Traveling with your pet might sound like a fun and harmless idea—and surely a better alternative than leaving him at doggy daycare for the week. But cruising the sky with your fur baby isn’t as simple as claiming him as carry-on. It involves a lot of research, prep work and permissions. So before you head to the airport, read up on these pre-pet-travel to-dos from animal experts.
Research your destination thoroughly
First things first: You want to be sure that your beloved pet can travel safely and legally to your destination. “Some countries are more pet-friendly than others and may even require a pet passport,” says Liz Bates, industry certified travel specialist and travel and concierge director at Thirdhome. “Certain locations may even have quarantine periods for live animals that can last the entirety of your trip.” You may luck out and learn that all your destination requires is that Fido’s had his rabies vaccine, but it’s smarter to call and be sure instead of showing up pup (and plans) in hand.
Call the airline ahead of time
Additionally, you’ll want to call the airline to find out the specific rules and procedures you’ll have to abide by. “Whether your pet is traveling in the cabin or in cargo, there’s a limited amount of space reserved for animals,” explains Bates. “Some airlines, like Southwestern or JetBlue, don’t have cargo space due to their limited size, thus pet space gets taken up much more quickly.” Ultimately, you’ll be charged based on the combined weight of your dog and kennel, so the smaller the cheaper, she says. This is why it’s smart to call ahead to confirm that your pet gets the green light to travel and, of course, purchase a pet airfare ticket to match along with yours.
Take a visit to the vet before take-off
On top of making sure your fur baby is in tip top condition, you’ll want to make sure she’s had her rabies vaccine in recent months. “Timing of the vaccine is important, as many countries will not honor immunizations that were administered before your pet had a microchip placed, and, therefore will require your pet to have a repeat vaccine before travel,” says Julio Lopez, DVM, DACVIM, practicing vet at Studio City Animal Hospital in Studio City California. “There is also a waiting period that varies by country dictating how many weeks or months you have to wait after a rabies vaccine for your pet to be eligible for travel.”
Make sure your pet is properly trained
Use positive reinforcement training (with the help of a certified professional, if you are new to this kind of training) to teach your pet to be comfortable with strangers and other animals, suggests Bloom. If you haven’t already, the first step would be to train your pet comfortably on a leash (yes, this speaks to cats, too!). Then, Bloom recommends familiarizing your animal with a crate or carrier. “Make sure your pet is properly house trained (and get certified professional help on how to deal with house training issues if your pet is not),” she says. “Teach your pet to come when called, and to either sit, lie down or stand still when asked; these can all be useful skills in a crowded environment, and may even save your pet’s life in some situations.”
Ask for your pet’s health papers to go
While you’re at the vet, ask for copies of all of your pet’s paperwork in case you need to show anyone at the airports you’ll be traveling to and from. “You should have your pet’s health and rabies certificates attached to the top of their crate,” recommends Bates. “You always want to make sure your pet is identifiable so that you can be contacted immediately if he or she gets lost or routed incorrectly.” In this contact information, add in any numbers you may be using temporarily while you’re traveling, as well as the location of where you intend to stay.
Consider anti-anxiety medications or sedatives
Not for you—okay, maybe also for you—but for your pet! “Some animals don’t like traveling in cars very much (they may get carsick, assume they are headed to the vet or have a traumatic memory associated with travel), and others are stressed out by noice and confinement,” explains Irith Bloom, Certified Professional Trainer and owner of The Sophisticated Dog, a training company in Los Angeles. “If you’re traveling with your pet, no matter what type of transport you take, there will be noise and the pet will be confined to either the car or a crate (if you’re traveling by air or train).” If this kind of thing causes your pet to be stressed to the max, leaving him with a sitter might be a wiser idea.
Purchase the right carrier
The International Air Transport Association has specific requirements for dog crates, so check the crate you have at home to make sure it’s up to code. “If you’re buying a new crate specifically for travel, be sure it’s big enough and that you have the accessories needed for travel,” says Bates.
Jenn is a freelance writer, editor and content strategist in NYC. Her work can be found in Women’s Health, SELF, Health, Reader's Digest, and more. When she's not putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), she can be found traveling the world and discovering more about the big apple of a city she's always dreamed of calling home.