Prevent Pre-Travel Panic with Proper Pet Preparation

Tabatha Regehr, DVM
Associate Veterinarian
Pet Poison Helpline

Travel planning any time of the year can be hectic, but the holiday season can amplify the chaos. With December being the busiest travel time of the year, you should plan early for your pet’s health and pet care needs. Do you use a boarding facility, a pet sitter, or take your pet with you? All will require different preparation. Here are tips to make a seamless plan and avoid last minute panic.

Boarding facilities take great care of our pets when we are away. They offer services from simple kennel boarding to luxury suites with CCTV monitoring and animal television. Individual walks, play groups, grooming and multi pet housing may also be options. To reserve your pet a space at your desired facility you may need to make reservations many  months in advance. Just like hotels, pet boarding fills fast during peak travel season. If your best friend is not of the canine variety it may be more difficult to find accommodations. Many boarding facilities do not offer services for cats, small mammals, and reptiles, so be prepared to call around.

If boarding your pet doesn’t appeal to you consider a pet sitter. There are professional pet sitting services that have fee structures for services offered such as the number of visits per day, medication administration, and pet walks. You will want to choose a service that is bonded, meaning both you and the sitter are protected should an accident occur on your property. Just like boarding, these services fill up quickly. You should make rapid reservations once you’ve made your trip plans. It is a good idea to meet your service provider in person prior to your travel day.

More informal pet sitting situations are common. You may choose to use a relative, family friend, student or neighbor. These situations, though convenient, can be problematic if you both do not have the same expectations. Make clear your desires and your pet’s needs both verbally and in writing. Are you expecting someone to sleep in your home, walk your pet, give medications, measure food correctly, scoop litter boxes, etc.? Are you needing non pet extras done like bringing in the mail? Communicate each need in detail and consider having the sitter come to your house for a practice visit performing all the pet care with you. Demonstrate things like cat litter box scooping or administration of medications that may be foreign to someone less experienced in dealing with animals.

Taking your pet along for your travels means you will be the one providing care. You certainly know what your pet needs, but what will you need? For car travel a pet carrier or canine seat belt are the best ways to keep your pet safe and secure. Take enough pet food to last a few extra days should plans change and keep a container of water with a bowl in the car. Any traveling pet always needs to be wearing identification. Make sure your contact information is correct and easy to read. For air travel contact your air carrier prior to making your travel arrangements. Each air carrier will have different requirements about animals in the cabin vs the cargo area of the plane. All will require a health certificate which must be prepared by a veterinarian within 30 days of use.

Phew, that was a lot of planning and we’ve only discussed where your pet will be lodging. Now that you’ve chosen a care option, what is next? Boarding facilities and some pet sitters will require certain vaccinations, such as rabies and the major infectious diseases of dogs and cats. What may vary are the requirements for various respiratory diseases, fecal parasite testing, and flea/tick preventives. If your pet is not current for a required vaccination be sure to ask how many days before boarding arrival the vaccine is required. Having your pet turned away could impede your departure plans. Early has been the theme here and the same will be true when working with your pet’s veterinary office. The winter holidays and summer breaks are the busiest times of year for your pet’s veterinarian and staff. It may be difficult to get a same day appointment. Also, plan to request any medication refills and medical records well before you need to travel.

Hopefully we’ve discussed options that work for you and your pet family. If you have any specific questions about boarding or pet travel, please contact your primary care veterinarian to discuss your dog or cat’s specific needs. Many veterinary offices have a list of preferred boarding facilities and services with which they have had previous positive experiences. Happy holidays and travel safe.