Vacations are one of the highlights of summer and, naturally, many pet owners want to include their four-legged family members in the fun. Like traveling with small children, travel with animals requires preparation to ensure you can meet all of a pet's unique needs, and keep them safe during warm-weather excursions.
Dr. Kandi Norrell, a primary care veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, emphasizes, "planning ahead is the most important part of travel with pets." Dr. Norrell explains that, "deciding whether or not to bring an animal on a trip is a pet-specific decision that should be based on the individual animal." It is important to consider the benefits vs. risks of taking a pet on vacation. Staying with a pet sitter or being boarded might be a better option in some cases, such as for animals that are geriatric or very young, need frequent medications, have ongoing medical conditions, or do not adapt well to stressful situations.
Other considerations include the mode of travel. Dr. Norrell notes, "traveling in an airplane's cargo compartment is much different from traveling in the cabin. Airlines also have temperature restrictions and will not fly pets when it is warmer than 85°F." With car travel, it is important to realize that animals cannot be left in cars for even short durations, like stopping at a restaurant. "Within just a few minutes," says Dr. Norrell, "temperatures can exceed 120°F even with the windows cracked."
Animals left at high temperatures are at risk for heat stroke, especially those that are old or young, are brachiocephalic breeds like pugs and bulldogs, or have heart or lung conditions. Signs of heat stroke include excessive panting and salivation; weakness; collapse; and warm, dry skin. If you suspect your pet is suffering from heat stroke, avoid sudden cooling (placing the animal in ice water etc.). Instead, Dr. Norrell recommends, "Cool the animal by moving them to a cool area. Apply alcohol to the foot pads and cool water to the head." She also stresses that it is important to seek medical care from a veterinarian since animals suffering from heat stroke can succumb to blood clotting abnormalities and kidney failure.
In addition to the travel conditions, it is important to take into account the needs of the animal. Along with packing food, dishes, leashes, toys, and vaccination records, be sure to have an adequate supply any medications your pet may be taking. If an animal has a medical condition, Dr. Norrell recommends, "call your veterinarian before the trip for suggestions on how to care for your pet during travel, and be sure to know where a veterinary clinic is located at your destination." For pets that are not accustomed to long car rides, take them on short rides prior to the trip to acclimate them to being in the car.
It is also very important to restrain animals in the car, since unrestrained animals not only are at increased risk of injury in the event of an accident, they also can cause car accidents. The bottom line is that planning is key to ensure Fido or Fluffy enjoys their vacation as much as their human family.
For further information on travel with your pet, contact your local veterinarian.
An archive of Pet Columns from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is available online at www.vetmed.illinois.edu/petcolumns/. Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Mandy Barth, email@example.com.
Veterinary Extension/Office of Public Engagement
University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine