Traveling with Pets: The Holiday Checklist

Today may be the busiest travel day of the year, but there’s no doubt that pet owners and their pets will be on the road now through the first of next year. Travel requires a lot of preparation—especially if a furry loved one goes along for the ride. However, before hitting the road, pet owners should make a travel checklist for their pets and check it twice.

While Dr. Katy Nelson, veterinarian, Pet TV host and animal health reporter, suggests pet owners start holiday travel prep in October, it’s not too late for pet owners to prepare for smooth travel with their pets. Pet Business spoke with Nelson for tips that pet retailers can share with customers as the busy holiday travel season begins.  


Pet Business: How soon should pet owners begin readying their pets for holiday travel or boarding?
Dr. Katy Nelson: It's generally a good idea to begin holiday preparation around the first of October. Boarding facilities fill up quickly, pet sitters get booked up and airline ticket prices start to rise the closer we get to the holiday season. Have your pets' vaccinations updated weeks ahead of travel dates so that immunity has time to build. Getting a kennel cough vaccine the day before dropping off at a kennel allows for an insufficient amount of time for the pet's immune system to process the vaccine.


PB: What should be on a pet owner's travel/boarding checklist?
Nelson: Each boarding facility will have their own set of requirements for vaccination protocols, but pet owners should always work with their veterinarians to choose the immunization plan that is right for their individual pet. If your veterinarian advises against any of the vaccines required by the facility, airline, etc., then your veterinarian can write a letter excusing your pet from receiving the recommended immunizations. 

All pets must have a health certificate to cross state lines, whether traveling via car, plane or train. These must be done within 10 days of your departure date, so have an appointment set to do that, so you don't get to the airport and find yourself unable to board with your pet. 

Check weather conditions closely, as you do not want to fly a pet in the cargo hold in extreme temperatures. Most cargo areas are not temperature controlled, so pets can be exposed to high heat or extreme cold if flown in this weather. It's much safer to leave them at home with a pet sitter or at a boarding facility than to risk their health in the cargo hold in extreme conditions.

Have refills of any required prescription medication on hand when traveling with your pets, so you have access to what they need to keep them healthy. Seventy percent of your pets' immune system is in their GI tract, so a healthy gut can lead to a healthy pet. Talk with your veterinarian about establishing healthy eating habits, not only for health at the holidays, but throughout the year. A fresh, healthy diet that is low in carbohydrates and preservative-free, fed in appropriate portions and combined with regular exercise, can help to maintain a perfect weight. You can also ask your veterinarian about using probiotics during times of particular stress to avoid GI upset.


How can retailers help pet owners prepare for traveling/boarding over the holidays?
Nelson: Retailers carry many products that can help owners prepare for holiday travel and boarding. Consider an orthopedic bed to send with your pets to the kennel, to prevent stiff joints, or an airline-approved hard-sided carrier to keep them safe on the plane. A seatbelt or safety seat for a long car ride is a must. But most importantly, always bring your pet's food with them on a long trip. Don't leave it up to the kennel facility to feed them, they will go for the less-expensive bulk option, rather than the healthiest choice for your specific pet.



PB: What products would you recommend that pet owners have on hand to make holiday travel successful?
Nelson: Always have a safety belt or safety seat when riding with your pet in the car. Never allow them to roam free in the car. Not only is this unsafe for your pet, it's unsafe for you and your family as this is a major source of distracted driving.

· Never travel with anything other than an airline-approved carrier on an airplane. These are readily available at retail stores. 

· A super-cushioned, orthopedic support bed will help your elderly pets to thrive during the process of boarding and can help prevent the sore, stiff joints that can happen with decreased activity typically associated with the boarding process. 

· Always bring your pets' own fresh, healthy foods with them on an adventure so that they do not have to go through the stress of a diet change during the stress of travel or boarding.

· Have a properly fitted leash, collar and/or harness, so that walking your pets is not only comfortable, but also safe. Consider one with a reflective surface to keep you safe in the waning daylight hours typical of wintertime.