Pet travel: Expert tips for travelling with your pet with ease

By: Cheryl Embrett

Author: Canadian Living


Pet travel: Expert tips for travelling with your pet with ease

By: Cheryl Embrett
This story was originally titled "Passengers With Paws" in the March 2011 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

When my daughter begged me to let her new kitty come with us on a one-hour car trip to meet Grandma, I reluctantly agreed. I'd had a lot of cats over the years and not one of them liked travelling. Little Melfur was no exception. He yowled nonstop and scratched the door of his pet carrier so frantically we were afraid he'd injure his claws. After a nasty attack of diarrhea 10 minutes into the trip, we decided to head back home.

Is your pet calm during travel?
How well your pets travel (or don't) depends on the species and individual temperament, says Dr. Nicole Gallant, a veterinarian at the Kensington Veterinary Clinic in Kensington, P.E.I. "Most dogs travel better than cats, for example, and some animals are just so calm, they can handle whatever comes their way. With others, nothing you do will make them feel comfortable."

The fear and apprehension caused by unfamiliar movement, noises and surroundings can cause shivering, vomiting and a whole lot of whining and howling. The majority of animals, however, will do OK with a little advance preparation. Travelling with Fido or Fluffy is a lot like travelling with small children, says Gallant. You have to plan ahead to ensure the trip is stress-free and safe for everyone involved. Here's how to increase your odds of pet-happy travel, whether it’s a car ride across town or a plane trip across the country.

Road trips
If you know you're going to be travelling with your pet more than just to the annual visit to the vet, start acclimatizing him as early as possible, advises Gallant. First let him explore your car with the motor off, followed by lots of treats and praise. Then take him on a few short trips followed by more treats and praise, gradually working up to longer rides. Your pet’s first outing should be to a fun place, such as a dog park, not somewhere he's going to be poked and prodded.

How to make your pet comfortable in the car
A kennel or carrier secured to the backseat, or a pet seat belt, is the safest way for Fido or Fluffy to travel. Get your pet used to his kennel or carrier at home first, so he feels like he's taking his house with him, says Gallant. Throw in a familiar object that smells like you – a sock or old T-shirt, for example – as well as a favourite toy and a small litter box for cats (a tinfoil plate will do).

Avoid giving him food or treats, since animals travel better on an empty stomach. Cats and other small animals will feel calmer if you drape something over their carriers, says Lori Waller, communications coordinator for the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies in Ottawa. "You want to make it a snug, dark, cosy space."

If your furry friend is prone to motion sickness or is overly anxious and needs something to calm him, ask your veterinarian about pet-specific medication.

On longer trips, make sure your pet is wearing proper ID – a tag with your permanent address and one you can be reached at while travelling. If you’re crossing the border for the day, you’ll need a certificate from a certified veterinarian stating that your pet has been vaccinated against rabies. (For more border-crossing information, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

Find pet-friendly accommodations through Pet Friendly Canada, Pets Can Stay Travel Services or the Canadian Automobile Association. Some properties even have a pet welcome package available on arrival.

Page 1 of 2 - read about bringing your pets on a plan, train and public transit on page 2.

The not-so-friendly skies
If your pet isn't small enough to accompany you in the cabin, air travel might not be the best mode of transport, says Waller. "When pets fly cargo, they're in an unfamiliar area, they don't have the comfort of their owner being nearby, and there are lots of loud, unfamiliar noises and often other animals who make them feel fearful or aggressive."

Poor ventilation and excessive hot and cold temperatures, as well as oxygen deprivation, can also be a problem, especially for animals with short nasal passages such as bulldogs, pugs and Persian cats.

Rachel Kuipers had to fly her German Shepherd Mya from Halifax to Victoria by cargo last year when she relocated to a new job. "When he finally arrived 18 hours later, his crate was a mess and he was in shock," she says. "There was a long delay in Toronto and nobody took him out of his crate to walk him. I hope I never have to do that again."

If flying is your only option, try to book a direct flight and travel on the same plane as your pet. Start familiarizing him with his travel carrier at least a month in advance.

Tip: Always check with your vet before giving Fido any pre-flight sedatives. "I'd be a little phobic about sedating my pet and shoving him on a plane, not to be seen again for five hours," says Gallant.

Riding the rails
With the exception of service dogs, pets are not allowed to travel in Via Rail's passenger cars. They can, however, travel in the baggage car for a fee, between $10 and $40, depending on their size. It's your responsibility to feed, exercise and tend to Fido's or Fluffy's needs. Visiting times have to be set up in advance with the service manager. If it’s a long trip and you think it will be stressful for your cat or dog, a pet sitter or kennel is probably the better option, says Gallant. "It all comes down to knowing your pet."

Tip: While baggage cars are usually heated, they're not air-conditioned, which means your pet may be exposed to high temperatures. From may through September, some cars can't transport pets due to lack of proper ventilation, so always check first.

Public transit
While public transit is an inexpensive and eco-friendly way for you and your pet to travel, a number of restrictions apply. Generally, pets aren't allowed to board buses and subways during rush hour. In Toronto, for example, pets can only travel during off-peak periods – that is, on weekends, or before 6:30 a.m., between 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., and after 7 p.m. on weekdays – and they must be on a leash or in a carrier. In Edmonton, you can travel on buses and light rail transit with your pet, provided he's properly confined in a pet carrier or cage, and carried for the duration of the trip.

Tip: Pets aren't allowed on some regional bus lines, and many taxis won't pick you up if you have an animal companion in tow.

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Pet travel: Expert tips for travelling with your pet with ease