It’s hard to leave those sweet eyes behind. That furry face is staring up at you with all the love in the world and then … you close that door and it is instant heartbreak for you and your “fur baby.”
But taking your pet on a trip is not as simple as piling into the vehicle or stepping onto the plane. Everything must be considered, from pet safety to the vacation destination.
Dr. Cole Bierbaum, veterinarian at Pinnacle Valley Animal Hospital in west Little Rock and a member of Christ the King Church, said there are several things pet owners need to do before hitting the road, but one of the most important is making sure their pet is micro-chipped — a vet procedure that implants a small tracking chip beneath the skin of the dog or cat that, when scanned, will share contact information for the owner or what vet the pet goes to.
“You’ve seen stories where a pet is found thousands of miles away. Micro-chipping is the universal way of determining where they belong,” he said.
• In a vehicle, Bierbaum said, “you really need to have them restrained,” either using a pet seat belt that typically latches onto a harness and to the vehicle’s seat belt or have the pet in a carrier.
“They have one you can strap into a seatbelt so the carrier isn’t going all over the place,” he said, adding that it’s the owner’s preference on where to put the carrier, but it should be kept out of extreme heat or cold.
Though it might be tempting to let a whining, barking or meowing pet lose, it’s not recommended.
“I had a cat in vet school, one that was very laid back but he meowed the whole time coming back from Baton Rouge,” Bierbaum said. So, he decided to let the cat roam free in the vehicle. “First thing he did was go almost under my brake pad. I learned the hard the way with that. I got him out of there, but never again.”
• While the go-to for most pet parents might be to sedate an anxious dog or cat with a small amount of Benadryl, Bierbaum does not recommend it. Sedatives are not always safe as they can sometimes change their “ability to acclimate to temperatures,” he said.
However, if a pet is overly anxious to where sedation is necessary, he said to test it before a big trip.
“Just like with people, every pet reacts differently,” Bierbaum said. “It can cause them to be excitatory, just sedated enough to be aware of what’s going on and not calm down. It’s not a fun way to figure that out when traveling.”
Bierbaum said there are herbal methods or treats that can calm an animal down, including Feliway, a calming pheromone for cats.
• Depending on the pet and their needs, dogs and cats can typically “hold it” for eight to 10 hours, if they refuse to go to the bathroom outside or for cats, a disposable litter box in a large travel crate can be used, he said. Giving pets some food and water along the way is also important, depending on the pet, but particularly those that are older and younger, Bierbaum said.
• Traveling out of the country comes with unique specifications.
“There are so many regulations now, they really need to do the homework,” Bierbaum said. “If they’re going to another country get with the vet to find out the policies of that country.”
Pettravel.com, which has listed pet friendly services on the web since the late 1990s, is one of the top databases that show several travel guidelines for more than 240 countries, including walking owners through the process of getting an international pet passport. It also includes most major airlines pet specifications.
Susan Smith, president of Pet Travel Inc., headquartered in Oakland Park, Fla., which manages pettravel.com, said throughout the years, she has seen a substantial growth of owners bringing their pets on vacation and more businesses accommodating that uptick.
“The retirement of the baby boomers, that has been a tremendous boon in the pet industry as a whole,” Smith said. “They love pets; because their kids are gone, they’re sort of empty nesters and looking for an alternate way for company. The second thing is they love to travel.”
Right through the economic recession in 2008, Smith said the pet industry, money people pay for their pets or pet friendly services, has risen by about $2 billion a year.
• When the website was first launched, employees found about 1,900 hotels that were pet-friendly. Today, the site lists more than 35,000 pet friendly hotels and inns and businesses that allow pets, as companies know catering to pet owners will boost revenue, Smith said. More expensive hotel chains like W, Marriot and Hilton have become pet friendly.
“Real high-end hotels can offer pet massages, pet salons, they offer room service menus for pets … some of them offer pet beds, a welcome basket with toys. It’s really amazing the extent they’re catering to pet owners,” Smith said. “Concierge services, they’ll walk your pet. You can ask the concierge to arrange for a pet sitter.”
It’s important when booking through a hotel-finding website, like Expedia, to call the hotel first to make sure the whole hotel is pet friendly, rather than just certain rooms, to understand the pet fees and to make sure there is not a size limit.
• Every day, pettravel.com adds more information about fun things to do with a pet, as more local governments are establishing dog parks and even restaurants are allowing customers to bring their pets, Smith said.
“If they offer outdoor dining, you see a lot of them where they allow people to bring their pets,” Smith said. “I just read a funny article about a brewery in the Midwest … they actually have a draft beer for dogs, it’s all safe, no alcohol in it. They’re doing these things as marketing ploys,” to get pet owners to visit.
• Typically, the warmer climate states like California and Florida that offer outdoor activities including hiking or festivals are popular to take a pet, Smith said.
But no matter where a pet owner travels with their four-legged friend, making sure the pet is safe and well-cared for along the way will be the key to taking them along for another adventure.
“It’s a worldwide movement,” Smith said of pet travel. “We’re really thrilled about it.”
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