apartment is being renovated, and I'm thinking about taking her to stay with my family, who live about four hours away. We've done this once before: she was fine on the way there, but cried on the way back.
I do think it would be less stressful for her to come with me than to let friends take care of her, since she can be very timid and frightened by new placesand she has already been abandoned once beforebut I don't want to stress her out with the ride. I've been thinking about sedating her. What kind of effects can that have on my kitty? Is this an acceptable solution? I really don't like the idea of drugging my cat, but if she just sleeps for the four hours it takes to get there, I know she'll be happy to explore my mom's house again. Thanks.
If you are thinking of sedation, you need to consult your veterinarian. However, this is not necessary in most cases. What time of day did you travel last time? One way to make the trip easier is to travel during the time of day when your cat would normally be taking one of her lengthy daily naps. Also, cats will often nap after a vigorous play session, so before leaving, get out a laser pointer, cat teaser or some other toy and run her around for a little while. There is a good chance she will then sleep the trip away.
By the way, you are right, Christineif you will be out of your apartment for awhile, your cat will be happier being with you.
Dr. Z, I'll be going on a two-hour sail around Manhattan with my dog. What should I bring, and what should I be watching out for? Thanks!
Pune, make sure you take your dog for a good walk before getting on the boatthere may not be a “head” for his use. You should also see about getting a life jacket or personal floatation device (PFD) for your dog. These usually are required for all human passengers on a boat, and there is no reason to skip our furry family members. These life vests usually come in high-visibility colors, so it will be easy to spot and recover your pooch should he or she take a spill.
Keep in mind, even the best canine swimmers may be spooked if they fall off a boat and panic when they hit the water. In addition, the waters around Manhattan are subject to strong tides and currents that can quickly exhaust a dog in the water. I suggest you keep your sea-faring dog on a short leash at all times. Have fun, and be careful!
I work for a NGO helping to conserve natural resources for indigenous people and animals. My dog hates, hates, hates kennels, but I need to fly him to Ecuador. I want as little trauma as possible, so I really want him “out cold” until I get him there. What medications are good for a 65-pound dog? He doesn't like strangers anyway, but especially not while in a cage.
Another problem with this endeavor is lack of money. What would you do if you were in my situationlow on cash, but didn't trust anyone else to care for your pet? Your input is invaluable to me!
I am not a veterinarian, Kristin, so I cannot speak to the question of medications other than to recommend some caution here. Strong sedatives have a depressing effect on respiration. This really must be addressed with your regular veterinarian, who should be familiar with the overall health of your dog.
There are companies that specialize in the shipment of pets and other animals. You can check the telephone book or look online. They will be able to help you come up with the safest way to move your dog.
However, if private transport is not financially feasible, your first step should be to find out some additional information on your upcoming assignment. Where will you be, and will you be able to have a dog there safely? Will you have time to spend with him, and access to dog food and veterinary care if needed?
Instead of booking a direct flight to Ecuador, I suggest you plan a layover somewherestagger the trip so you can have a day at the layover site. That way, your dog will not need to be medicated for a very long period of time.
Once you get to Ecuador, you may want to see about doing the final part of the trip over ground. If you are going to a small town somewhere, air service may be sporadic and uncertain.
I’m going to have to remove my scared cat, who’ll be wearing a harness, from the carrier to go through airport security. What is the best way to do this?
First, practice before the trip. A couple of times each day you should put the harness on your cat and practice placing her in the carrier and taking her out. Give her a treat each time so it becomes a fun and familiar exercise. Another advantage here is that as you get more comfortable and skilled doing this, you will be less stressed and won’t have to worry about transferring stress to your cat. You may want to try and travel during a time when it will be less busy at the airport and at security.
And finally, keep a towel with you. It provides a quick and easy way to bundle your cat and get her back into the carrier if she gets rambunctious.
What is the best way to keep my cats calm while in their carriers on the plane? I do not want to use tranquilizers, but feel terrible about their anxiety.
You can lower your cats’ anxiety about being in their carriers by making some short car trips with them. Another thing to do is leave their carriers out in your home with the doors open. Put a comfy pad or towel inside so they get used to taking naps in their carriers.
We are planning on going to Tennessee this Christmas and want to take our three Lab/shepherd dogs (60-70 pounds each) with us. Any good tips we should know before we take this adventure?
Practice, practice, practice. Get them used to travel now. Work on their basic obedience skills, toothey will be much more fun as travel companionsand more welcome as guestsif they are well-mannered.
If you are staying with friends or relatives, ask about their expectations or limitations. Is it okay for the dogs to hang out in the living room? How about on the furniture? How will your hosts feel about you coming and going from the house on early or late dog walks?
You should also ask about house plants or other possible health risks that might be present at your Tennessee destination. Check out our Animal Poison Control section for more information on home safety.
How can I help a carsick cat? Thanks!
First, get a veterinary exam to make sure your cat has no medical problems.
You can help avoid a carsick cat by not feeding him or her right before travel. Once in the car, keep your cat in a carrier to reduce anxiety and prevent car sickness.
I am going to take our dogs for some private training about four hours away. We will be staying in my dad’s camper with the dogs. One is a Lab/cocker mix who weighs 50 pounds, and the other is a spaniel mix who weighs 65 pounds. How often should we stop to let the dogs drink and move around? Also, do you have any tips for traveling with them and keeping them in the camper? They do enjoy traveling in the car, so they are used to it.
Try and stop about every two hours. It is best if they are secured in the back seat with harnesses that attach to the seatbelts. This will keep them from getting in your way when you are driving, and will protect them if you need to make a sudden stop.
Bring along a jug of water from home and offer some every time you stop. You should not need to feed them during a trip of this length. When you are at a rest stop, make sure the dogs are secured on leashes before you open the car doors so they cannot dart out. Be a polite travelerwalk them in areas designated for pets and clean up any waste. Don't let them lick, eat or drink anything around the rest stop.
As far as the camper goes, take along some familiar bedding, bowls, toys and other items from home so they will be comfortable staying there.
For more advice on traveling with pets, check out the car and air safety tips in our Pet Care section.