6 minute read

What You Need To Know about Traveling with a Pet


Does your dream vacation involve your best friend? What if that best friend is not human? Are you moving with a pet?

If you plan on traveling with a pet either in the U.S. or internationally, you’ll need to do some careful planning to make sure the experience is pleasant for all involved.

Start with a Plan

You will need to consider how you're traveling (car, train, boat, or airplane), your destination, and any travel stops in between. And even if you think it’s a great idea to bring one or more of your pets, consider whether you really need to bring them. Many pets find travel stressful, which can be bad for their health. So if it’s more for your preference rather than a need, it might be best to leave them behind.

If you simply must travel with one or more of your pets, then these are some tips to make preparing for a trip easier on everyone concerned.

Veterinary Care Requirements and Recommendations

No matter where you’re headed, you will need to plan a vet visit with your pet before you travel. The timing of the vet visit before travel matters too. Some travel opportunities require you to have your veterinary visit within a specified period of time before travel, so be sure to know what those travel requirements are well in advance so that you may schedule the vet visit to be compliant with the laws and rules.

Your veterinarian can let you know if your pet is healthy enough to travel. You will need to give your veterinarian information about the type of travel, your destination, and any significant travel stops you plan to make. That will help the vet to decide what tests and permits will be needed for the trip. 

You might be required to get one or all of the following. 

  • Blood tests
  • Vaccinations
  • Microchips
  • Permits
  • Health certificates

Veterinarians may not know all of the requirements for all types of travel (driving, flying, or taking a ship or train) or the laws about traveling to specific locations (within the United States or across international borders). If they don’t know where to start, you can send them this blog post to help them advise you.

Traveling in the United States

There are fewer requirements for traveling within the United States than there are for international travel. Here are some tips for traveling with your pet. 

Car Travel

The most flexible option for traveling with pets is in the car. You control how long you drive, and you can stop whenever you, or your pet, needs a break for going to the bathroom or eating.

If you are planning a long trip, get your pet used to spending more time in the car by taking them on longer and longer drives. 

There are pros and cons to different restraint devices for pets in cars. Dogs can travel most safely in a car when they are in a crate that is strapped down or anchored. Cats should also be in a carrier. The carrier must be secured in the car so that it doesn’t move around as you’re driving. How they can be secured depends on the carrier type. 

I have heard horrific stories of pets getting injured when traveling by car. Here are some things you should NOT do when traveling in a car with your pet for their safety and for yours.

  • Do not let your pets roam around freely in the car. They can distract and obstruct the driver, which can cause an accident.
  • Don’t allow your pet in the front seat. They could get hurt by the airbag if you get in an accident.
  • Don’t have your windows wide open. Of course, they can be open a little. Just be sure your pet can’t get out of the car. Your pet’s eyes could get hit with flying debris when they stick their head out the window, or they could jump out and injure themselves or run away. Some dogs learn how to open electric windows, too, so be sure to lock the windows.
  • Don’t put your pet in the bed of a pickup truck (with or without a leash). A pet in a crate might be OK there, as long as they’re protected from the wind, road debris, and weather conditions.

Help Them Get Comfy and Safe

Here are a few tips for making a trip more pleasant.

  • Bring a water and food bowl, bottled water, a poop scoop, plastic bags, medications, and a familiar pillow or blanket so they can get comfy.
  • Make plenty of pit stops. Most highway rest stops have areas where your pet can poop and pee. This is also a great time to offer your pet water to stay hydrated.
  • Bring a driving buddy so they can help care for your pet when you have to attend to your personal needs.
  • Make sure your pet has a collar, leash, and ID tag. 
  • Microchip your pet, and remember to keep the registration current.

Never Leave Pets in Cars in Parked Vehicles

Here’s one of the most important things of all: NEVER leave a pet unattended in a car. When it’s 72 degrees F outside, the inside of a car rises to 116 degrees F in an hour. At 85 degrees F, it takes just 10 minutes to reach 102 degrees F. This can be dangerous for pets and can kill them.

Depending on your location by state, if you see a pet in a car on a hot day, it might be legal to take an animal from a car if you are worried about its safety.

Sadly, pets do get stolen out of cars, too, so you should always have a plan to keep your buddy safe and healthy.

Flying with Pets

Some trustworthy organizations, including the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), recommend against air travel for pets. It can be stressful, dangerous, and expensive. But there are some times when people don’t have another option. 

There are basically two options for pets to travel in the air: in the cabin (with you) or in the cargo hold. In both cases, it is preferable to book a direct flight so you and your pet spend less time in the air (or in the cargo hold).

The airlines that allow pets to travel in the cabin often charge an additional fee, and your pet must be a small animal that can fit in a carrier that goes under the seat. When you book your flight, you’ll want to find out whether you can bring your cat or small dog with you, whether there are special shots or health requirements, and if they need a special carrier. 

If your pet is traveling in the cargo hold, here are some tips to follow. 

  • Buy a USDA-approved shipping crate that your pet can sit, stand, and turn around in. It should be lined with some type of bedding. 
  • Tape a bag with some dried food on the outside of the crate so an airline staffer can feed your pet during a layover. 
  • Freeze a dish of water the night before and place it in the crate so it can melt if they get thirsty during the trip.
  • Label your pet’s crate with your contact information and “Live Animal.” Carry a photo of your pet, and put one on the carrier, too, in case they get loose.
  • Tell all the airline employees that your pet is in the cargo hold. They can help you by checking on them if there are delays or problems.
  • If your pet gets anxious or stressed during travel, ask your veterinarian if they can prescribe a medication to make the trip easier on them. 

The USDA’s pet travel rules provide information on travel, both domestic and international. Their focus is on ensuring that no diseases are spread from another country into the United States.

Remember: Air travel is risky (and stressful) for all pets, but especially for smushy-faced ones like French bulldogs, pugs, and Persian cats. They have short nasal passages and can have trouble breathing anyway. We don’t believe it’s worth the risk to your pet’s health and welfare.

International Travel

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regulates the importing of dogs into the United States. They are strict about it, and if you don’t follow the rules, you’ll have to pay to send the dog back to the last country of departure—where the dog traveled from. 

Rabies is common in many other countries. It’s deadly to pets and to people. Starting on March 1, 2023, dogs that are vaccinated and entering the United States from countries that have a high risk of rabies will need to have several special documents. 

The Rules on Working Animals

There is a fair amount of confusion about the differences between service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy animals. When it comes to air travel, only service animals can accompany their owners on airplanes for no additional fee. Because they are recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), they are allowed to go anyplace where the public is allowed, and airlines should not charge a fee for them to accompany you. 

Emotional support animals and therapy animals do not have the same legal protections.

What's Your Lodging Plan?

Some hotels and rentals allow pets, but many don’t. Sometimes there are weight limits, or you have to pay an extra fee or deposit. Always check before bringing a pet to the place you are staying. And you’ll have to make plans for what will happen if you need to go out to a place that doesn’t allow them. Can they stay in the room unattended? The same principles go for staying with friends and family. Your traveling pet needs to be a polite and welcomed houseguest.

Commonsense Travel

As a pet parent, you know your pet better than anyone. How many cats actually enjoy riding in the car for long distances? My cat Pearl hates traveling. Some dogs love it, and others feel anxious when they are not in their home environment. 

And, of course, not all destinations welcome animal companions. So you need to think about where you’re going and whether your animal can stay and play with you. Some national parks do not allow dogs on trails and in wilderness areas. Even if they can camp with you, they won’t be able to enjoy a hike. And you won’t either, because they can’t be left alone in a car or campsite.

If your pet gets stressed when they are in new situations, consider boarding or hiring a pet sitter. 

And, as always, you can talk to your veterinarian about your travel plans and get their opinion on whether you should plan to bring your animal or leave them with a trusted caregiver.

New call-to-action