Traveling with a Pet

Planning and preparation are important when traveling with family pets, and can make the difference between an enjoyable vacation or a nightmarish trip.  Follow our tips to ensure you and your pet get to your destination safely and successfully. 

Q: What can I do to prepare my pet for air travel?

A: The following preparations will help both you and your pet:

  • Check with airlines because they may have restrictions on breed and size.
  • Most airlines also require a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (health certificate) issued within 10 days of travel.
  • Federal regulations require pets to be at least 8 weeks old and they should be weaned at least 5 days before flying.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about feeding schedules. It is usually recommended that pets fly on an empty or nearly empty stomach. The pet’s age, dietary needs and size, and the time and distance of the flight should all be taken into consideration.

Q: What is the best way to choose flights appropriate for my pet?

A: The following will help you choose flights that are appropriate:

  • Reservations should be made for you and your pet at the same time because airlines often limit how many pets are allowed on each flight.
  • Try to book a non-stop flight and avoid plane changes when possible.
  • When possible, avoid flying during busy holidays.
  • In warm weather, choose early morning or late evening flights.
  • In colder weather, choose mid-day flights.
  • Reconfirm flight arrangements the day before you leave to minimize the chance of unexpected changes.

Q: What should I do on the day of the flight?

A: On the day of your flight:

  • Arrive to the airport early so you have time to exercise your pet.
  • If your pet will be in the cabin, check in as late as possible to reduce the time your pet will have to wait in the terminal.
  • Place your pet in its crate and pick it up as soon as you arrive at your destination.
  • Notify the flight attendant that your pet is in cargo hold.

Q: What is an acclimation certificate?

A: This is a form from your veterinarian that will waive the low temperature Federal regulation as stated in the Animal Welfare Act.

  • If the airline cannot guarantee that the animal will not be in temperatures lower than 45°F (7.2°C) for more than 45 minutes when the animal is moved between the terminal and the plane, or for more than 4 hours when the pet is in a holding facility, and you don’t have an acclimation certificate, the airline will not let your pet fly.
  • Airlines cannot ship animals if temperatures will be higher than 85° F (29.5 C) for more than four consecutive hours while in animal holding areas of airport terminals or for more than 45 minutes while transferring the animal between the aircraft and the animal holding area, under any circumstances.

Q: Do I need to get an acclimation certificate?

A: Some airlines will require an acclimation certificate in order to let your pet travel.

  • Acclimation certificates are written at the discretion of the veterinarian, and are based on the veterinarian’s assessment of the pet’s health.
  • There are no acclimation certificates that allow pets to be shipped when conditions are above 85°F (29.5°C).

Q: Should I tranquilize or sedate my pet for long flights?

A: It is recommended that you DO NOT give tranquilizers to your pet when traveling by air because it can increase the risk of heart and respiratory problems. Short-nosed dogs and cats sometimes have even more difficulty with travel. Visit our FAQs about short-nosed dogs and air travel for more information.

Airlines may require a signed statement that your pet has not been tranquilized prior to flying.

According to Dr. Patricia Olsen with the American Humane Association, “An animal’s natural ability to balance and maintain equilibrium is altered under sedation and when the kennel is moved, a sedated animal may not be able to brace and prevent injury.”

Q: What are crates approved for air travel?

A: It is best to purchase an approved crate prior to travel (at the airline or local pet store) so you have time to let your pet get used to the crate and be comfortable. If your pet is small and can fit comfortably in an airline approved carrier, your pet may be able to travel with you in the cabin.

Approved crates should:

  • Be large enough for your pet to stand (without touching the top of the cage), turn around and lie down
  • Be strong and free of interior protrusions, with handles or grips
  • Have a leak-proof bottom with plenty of absorbent material
  • Be ventilated on opposite sides, with exterior knobs and rims that will not block airflow
  • Be clearly labeled with owners name, home address and phone number, destination contact information and a sign stating “Live Animals” with arrows showing which way is upright

Q: What can I do to prepare my pet for traveling in a car?

A: If your pet does not ride well in a car, consider leaving your pet at home, with friends or family, or in a boarding facility.

  • If you don’t often take your pet in the car, start with short trips to “fun” destinations (such as a dog-friendly park or play area) to help your pet get used to riding in a car.
  • If your pet gets car sick, talk to your veterinarian about alternate traveling suggestions or medications to keep them comfortable. 

Q: What should I do to keep my pet safe and healthy?

A: To keep your pet safe and healthy:

  • Make frequent stops (about every 2-3 hours) to allow your pet to go to the bathroom and get some exercise.
  • Properly restrain your pet in the car to prevent injury to your pets, you and to other drivers.
  • Do not let your pet ride in the back of a truck. If your pet must ride in the truck bed, they should be confined in a protective kennel that is secured to the truck to prevent injury.
  • Pets should not be allowed to ride with their heads outside the window. Dirt and other debris can enter their eyes, ears and nose and cause injury or infection.
  • Pets should not be allowed to ride on the driver’s lap or near the driver’s feet. Small pets should be confined in crates or in travel-safe dog beds, and larger pets should be appropriately restrained with harnesses attached to the car’s seat belts.
  • Cats should be transported in carriers.
  • Providing a familiar blanket and/or safe toy can help make your pet more comfortable during the trip.
  • Properly restrain your pet when traveling in cars or other vehicles, and never leave your pet in your vehicle without you

Q: How do I prepare my pet for traveling in my boat?

A: For personal boats, take time to allow your pet to become familiar with your boat.

  • Provide a ramp for your pet to easily get on and off the boat, or carry your pet on and off the boat.
  • Call ahead to make sure the marina or park is pet friendly.

Q: What items should I bring with me to keep my pet safe?

A: Bring the following items:

  • Your pet should wear a proper-fitting personal flotation device (a life jacket) at all times to keep your pet safe in and around water, even if they know how to swim.
  • Applying sunscreen prevents sunburn to your pet, especially pets with light skin and short or thin haircoats. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a non-toxic, non-skin irritating sunscreen for your pets.
  • Provide non-slip bathroom rugs to assist your pet from sliding on the wet boat and from burning their paws.
  • You should have your pet in a carrier, or on a harness or leash to prevent them from jumping or falling overboard.

Q: How will my pet go to the bathroom when on a boat?

A: You can train your dog to use a piece of astroturf, a box of sod or newspaper. For cats and other small animals that use litter boxes, make sure there is a covered litterbox secured to the floor inside the boat. 

Q: What should I do to prepare when traveling on a cruise with my pet?

A: To prepare for traveling with your pet on a cruise:

  • For public boats, check with the boating company to find out their requirements and restrictions.
  • Most boating companies will require you to provide a regulation carrier and a leash for dogs.
  • You will also need a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (health certificate) and possibly a travel form, depending on the areas that you will be visiting.

Q: What are some other things to think about when traveling by boat?

A: Here are some other things you should think about:

  • When traveling by boat, your pet should have exercise before boarding and when you make stops.
  • When traveling to foreign countries, you will need an International Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (health certificate).
  • You may also need a permit and have to fill out a form. Information about pet passports to foreign countries can be found at Pet Travel
  • Some pets get motion sicknesses on boats. If your pet becomes motion sick in the car, it will likely be sick on a boat. Talk to your veterinarian about alternate traveling suggestions or medications

Q: Can my pet travel with me on a train or bus?

A: Most states restrict the travel of pets on trains or buses. Exceptions are made for guide or service dogs. Check with your carrier to find out if your pet can come with you and what rules and regulations apply.