Traveling with Pets

Things to Know Before Hitting the Road

Dalmatian sits in luggage

The phrase “extended family” has come to mean many things, but for pet owners, it’s a phrase that sums up how they view their pet’s place in their hearts. In keeping with that feeling, it’s only natural that pet owners are taking their pets along in greater numbers when they travel.

In fact, a recent Travel Poll* conducted by the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) indicates that, in the past three years, 14% of all U.S. adults traveled with a pet on trips of 50 miles or more away from home. That’s 29.1 million Americans who shared their travel experience with their pets!

Think Ahead

Of course, taking your pet outside its natural surroundings can be a shock, so it’s important to consider the pet’s health and personality. Pets who are very young, very old, pregnant, sick, injured, prone to biting or excessive vocalizing should not travel. If in doubt, discuss the trip with your veterinarian.

The mode of travel is also an important factor to consider when making your vacation arrangements. Amtrak, as well as Greyhound and other interstate bus lines, do not accept pets. (Seeing-eye dogs and other service animals are exempt from the regulations prohibiting pets.) Cruise lines rarely accept pets. Reptiles or exotic pets may not be welcomed.

Following are some easy-to-follow travel tips that can make for a happier experience for all.

Rolling Down the Highway

Dog looks out car window

The TIA research notes that 76% of the adults who traveled with pets identified a car or truck as their primary transport. We suggest that if your dog or cat isn’t used to traveling, a few short practice trips before you embark on your journey would be advisable.

For dogs, a carrier or restraining harness should be used. Again, if you’re not sure which is best for your pet, consult with your veterinarian. Cats should always be in carriers. They can be made more comfortable by lining the interior with shredded newspaper or a towel. If they’ve never traveled by carrier before, it’s a good idea to leave it open on the floor for them to check it out before you travel. You can even entice them to explore by putting one of their favorite toys inside.

Dogs love sticking their heads out the window of a moving car. This is dangerous as they could be hit by roadway debris. Compromise by keeping the window open a few inches so they can feel the air go by. Don’t allow pets to sit in the front seat, since an activated air bag can cause severe injury or death.

Finally, feed your pet two or three hours prior to traveling in order to avoid stomach upset. Take along ice cubes as well because they’re easier on your pet than too much water. And never leave your pet unattended in a car. Even in the shade with windows left slightly open, cars heat up in a very short time to life-threatening temperatures.

Traveling with a pet means there’s always a risk that the pet will be separated from you and become lost. The best way to avert this tragedy is to be sure your dog or cat is wearing a durable ID tag.

Flying High

Airline guidelines for traveling pets are in accordance with the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS). Regulations state that dogs and cats must be at least eight weeks old and weaned at least five days before air travel.


Before taking to the air, have your veterinarian examine your pet to ensure that he is healthy enough to make the trip. Airlines and state health officials generally require health certificates for all animals transported by air. In most cases, health certificates must be issued by a licensed veterinarian who examined the animal within 10 days of transport. So, if your travels will last more than 10 days, you may need to have another health certificate issued.

Your best option is to take the pet on board with you in a carrier if your pet (in carrier) is small enough to be stowed under the seat. Because cats, snub-nosed dogs, including Pugs and Pekingese, and long-nosed dogs such as Shelties are prone to severe respiratory difficulties in an airplane’s poorly ventilated cargo hold, it is especially important for these pets to travel only in the passenger cabin with their owner. Policies and fees can vary from airline to airline, so be sure to make advance arrangements with the airline you are using.

Note: AWA regulations do not apply to animals traveling in the cabin.

If putting your pet in the cargo hold is the only option, be sure to ask specific questions such as the temperature of the hold, where the carrier will be placed and what happens if there are delays. Also ask if you can watch your pet being loaded and unloaded into the cargo hold. Some airlines will not accept pets as cargo during certain months of the year when outside temperatures are extremely hot or cold. Again, policies and fees can vary so contact your airline to make advance arrangements.

Helpful Hints From The USDA-APHIS

  • In the summer, choose early morning or late evening flights to avoid temperature extremes that may affect your pet. Avoid holiday traveling whenever possible.
  • Use direct flights whenever possible to avoid accidental transfers or delays.
  • Do not take your pet out of its kennel inside the airport. In keeping with airport regulations and courtesy for other passengers, let your pet out only after you leave the terminal building.
  • Attach a label on the pet carrier with your permanent and travel addresses and telephone numbers.
  • Make sure your pet’s nails have been recently clipped to prevent them from hooking onto the carrier door or other openings.
  • Carry a current photograph of your pet. If your pet is accidentally lost, having a current photograph will make the search easier.

At Home Away From Home

Even though pet-friendly lodgings are easier to find now, the Travel Poll survey indicates that 32% of travelers with pets are likely to stay with friends or relatives. But the percentage of those who share a hotel or motel room with their pet is almost equal at 29%. Another 16% cite nights spent in a camper, trailer or recreational vehicle with their pet, while 10% roomed with their pet in a cabin, condominium or vacation home.

Naturally, each option needs to be researched for your trip. Pet-friendly policies for hotels and motels vary, so inquire when making a reservation. Your friends and relatives might welcome your pet, but check to be certain their home or apartment is pet-friendly and that allergies aren’t an issue.

You know your pet’s personality better than anyone, so ask yourself if they will be comfortable being left in strange surroundings on their own. Will they bark or meow constantly? Soil the floor? If so, then you may want to consider a kennel or pet sitter. Even if your pet is well behaved, always bring along toys and blankets from home to create a little bit of home in a strange place.

Also, if you’re in a hotel or motel, instruct housekeeping not to enter the room if the “privacy” sign is displayed. This prevents your pet from running out and going missing.

Let’s See Some ID

Traveling with a pet means there’s always a risk that the pet will be separated from you and become lost. The best way to avert this tragedy is to be sure your dog or cat is wearing a durable ID tag, which displays your most current contact information. If your pet becomes lost, the finder can contact you immediately to reunite you. Another option is to have your pet microchipped so that he can be scanned by a rescue shelter or veterinarian in an attempt to reunite the two of you.

With these simple tips, you and your pet can enjoy the pleasures of travel together!

Additonal Travel Resources

*Travel Poll results are based on a representative sample survey of 1,300 US adults

Return to the VPI Pet HealthZone

Email this article to a friend or share it via your favorite social network.

Share This page

Related Articles


Catching snowballs while on vacation wasn't as much fun as anticipated when Toby's leg snapped like a broomstick after landing hard in the snow. Full Story