By Andrea Hunnicutt
The holidays are upon us, and for many of you that means traveling with your pets to visit relatives. There are many things to consider when deciding to take Fido or Fluffy along with you for the trip. Here are a few things to think about before embarking on your journey.
In general, dogs travel better than any other type of pet. Cats and exotic animals can get really stressed out by being away from their normal surroundings so it is best for you to make arrangements for them to stay home. If you only plan on being away for a day or two, you could consider asking a friend, family member or neighbor to pet-sit for you. If you will be gone longer than that boarding your pet (especially exotics) is really in their best interest. Facilities with training on how to specifically care for exotic pets as well as recognize signs of illness are the safest place for your critters to stay while you are away. Exotic animals are very small and fragile, and they can become seriously ill in a short period of time. Early recognition and intervention in their symptoms is the surest way to keep them healthy.
Just remember, at this time of year, the weather can be unpredictable. Excessive snow or ice storms may delay your return home or cause a power outage that could jeopardize your pets if no one is home, so if you’re not boarding, think carefully about the pet sitter you choose. That person should be prepared to deal with a longer stint caring for your animals as well as know what to do to keep them safe and healthy should there be a loss of power.
Traveling with dogs is easier than with other pets, but they have their own list of things to be aware of. The first thing to consider is how you plan to travel, by car or plane? If you are planning to fly with your pet it is important that you do your homework well in advance! Every airline has their own set of rules and regulations that you must by which you must abide. Your veterinarian can help you with the basics but it is unrealistic to expect your vet to know the ins and outs of each airline rule. If you plan to travel abroad with your pet do your research! Traveling abroad often takes months of preparation to bring along any furry friend.
In general, most airlines require a health certificate to fly. This is a document that your veterinarian must fill out stating that he has examined your pet and he is in good enough health to travel with you. This document must be filled out NO MORE than 10 days prior to leaving, and it is only good for 10 days from the time it is issued. This means if you are staying somewhere for longer than 10 days you may need to find a veterinarian in the town of your destination and get ANOTHER health certificate for the return flight home. If your pet is flying in the cabin with you, be sure you have an approved carrier for him. Carriers to ride in the cabin must meet specific requirements that allow them to fit beneath the seat. Carriers to fly below in cargo also must meet specific guidelines based on the size of your pet. The other documentation you may need to allow your pet fly as cargo is a “letter of acclimation.” This is a letter stating specific temperatures that are safe for your pet and the length of time at those temperatures your pet can safely travel. If you are flying when the weather is anything but mild, be prepared to make other arrangements for your pet. It is not safe for the animals to be on the tarmac for extended periods (due to unseen delays, etc.) during extreme temperatures – hot or cold. This may seem like a lot of paperwork but I know many frustrated people who were denied their flight to or from home because they didn’t have everything in line for their pet. It is better to have everything you need and not be asked for it than to be stuck at the airport unable to leave town at the last minute.
Traveling by car is a lot less of a hassle as far as rules and regulations go – there are none. Overall most dogs travel very well in the car, but if your dog has never been on a long road trip you should consider a few “trial runs” driving around town for at least a 30 minute ride on each trip. This will enable you to observe how well your dog will tolerate the trip ahead.
Is he anxious and unable to settle down? An anxious dog in the car may pant, salivate, tremble, or be unable to sit still. If he cannot settle down once the car has been in motion for a while, or if his anxiety intensifies you may want to consider leaving him behind for the holidays. If that is not an option, speak to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medications you might be able to administer to calm him down for the trip. There are a variety of prescription medications and over the counter home remedies, as well as some homeopathic options available. Because every pet has unique needs based on his individual health, be sure to ask your vet what he or she recommends for your pet.
Does your dog vomit or salivate excessively in the car? Carsickness can make any long drive even longer if you constantly have to stop and clean up messes. Besides, how terrible would it would feel to be nauseated the whole drive? Carsickness tends to affect puppies more than adult dogs (similar to the way if affects children more than adults) and just as with people many dogs outgrow it. A Puppy’s digestive tract is not fully mature and is more easily upset in general. Add to that an immature neurological system more sensitive to vertigo and you have a recipe for, well, vomit. To help ensure a smooth ride there are a few things you can do to minimize nausea. First and foremost, don’t feed your dog the morning of the trip. He can have dinner the night before but skipping breakfast will cut down on your dog’s chances of getting sick. If this doesn’t seem to do the trick, there are medical and homeopathic remedies to try. Ginger is a natural anti nausea option, and many pet owners use ginger snap cookies to help settle their pet’s stomach before a car trip (one cookie per 10 to 15 pounds of body weight 30 minutes before the drive may help). If you need medication, your veterinarian may be able to prescribe Cerenia® tablets. This is an extremely effective medication that was developed, in part, specifically to treat motion sickness in dogs. Many people ask about trying Dramamine® for their dogs, but the dose is so high for dogs it often makes them too drowsy if you give enough for it to be effective. (The dose is much higher than for people to effectively control nausea in dogs.) As always, consult your veterinarian to decide what will be best for you and your dog.
Things to pack
Making a list before you leave of what you need to bring for your pet will minimize leaving town without an important item. If your dog is taking any medications, be sure you have enough to last you for the trip and call in any refills at least a few days before you leave town. Packing your pet’s normal food is also a wise idea to avoid stomach upset from a sudden change in diet. Of course items of comfort are always appreciated as well, so bring along a favorite toy or bed to make your pal feel at home away from home. Be sure you have the phone number of your veterinarian in case anything happens during your trip. Even if you are out of town your vet can give you advice on the phone and help you find a doctor where you are staying if that is what the situation warrants.
Once you are there
Now that you have finally arrived at your destination be sure that Fido has the best chance for a happy holiday, too. Even though it may be tempting to give him a taste of the celebration feast, do not give in. Holiday meals are high in fats (that is why they are so yummy) and can make dogs seriously ill with things from gastroenteritis to pancreatitis. Bones are another big no-no. They can cause fractured teeth, intestinal blockage and perforation. If you feel you must treat your furry friend on the holiday be sure it is with a dog appropriate snack and don’t overdo it, a little goes a long way.
If your pet isn’t used to being around a lot of people or children, or even other pets and will be exposed to any in this situation, be sure to watch him closely for signs of stress. Even the most gentle of dogs can become very frightened and nip in an overwhelming situation. Be sure to educate the youngsters that your dog needs “rest” or “quiet time” if he seems like he is becoming overwhelmed. Also try to make special time that is low key just for the two of you while you are away.
After your first successful holiday away your fuzzy traveling partner will be looking forward to your next adventure together!
Andrea Hunnicutt is the head technician at Kansas City Veterinary Care. She graduated from Maple Woods Veterinary Technology program in1997. Andrea has been with KC Vet Care since 2001. You can contact Kansas City Veterinary Care at (816) 333-4330, or visit them online, www.kcvetcare.com.