Does your dog need a carrier?
"Dogs should always be transported in a safe carrier with rigid construction," regardless of what vehicle they're riding in, says Dr. Doug Roberts, president of the Canadian Medical Veterinary Association and a companion animal practitioner at Cornwallis Veterinarians in Kentville, N.S.
"The only exception would be allowing your dog to be seated in your car and fastened by a pet seat belt purchased at a veterinary clinic or pet retail outlet. But the safest place for your dog is in a rigid pet crate," says Roberts.
Likewise for leash-happy cats, says Dr. Liz O’Brien, a feline-veterinary specialist and owner of The Cat Clinic animal hospital in Hamilton, Ont.
"You never know how a cat is going to respond to a different environment, so even if they're used to a harness and leash, it's safer to have the cat in a carrier," says O'Brien.
Uncrated cats can cause car accidents if they lodge themselves under the brake or gas pedal. They also run the risk of escape when you open the car door (or window!). Escapes into traffic or a busy parking lot can have a tragic outcome.
How to find the right carrier
Avoid buying a used pet carrier: You won’t know how much wear the carrier has been subjected to, or if its previous occupant had a communicable disease. Seeking a used product may make you more likely to buy the wrong carrier because selection is limited.
Purchase your carrier from a reputable pet-supply store, online retailer, veterinarian's office or animal shelter (many sell merchandise).
When shopping for a cat or dog carrier, consider the following:
• Rigid, hard-plastic construction (they're sturdy and easy to clean and disinfect).
• In addition to the front door, a fully removable top is a good feature. This allows your vet to ease into your cat's checkup by removing the top and leaving the bottom intact for kitty’s comfort. "Obviously, the carrier needs to be well made so that when the top's reconnected to the bottom, it's securely put together," says O'Brien).
• For a dog crate, look for rigid medium- or heavy-duty wire construction (add a plastic bottom liner tray to protect paws).
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What size is right?
A cat carrier should be large enough to let Tigger sit, stand and comfortably turn around in, says O'Brien.
A dog carrier or crate should be big enough to let Fido stand up and turn around in, says Roberts.
If you're purchasing a crate for a juvenile animal, check breed guides to get a sense of your pet’s adult size.
Can animal buddies travel together in one carrier?
No – unless they're babies. "Young puppies or kittens will be more content travelling with the closeness and warmth of their littermates, and sometimes their mother as well," says Roberts.
So feel free to tuck tiny siblings into a shared carrier for their first one or two vet visits. "After that, it's better they learn to travel solo," says O'Brien.
The sights, sounds, smells and stress of transportation and new surroundings can drive even peaceful animal roommates to turn on one another in redirected aggression, say both doctors. Regardless of trip duration, a juvenile or adult pet should always have a carrier to himself.
How to improve carrier comfort
• Even the best carrier can be scary if it's unfamiliar. Once you buy a carrier, leave it accessible – well before a vet appointment or big road trip – so wary pets can check it out it in their own time.
• Line the bottom of the carrier with a blanket or towel, now, to encourage naps inside, and later, to provide traction and comfort – and to absorb spills if your pet has an accident in transit.
• Leave toys in the carrier and use it as a place to feed your pet his or her treats.
• Spray a cat carrier with Feliway, "a synthetic facial pheromone and environmental stress reducer for cats", says O’Brien.
• Once your pets are familiar with the carrier, take them on short test drives to further acclimatize them to carrier travel.
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