Some people have been lucky enough to travel south this time of year. So-called snowbirds have mercifully escaped the brutal winds and sub- freezing temperatures which beset Maryland in winter. Usually pets go along. (Champ, Atticus and I have not been so fortunate.) But also, animals travel for reasons other than climate. Whether for competition at dog and cat shows, owner relocation for business or going to visit grandma at the holidays, pets are transported by car, plane or boat. My job as a veterinarian is to be sure they travel safely, comfortably and in compliance with local, state or federal guidelines.
Before travelling, it’s a good idea to be sure a pet’s vaccinations are current. The core vaccines of Rabies and Distemper are a must, and for dogs, Bordetella (kennel cough) and Influenza should be up to date if boarding is required. Ideally, these vaccines should be given 2-4 weeks ahead of time to confer full protection. The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) pet travel website is an excellent resource which details requirements for animals undergoing interstate or international transport. Visit www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel. Additionally, airlines have specific requirements for moving pets on planes. Remember that I travelled extensively with my Maine Coon cat Chessie to and from the Caribbean for several years. So I can tell you first hand that there were fees involved; the number of pets per plane was a consideration, and a recent health certificate needed to be in order. Each airline has its own requirements, therefore call well in advance to find out what they are.
In addition to vaccines, having a pet microchipped will provide a permanent identification when travelling. Microchips are half inch metal implants usually injected between the shoulder blades which, when scanned, reveals the owner’s name and contact information. Our local shelter (Kent Humane Society) can implant the chip at low cost. Call 410-778-3648 for details.
Some owners request medication to help calm or sedate pets while travelling. There is a spectrum of drugs which soothe, calm, tranquilize or sedate an animal for varying amounts of time. Some pets are motion sick, yet others suffer from anxiety. The anxiety can emanate from moving (cats hate to move), being confined in a carrier, the speed of a vehicle or foreign noises, smells or people. Making the distinction between motion sickness versus anxiety will help a veterinarian to prescribe the best medicine for your pet. Naturally, it’s a really good idea to try anxiolytic or sedative drugs ahead of time to evaluate how these will-or won’t work for your pet. Please plan ahead!
There are a variety of containment/restraint options now available for pets. I used a soft-sided Sherpa bag for Chessie and he tucked snugly under the seat in front of me while airborne. I always advise owners to confine their cats in carriers or small crates depending on the distance. Line the bottom with thick absorbent towels in case of accidents. And it is not necessary to include food in the carrier. Cats are too stressed to eat while being transported. There are terrific harnesses/seats designed for dogs which keep them secure in cars. Check out the Four Paws harness. For ultimate control of your dog, fitting a crate in the back of a car prevents your dog from becoming a dangerous projectile if ever in an accident.
Wherever your road leads, get there safely!
Dr Celeste Conn has a house call practice in Kent County, Maryland.