Summer is a fine time for family vacations, and many pet owners want their furry family members to be part of the fun.
According to a study by AAA and Best Western International, more than half of U.S. pet owners take their cats and dogs with them when they travel. So if a vacation isn’t a vacation if your four-legged family members aren’t with you, here are some tips for traveling with pets.
What about ‘dog flu’?
With the recent reported cases of dog flu across the country (including cases in Asheville and Winston-Salem), pet owners should take special care when traveling with dogs.
Dr. Teresa Danford of Raleigh Community Animal Hospital says the current canine influenza vaccine does not protect against the new strain, H3N2. She recommends vaccinating your dog with an intranasal (up the nose) vaccine that protects against Bordatella/Parainfluenza/Adenovirus. “Though this is not a guarantee, by activating all immune cells in the nasal passages, we hope to increase our chances of ‘catching’ the flu before it makes your dog sick and preventing other diseases that can worsen respiratory symptoms,” Danford says.
Danford says the flu is very similar to flu in people; it’s highly contagious, especially because it spreads before clinical symptoms are evident. But, she says, most animals only get the mild form of the disease. “Be on the lookout for symptoms and seek medical care if your dog acts sleepy, stops eating, has a cough or develops a running nose or eyes,” she said.
It’s OK to travel with your dogs, Danford says, as long as you understand that the more dog-to-dog contact they have, the higher their risk. “Please keep your pet away from others if you think they may have it.”
Drive if you can
Most national train or bus carriers do not allow pets (except service animals), so road travel is easiest if you drive your own car.
▪ Crate ’em. It’s not recommended that your dog or cat ride on your lap or in the front seat. A carrier or crate can prevent them from roaming the car and distracting you while driving. When driving with cats, a small dog crate can often be less stressful and allow your cat to see the sights.
▪ Potty break! Plan for plenty of pit stops and bathroom breaks (a litter box in that dog crate can work for cats, but they may choose to wait until you reach your destination). And most importantly, remember never to leave your pet in the car – extreme temperatures can be dangerous for animals!
▪ Oops. Cats and dogs can get motion sickness, so be prepared with cleanup supplies.
▪ Test run. It’s good to try a few short trips before you head out on a long trip only to discover your pet would rather be at home.
If you fly
Most airlines are pet-friendly and allow you to carry on or check your pets, but they sometimes require a health certificate from your veterinarian, so check with your airline ahead of time to verify requirements.
Small pets can come onboard in a rigid or soft-sided carrier to be stored under the seat, but larger pets must fly in cargo. That isn’t always a good situation for the pet, so they may be safer and happier skipping the trip.
Hotels that accommodate pets
Many hotels offer pet friendly options – even the high-end chains. Check with individual hotels for pet policies ahead of time, and be prepared to pay an additional fee for your pet to spend the night.
Extra safety measures
Prepare for medical emergencies by researching emergency vet clinics at your destination and always bring your rabies tag and/or certificate with you.
It’s a terrifying to think about your pet getting lost on a trip or while you’re out of town, so consider a microchip if your pet doesn’t already have one. Also, have a good harness for walking (even for a cat – this can help in case your kitty gets spooked) and a collar with vaccination tags and your address and phone number.
Jill Walters is vice president of Alley Cats & Angels, a Raleigh-based nonprofit. The all-volunteer rescue group uses a network of foster homes to place rescued cats and kittens. More info at alleycatsandangels.org.
Leaving your pet at home?
If you aren’t taking your pet on vacation, there are good options for their care while you’re away. Most vet offices provide boarding, and there are business that specialize in boarding – some offering a “spa-like” experience for dogs. Again, be mindful of the dangers of H3N2 when your dog is exposed to other dogs. If boarding, inspect the facility and ask about their protocol for preventing the spread of infectious diseases.
Your pet may be less stressed if you opt for a pet sitter who visits your home to care for them there (there’s the added benefit of someone looking in on your home while you’re gone).
When selecting a sitter:
- Make sure they have experience with animals and know what to do in case of emergency. Always provide your pet’s medical history and vet info.
- Work out how much time the sitter will spend with the pet for the given rate. Ask in advance what else is included in their fee (watering plants, etc.).
- If required, make sure the sitter can accommodate medical needs, like administering shots or other medications.
- Check to see if the sitter is bonded and insured.
- If your pet has serious separation anxiety, ask if your sitter can stay overnight.
More about dog flu
There is a canine flu vaccination, but it may not be effective against all strains, including the current one. For more information on the H3N2 canine influenza in North Carolina, visit ncagr.gov/vet/aws/canineflu or contact your veterinarian.