Traveling with your pet can be a grand adventure—or a complete nightmare. Preparation is key, especially when you’re traveling with new pets. A positive, peaceful attitude also goes a long way. With the right gear and outlook, pet travel can lead to a wonderful bonding experience with your new fur baby.
Get Your Pet Moving!
Make sure you burn off some of your new pet’s energy before your travels begin. “A well-exercised dog is a well-centered dog,” says Michael Schaier, a certified professional dog trainer and owner of Michael’s Pack, a Long Island-based dog training company focused on positive reinforcement and holistic methods. Michael recommends taking your dog on a long walk, engaging her in a spirited game of fetch, or practicing training exercises.
If you have a kitty, you’ll have to catch her at her most active time—around dusk, which is prime hunting time. Try playing “catch the light” with a laser pointer or “hunting” with a wand toy. Many cats will happily chase a ping pong ball down a hallway. It’s just important to make sure they get up and moving before their day of travel.
The point is to engage your pet physically and mentally—“The calmer your pet is before leaving, the less stressed they will be during your travels,” says Michael.
Check Your Attitude
While there are pharmaceutical options for sedation, many pet behaviorists and vets won’t recommend drugs as the first line of defense against travel anxiety. A strong and confident leader (you!) is the best medicine for travel nerves. If you seem stressed out and nervous about pet travel, your pet will mimic your emotions.
This is especially true with dogs, who thrive when their owners adopt the role of pack leader. It’s important to convey a sense of self-confidence and calm to your pet through your body language and tone. Dogs are especially responsive to your eyes; make continuous eye contact while speaking in a controlled, quiet tone. As Michael explains, a true pack leader does not become frustrated or anxious in emotional situations.
While cats do not have the same pack mentality as dogs, they are also sensitive emotional thermometers, so it’s equally important to keep your emotions in check around feline friends.
For example, when placing your new pets in a dog carrier or cat carrier, don’t say, “Oh, poor baby! I’m so sorry you have to be stuck in this scary space!” in a trembling voice. Instead, with self-assured body language and an even tone, tell your pet that she’s going into her comfy carrier to rest on her favorite blanket. Gently but firmly place her inside.
The safest way to travel with your animal is in a pet carrier. If not securely restrained inside the car, your pet can be a major distraction and can fall or be thrown around if you hit the brakes. When traveling by air, a pet carrier is not only required—it also helps your new pet feel secure by giving him a private, quiet space.
Michael recommends that you help your pet warm up to her new pet carrier by leaving it out around the house for several weeks. You can leave a treat inside each day so your pet has pleasant associations with the carrier. On travel day, adding a blanket or toy that smells of home can help ease your pet’s anxiety.
Each airline has specific requirements and costs for traveling with pets, so reach out prior to booking your tickets to ensure you’re as prepared as possible. Many airlines require health certificates and updated shot records.
Smaller animals traveling in the cabin with you need a travel bag or carrier that can be placed under the seat. The Petmate Soft Sided Pet Kennel Cab & Carrier is perfect for in-cabin airline travel for dogs and cats under 15 pounds. If you prefer a hard-sided carrier, the Petmate Two Door Top Load Pet Kennel is ideal for new pets that weigh 20 pounds or less. The extra door on the top of the carrier makes it easy to reach in and give your pet a reassuring cuddle.
Larger animals must travel in the cargo area of the plane with checked baggage and need a hard-sided carrier. Petmate’s Ultra Vari Kennel for Dogs & Cats is made from durable plastic and can hold animals up to 90 pounds. This carrier features 360-degree ventilation to ensure your pet stays cool and a groove along the inside of the floor to keep your pet dry.