The ultimate guide for traveling with your dog

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The ultimate guide for traveling with your dog - a white dog lying in a suitcase alongside some travel clothes

Pet travel with a dog can be a rewarding experience but requires extra planning and preparation — more than many dog owners realize! Read on if you have ever wondered:

  • How do I plan my trip?
  • What does my dog need to travel?
  • How can I keep my dog safe and comfortable while traveling?
  • Is it a good idea to travel with my dog?

Traveling with dogs involves many laws, rules, and regulations. Preparing can take months of your time. But, when done properly, it can result in an exciting vacation for you and your dog.

How do I plan a trip with my dog?

Traveling with a dog in a car, plane, boat, or other mode of transportation requires more planning than your average trip. By spending some extra time making the necessary preparations, you can help ensure your travels with your dog are as safe and fun as possible.

Get the necessary paperwork

Paperwork may be the last thing on your mind as you begin planning a vacation with your furry friend. “Obtaining the necessary paperwork for your destination, such as a health certificate, can take weeks, or even more than six months for international travel,” explains Dr. Jo Myers, a Vetster veterinarian. “You don’t want to ruin your travel plans by realizing too late that you cannot get your health certificate in time!”

In the United States and Canada, different states and provinces have their own health record requirements for domestic travel. Talk to a USDA-accredited veterinarian well in advance to obtain the proper paperwork for your outgoing and return trips.

Check the pet policy

Before booking plane tickets or hotel rooms, check to ensure the company is pet-friendly. Different airlines and hotels have varying pet policies, even if they allow dogs. These can include differences in:

  • Health certificate requirements
  • Breed and size restrictions
  • Restrictions on multiple pets
  • Crate or carrier requirements
  • Medical record requirements
  • Airline, cleaning, or room fees
  • In cargo or in cabin on flights

Pet-friendly airlines and hotels

When flying with a dog, some pet-friendly airlines will not allow dogs to fly on long-haul flights and require owners to book trips with more layovers to allow dogs to stretch and relieve themselves. In addition, when traveling internationally, countries have differing laws regarding quarantine of incoming dogs. Always check the quarantine laws, the current airline regulations and policies, and the necessary paperwork you will need for your dog throughout your air travel and at your final destination.

Many hotels are pet-friendly, but make sure you check their specific policies when booking your room. Some companies have restrictions on the number and size of pets permitted. There also may be additional fees or a cleaning deposit, so be proactive and avoid any unexpected surprises.

Pack the essentials

When packing for your vacation, your dog needs their own bag too. Each dog requires:

  • Enough food and medication for the trip
  • Collapsible bowls for food and water
  • Leash and sturdy collar
  • Crate or carrier (Check for airline and hotel requirements)
  • Comfort items
  • Poop bags and pee pads
  • Up-to-date ID tag and medical records
  • First aid kit

With air travel, remember to consolidate bags. Dogs traveling in the passenger cabin count as your personal item, leaving only one carry-on bag and checked luggage available on most commercial flights. Your dog’s supplies must be in a carry-on for easy access during the flight and any layovers. When road-tripping with a dog, have a first aid kit and clean water.

How can I prepare my dog for travel?

Trip preparation involves more than paperwork and planning. Your dog must be prepared, especially if they have not traveled before.

See your vet

Even if your canine companion does not require a health certificate for your destination, it’s still a good idea to visit your veterinarian before you leave. A wellness exam helps ensure your dog is healthy enough to travel. Make sure your dog’s vaccination records and parasite prevention are up-to-date. In addition, you can discuss prescriptions for anxiety or motion sickness medications if you feel your dog needs them for the trip.

Get your dog acclimated

Dogs who have never traveled by plane or long distances in a car need to be acclimated to help prevent added stress. Slowly introduce your dog to its travel carrier using positive reinforcement with praise and treats to make it a positive experience. Take several test drives, increasing the duration each time. If flying, try taking several trips through a car wash with your dog, since this can mimic a plane's sounds and small movements. Always go slow and offer rewards and comfort items along the way.

How can I keep my dog safe and comfortable during travel?

Once you’ve met all the legal requirements for your trip, safety is the next priority for your dog. You can keep your dog safe and comfortable on your trip in multiple ways.

Stop for food, water, and potty breaks

When stressed, some dogs won’t eat or drink, including in the car or on a plane. Offer food and water frequently and stop for meals and potty breaks. Give your dog ample time to stretch their legs and exercise in a safe area throughout the trip.

Keep them engaged and comforted

Boredom can cause additional stress for everyone. Bring puzzles, toys, and treats that take time to complete and stimulate the brain. Comfort items like a favorite blanket or toy can help your dog feel safe and at home. Walks in new areas offer new sights and smells. Opening the window can allow your dog to experience new sensations as long as they are safely strapped into the car.

Keep them safe

Always keep your dog in a harness, pet carrier, or car seat that is securely fastened to the car. Allowing pets loose in the vehicle can be extremely dangerous for both pet owners and animals. Carriers do not help protect a dog in the case of an accident if they are not properly fastened into the car. Choose safe walking locations and watch for traffic, automobile fluids, broken glass, and wildlife hazards. Keep dogs leashed at all times when outdoors or in the airport. Some airports require dogs to be crated or in a carrier at all times unless in a pet relief station. Finally, pack a pet first aid kit in case of an injury.

Should I travel with my dog?

Travel can be fun and stimulating for dogs and their owners and provide an excellent bonding experience. However, extra steps and preparation must be made to legally and safely travel with dogs. Never force a dog to travel if they cannot tolerate it or are not healthy enough, and take the proper steps to leave your dog safely at home instead. Travel planning with a dog can feel overwhelming, but an online vet can help. You can make a virtual vet appointment to help keep your vacation planning on track and ensure you take the proper steps.

FAQ - The ultimate guide for traveling with your dog

What are the rules for flying with a dog?

Every airline has different rules and regulations for canine passengers, and they may change at any time. Typical requirements include being up-to-date with vaccinations and parasite prevention, having a USDA health certificate, and being secure in an airline-approved pet travel carrier. Call your airline before booking to check their rules involving flying with your dog.

Is it a good idea to travel with a dog?

Traveling with your dog can be fun and stimulating and create a bonding experience for both of you. However, not all dogs do well on road trips or a plane. Check with a veterinarian about your dog’s health and temperament before planning a trip together.

How often should you stop on a road trip for a dog?

How often to stop for your dog on a road trip will vary from dog to dog. Consider how often they need bathroom breaks at home, their meal frequency, how often they drink water, and their overall energy level. A potty-training puppy or a highly energetic dog will need more frequent stops than others.

Can I travel internationally with my dog?

Different airlines and countries have laws and regulations involving traveling dogs. To travel internationally, all dogs require a health certificate from a USDA-accredited veterinarian, which can take more than six months to complete. In addition, some countries require a mandatory quarantine upon arrival. Always check local laws and airline policies to ensure you follow laws and protocols. Additionally, returning to the U.S. after traveling internationally with a pet usually counts as importing a pet and is subject to USDA regulations on pet travel.