5 Mistakes to Avoid When Traveling with Pets

Savvy Travelers are Less Stressed

Traveling without pets can be stressful; adding a furry companion to the mix can add a lot of unnecessary anxiety to the experience.

Don't sweat it: You can be a savvy traveler and enjoy the ride—as long as you avoid making these common pet travel mistakes.

1. Forgetting to Update Pet ID Tags or Microchip

Traveling with a pet means there’s always a risk the pet could be separated from you and become lost. Scared and in an unfamiliar setting, your pet’s best chance of quickly reuniting with you boils down to information: a durable pet collar and ID tags with up-to-date contact info and a microchip with current contact info (the collar could come loose, so the microchip is a valuable backup).

If you haven’t had your pet microchipped, consider doing it before traveling. A tiny computer chip roughly the size of a grain of rice is injected painlessly under your pet’s skin by your veterinarian. The chip has a unique number that can be searched on an owner database by a veterinarian in the case a lost pet is found. Be sure to register your pet's microchip and keep your contact information current.

Another tip: Attach a label on your pet’s carrier with your contact information including your travel destination. Carry a recent photo of your pet or be sure to have one saved on your phone in case you need to share or print.

2. Failure to Restrain Pets in a Car

Many dogs are given free range inside their owners’ cars. But with many technological distractions, from your cell phone to high-tech gadgets featured in newer car models—not to mention being distracted by your pet and other drivers on the road—the safest bet is to secure your four-legged companion.

In a recent survey sponsored by AAA and pet travel gear company Kurgo, 23% of pet owners said they had used their arms to restrain dogs while applying the brakes. Another 19% took one hand off the wheel to prevent pets from climbing onto the front seat, while 17% admitted to holding dogs in their laps during car rides.

Use a carrier or restraining harness on your dog while inside the car. Cats—who usually don’t make good driving companions as it is—should always be in carriers. Read up on tested car safety restraints for dogs so you are aware which ones failed safety testing and which ranked the best.

Important tip: Don’t allow pets to sit in the front seat; an activated air bag can cause severe injury or death. Never leave your pet unattended in a car, especially when it’s hot outside. Even in the shade with windows left slightly open, cars heat up in a very short time to life-threatening temperatures.

3. Overlooking the Pet Health Certificate

If you haven’t flown with pets before, then you may be unaware that pets boarding airplanes are required to provide a current health certificate.

In most cases, health certificates, which require up-to-date pet vaccinations, must be issued by a licensed veterinarian who examined the animal within 10 days of travel.

Airlines also have health and age regulations that you need to be aware of before booking a flight.

Important tip: If you and your pet are traveling for more than 10 days, you may need to have another health certificate issued. Make sure to contact the airline ahead of time for air travel guidelines so you can make arrangements, if necessary, to have your pet examined by a veterinarian at your destination.

4. Booking the Worst Time to Travel by Air

Airplane

If your pet is traveling in the cargo bay, it’s in his best interest to choose an early morning or late evening flights to avoid temperature extremes—hot or cold—that may affect your pet’s health.

If traveling over the holidays, try leaving a day or two before or after the main rush.

Always try to use direct flights whenever possible to avoid accidental transfers, delays or exposure to temperatures.

Important tip: Space for small pets in the cabin is limited, so book early.

5. Forgetting to Locate a Veterinarian in Case of an Emergency

Be prepared for the unexpected. Pets can get into accidents or consume a toxic or foreign object and need immediate veterinary care.

Before hitting the road, locate a 24 hour veterinary hospital at your destination. If you’re road tripping with pets to a national park or remote location, the closest veterinarian could be many miles away. Plug in the contact info to your phone for easy access.

Important tip: Pets who are very young, very old, pregnant, sick, injured, prone to biting or excessive vocalizing should not travel. If in doubt, discuss with your veterinarian.