Summer Travel with Pets

by Dr. Marty Becker, DVM

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This summer’s vacation can be a real “pet project”.  We all know it’s expensive to board your pet as you hit the road, so why not let your furry friend frolic in the fun? “America’s Veterinarian”, Dr. Marty Becker, shows us how you can share a sensational, yet safe, summer vacation with your four legged pal.

1.)   Since our pets are part of the family, what should we keep in mind when taking them on a road trip?

If you’re traveling by car always secure your pets in the seat. The number of people who do so is slowly rising, but not quickly enough for my taste: According to a 2009 survey by the American Pet Products Association, 61 percent of pet-owners do not secure or restrain their dog in the car.

Keep your pet safe in a comfortable crate or carrier, or use a canine car harness that attaches to your seatbelt. Barriers are popular, too, but choose carefully: Some are too flimsy to protect dogs and people in case of an accident. Also, keep pets out of the front seat unless they are secured in a booster seat with the air bag off.

Dogs can get bored in the car too. Bring along pet toys and puzzles to keep them occupied.

More tips:  Carry an emergency kit with first aid supplies (talk to your vet about pain-relief and tummy-upset medications), a muzzle (hurt pets can and do bite!) and extra food and water. Your pet should have an ID tag with your cell phone number on it, since a home phone will do no good if you’re not there. A microchip ID is just as important, in case your pet slips his collar.


1.    You might be traveling into an area that poses health risks for your pet your pet you don’t face in your hometown. For example, you might be traveling into an area that has a lot of external parasites such as fleas and ticks or heartworm disease (carried by mosquitoes) and need to protect your pet. Ask your veterinarian what products you should use before you go and while you’re gone.

2.    Many pets get motion sickness. You can ask your veterinarian about products that act like an invisible cork to prevent car sickness.

2.) What should we keep in mind if we’re traveling by plane?

Always check with your airline well in advance of travel. Not all airlines allow pets, and others limit the number of animals per flight, both in the cabin (for small pets in carriers that fit under the seat) and in cargo. You will also need for your pet to see your veterinarian no more than a few days before flying, to get a health certificate to present at check-in.

If flying in the cargo area make sure pets are in strong carriers that are well ventilated, and just big enough that a dog can stand up, lie down, and turn around comfortably. Be sure all fasteners are in place and tightly secured to prevent the carriers from snapping open and allowing your pet to escape. Bring zip-ties to the airport to secure the door at check-in. You will not be allowed to have anything in the crate except simple bedding, such as shredded newspaper. Your pet should wear a breakway collar with a simple ID tag (and should be microchipped), and food and water bowls are required to be attached to the door in a manner that allowed filling from outside the carrier. Be sure a “live animal” sticker is visible, along with contact information for you and for whoever is picking up your pet at the other end, if that’s not you.

If traveling on the same flight, ask politely if your pet has been loaded if she’s to travel in cargo. If in the cabin, resist the urge to take your pet out of the carrier (it’s not allowed) and be considerate of other passengers by keeping your pet quiet. Be open to changing seats if your neighbor is allergic – ask the flight attendant for help.


1. Never ship a short-nosed dog or cat, such as bulldogs or Persians. The vast majority of pets who die in transit come from these types of pets, who have difficulty breathing and staying cool.

2) Never ship pets who are elderly or extremely ill.

3) Choose direct flights if at all possible. If your pet needs to make a connection, call the airline to check that your pet was loaded on the second plane. In warm weather, over-night flights are preferred; in winter, daytime. Try to avoid peak travel periods, such a holidays or Mondays.

4) Most pets are better off traveling without being tranquilized. Talk to your veterinarian, though: Your pet may be the exception. If your pet is so anxious that she needs medication, though, she may not be a good candidate for air travel.

5) Watch the weather. Airlines do not accept pets for cargo when it’s bitterly cold or too hot.

3.)   Going to the beach is always a popular destination. What advice do you have for our furry friends to enjoy it as well?

Check for pet-friendly beaches and obey the rules. Some beaches allow pets off-leash always, or at certain times or year or hours. Bring your leash, fresh water, shade and clean-up bags.  Toys such as the Cool Kong or other floating toys are great for retrieving, so bring them along. Tennis balls also float, so bring a Chuck-it.

Not all dogs like to swim. If your dog prefers wet paws and nothing more, that’s fine.  Dogs such as pugs and bulldogs aren’t good swimmers and should be kept in the shallows. For dogs who do like to swim and are good at it (such as retrievers) be aware of tides, current, rough water and high waves. Enforce “time outs” to ensure your dog isn’t becoming exhausted: Even good swimmers can drown.

Also, keep in mind, the sand can get hot on their paws. Protect them with booties.

Protect ears and lightly furred patches with waterproof children’s sunblock. White dogs may need to be protected over their body by pet clothes, or even a simple T-shirt.

Pets on the beach ca suffer from biting flies. Ask your vet for a recommendation of a product that can protect them.

4.)   Any other tips can you share with us?

Sure, here’s another tip, if you’re going to be on a boat this summer, don’t forget to have a life vest for your furry friend. Most dogs are tempted to jump off into the water for a refreshing dip, but whether they prefer the chilly water or just kicking-back on board, a life preserver should be part of their permanent style. A dog flotation vest would help protect them in or out of the water.

Also, don’t forget to keep them hydrated with portable bowls throughout the day.

And again, don’t forget the paw protector on the hot deck.

The 4th of July can also pose threats to our pet:

1.    BBQ – It’s tempting to give a dog too many leftovers from the 4th of July feast and you’ll either end up on your hands and knees cleaning up a mess (vomiting or diarrhea) or worse (dog will get pancreatitis). Get it a special treat for the holiday but don’t let your pet graze on human goodies. Also, many a pet has wafted in on sweet smells and jumped up on the BBQ and severely burned foot pads so be aware.

2.    If your pet is afraid of fireworks, using pheromones like D.A.P. or ask your veterinarian for a prescription of generic Xanax.