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Traveling With Your Pet
Prepare Your Pet for Travel
In our mobile society, chances are good that your pet will be transported during its lifetime. Whether for an annual visit to your veterinarian or a weekend trip, your pet will travel. To predict problems that may arise, consider the circumstances of a trip. Is the trip more or less than 2 or 3 hours long? If it is a long trip, will you have opportunities to visit with your pet? Will your pet be within view or secluded in a separate compartment? Will your pet be confined to a carrier or crate?
When possible, prepare your pet by gradually exposing it to elements or sequences of the trip and then practice departures. If your pet is not used to traveling, brief frequent trips are the best way to expose your pet to this experience. The steps are detailed below. As long as your pet's basic comforts are attended to, the trip should go well. For short trips, remove food at least 2 hours before starting the trip. For longer trips, remove food several hours before the trip. You may feed your pet after the trip. Offer small amounts of water until an hour before travel. Depending on the length of the trip, water bowls can be left in the carrier or not. Play with your pet or engage it in some kind of positive interaction before you leave home. If your pet is well exercised before it is confined, it will be more comfortable. Make sure your dog has a long walk or your cat has enough time to use the litter before its confinement. Your pet will be less likely to become nauseated or to soil itself during confinement if it is given every opportunity to void before departure. Most pets become adjusted to travel with frequent travel opportunities. They may feel more secure if they are confined to a sturdy and well-ventilated carrier. Cats and small or medium-sized dogs may learn to travel in pet carriers designed for travel. Large dogs, for example, may be confined behind special gates that section off the back of a motor vehicle. Have your pet's general health evaluated by a veterinarian before you leave on a long trip. Ideally, this should be scheduled well before an anticipated trip and not left for the last minute. Vaccinations should be updated. Make a list of your pet's known physical disorders and any new problems that have developed since your last visit. If you are going overseas, your veterinarian may be able to advise you regarding reports of pet health problems prevalent at your destination. Consult the embassy or consulate of the country you will visit for information on any documents or special vaccinations that your pet will require. Have these with you at the veterinary appointment. Your veterinarian's signature may be required to clear your pet's health status for custom officials. If you are traveling within the United States, ask your veterinarian if there are any diseases in the area you will visit that are a threat to your pet's health. When you return, take in a stool sample for analysis in case your pet has acquired any intestinal parasites. You may wish to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to check for other parasites, such as heartworms or fleas, or any other problem noticed during the trip.
Fear and Anxiety During Travel
Regardless of the mode of transportation and the reasons for it, several behavioral problems may arise because of fear. Fear may cause hyperexcitability and agitation, hyperventilation, vocalization (whining, meowing), attempts to escape or hide, aggressiveness, nausea, vomiting, defecation and urination. Destruction of the interior of your car or pet carrier may indicate fear or anxiety, particularly if the pet is isolated from you. A pet can turn its fear or anxiety against itself by excessive self-grooming during the trip. Fearful responses to travel may worsen or remain relatively constant over time. Your pet may become fearful before a trip if it learns to recognize signs of impending departures. Very young or aging pets can show effects after travel. The stress of travel can decrease a pet's resistance to disease. Intense fear can result in serious illness in animals with undiagnosed or inapparent ailments.
Use of Sedatives or Tranquilizers
Tranquilizers or sedatives intended to ease your pet's fear during transport are usually not necessary. Such drugs should probably be reserved for pets that suffer from extreme fear or anxiety during travel, and should only be used at your veterinarian's recommendation. The type of medication and its dosage must be appropriate for your pet's age, basic temperament, degree of emotional upset during travel, duration of travel and physical status. Most drugs used for this purpose are short acting, with a peak effect lasting only several hours. For longer trips, it may not be worthwhile to sedate your pet, though it may help it through the first part of the trip. The risks of tranquilizing your pet must be weighed against the benefits. Some pets become more anxious when a tranquilizer begins to take effect. An unusual reaction to tranquilizers can make a pet agitated and excitable. It may help to do a "test run" by giving a dose of the medication a few days before travel so as to observe its effects on your pet. If your pet's only problem during travel is nausea or vomiting, medication to combat motion sickness may be all that is required.
Most pets travel in the family car. Problems relating to car travel may be divided into 2 categories. Instinctive fear or anxiety is most commonly seen in young pets that are unfamiliar with vehicle motion. If your pet has positive experiences during car travel, it will lose its fear. A pet can become fearful or anxious after a single stressful car ride (or its destination). Pets commonly begin to fear car travel after experiencing some uncomfortable procedure at their veterinarian's office. Their fears will likely fade, however, if they routinely travel in the car to other places. You can teach your pet not to fear traveling in the car. If the animal balks at approaching the car, play with it near the parked car. Give treats to reward calm behavior, or feed small portions of its regular meal, moving closer to the car. Feed your pet in the parked car, reassuring it with praise. Alternatively, give your pet a special treat or brush its coat if it enjoys being groomed. It may take days or even weeks for your pet to relax in the parked car. Once the dog is calm in the parked car, turn on the motor and go for a short trip around the block. As your pet learns to tolerate this stage, extend your trips. If your pet travels in a pet carrier, begin to feed your pet in the carrier in your home, with the carrier door open, before continuing the process in your car, as outlined above. Pets that enjoy car travel can also pose problems. A pet that is allowed to move freely and jump around from lap to lap may distract the driver, injure itself and other passengers, and damage the car's interior. Secure your pet in a carrier or have it restrained by another passenger. Dogs should be taught desirable behavior in the car by maintaining a "sit/stay" or "down/stay" position. Do not let your dog extend its head or lean out of a car's open window or travel unrestrained in the back of pickup trucks. Your dog could jump out of the car or be thrown into traffic in case of a sudden swerve or stop. Wind, dust and debris may injure your dog's eyes, ears and nasal passages, causing infection, inflammation or serious injury. Keep windows slightly open and lock doors. Seat belts designed for pets are an option for dogs that do not tolerate cages. Pets should be gradually accustomed to these before an extended trip. If possible, never leave your pet unattended in a car. During warm weather, the car's interior can heat up drastically and could kill your pet in a short time. If you must leave your pet for just a few minutes in the car during warm weather, park in a shady area and partially roll down the windows for adequate ventilation. During cold weather, leaving your pet in the car for extended periods is inhumane. Your pet is safer at home where it is safe from harsh conditions or theft.
If you are planning to fly with your pet, inquire first about the airline's policy regarding transport of pets. Speak with your travel agent and the air carrier's representative when making your flight plans. This information could help you to decide which airline best suits your needs. Avoid making reservations first and then discovering unacceptable conditions regarding your pet's travel. If your pet is to be kept in the baggage compartment, ask about the conditions there. If you are told that the temperature in the baggage compartment will be cooler than what your pet is used to, place an extra blanket in its crate. Unless your pet is used to wearing a coat, this is probably not a good time to start, as overheating is as uncomfortable as feeling cold. A healthy pet can well endure slight temperature fluctuations. Ask whether anyone attends the pets in transit. Unless you are traveling for longer than a day or can take your pet out during stop-overs, it is probably best to keep visits to a minimum. Your pet may be made more anxious by seeing you, only to watch you leave. You will be reassured if an airline employee agrees to give you reports at regular intervals. Air travel always requires animals to travel in crates or carriers. Airlines may provide a crate suitable for your pet or may require that you supply your own carrier. The crate should be spacious to allow your pet to stand and turn around comfortably. It should not be overly large, however, as this could lead to injury. Some crates intended for cats or small dogs are designed to slide under your airplane seat. These crates are somewhat cramped, but many pets feel more secure in smaller spaces for short periods. A crate must allow for adequate ventilation. Labels should clearly indicate that the crate contains "Live Animals." Provide your cat with a small litter pan filled with enough filler to absorb any elimination but not so much that the filler will make a mess. Bedding should be soft and absorbent but not excessive. A favorite towel or blanket may reassure your pet, particularly if it holds your body odor. A small quantity of water and a favorite toy may be left in the crate. Depending on the length of your trip, you may be better off to leave the crate empty of everything but the pet. If your pet is tranquilized, do not leave food or water in the crate. Obtain the crate long before traveling day. Introduce your pet to the crate by allowing it to investigate. Play with the animal, tossing toys into or near the crate. Place its food or water dish in the crate. Try to accustom your pet to remaining in the crate for longer periods. If you will be using a hand-held carrier or are concerned that an excitable pet will disturb other passengers, it may be appropriate to get tranquilizers from your veterinarian. If the pet is traveling in the passenger compartment, you will have the advantage of being nearby to reassure your pet that all is well. Should the tranquilizer's effect begin to fade on longer trips, you will be nearby to repeat the dose according to your veterinarian's instructions.