Doggie life jackets are an important boat accessory

Safety First! Henri & Stella sport their life jackets on the boat

With summer practically here and many of you considering travel with your pets, I thought it would be a good time to talk about health and safety issues. I’m a professional fun-finder for sure, but for this post, I went to the real professionals. Veterinarians.

Since vets are a lot like dog trainers in that if you put three in a room the only thing they’ll agree upon is what the others are doing wrong, I decided to ask several (and I did not lock them in a room). Here’s the question I posed:

What do you consider to be the most important health and/or safety consideration when traveling with your pet? Feel free to address domestic and/or international travel, as well as any location about which you have specific knowledge or experience.

Dr. Laura Hokett
Best Friends Animal Hospital

Is it a good place for my pet? Will they be welcome and have a good time or would they be better off/happier in a daycare/boarding situation? Is there a good place I can take or leave my pet while there, if needed? After RVing with my dogs, those are my biggest concerns. It was always a bummer when they were not welcome in a national park.

Health-wise, I think it’s important to have a dog first aid kit: styptic powder, bandage material, nail trimmers, tweezers, and probably some Benadryl for allergic reactions.

Dr. Vava Hooper
Animal Hospital of Centerton

One of the most important things to consider when traveling with your pet is finding a secure and safe way for your pet to be in the vehicle you are using. Airlines are typically easy—they have specific requirements for what size, material, and lining you can or can’t use for both in-cabin and cargo travel. Trucks are probably the most difficult—we all know a loose dog in the bed of a truck is dangerous. However, what kind of crate you should use and what kind of wind/weather protection you should provide depends a lot on the season and weather conditions when you are traveling. Cars are also a little tricky…most people think that putting a pet in the backseat is all you need to do to make them safe. Small pets are often placed in a carrier or car seat in the back with no further restraint. This can, in fact, be very dangerous with sudden stops causing injury to the face/head as the pet flies forward. Large breed dogs loose in the backseat with no seat belt or other restraint have even been thrown through windshields.

The bottom line is find the appropriate sized carrier or restraint device and USE IT. We have “Click It or Ticket”. Our pets should be just as automatic for us to “belt in”. Carriers can be secured with a seat belt, most have a special built in pass-thru for the belt to hold the carrier. If using pet car seats you should also be using a harness, not a collar, to hook them into the restraint clip. For large breed dogs you can even get a zipline that allows the pet to go back and forth in the seat but not come forward into your area or the floor board. Seat belt harnesses come in sizes appropriate for almost every dog (or cat).

Being that it’s summer, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the other popular vehicle in which our pets find themselves riding…Boats. Please remember that having life jackets on the boat is not the same as wearing them, for yourself or your pet. Dogs who love the water often exhaust themselves playing around and then get into trouble. You can also never predict when a showoff comes by producing large waves that cause your pet to go under and panic. Most dog life jackets have a loop to grab to easily remove them from the water in an emergency or just for convenience of getting them back into the boat. My favorite is the leash attachment—otherwise my dachshund (yes, she loves swimming!) would be downstream or across the lake without me!

As always—make sure you have all of your pets medications and a copy of their most recent medical history in case of emergency. Just keep in mind, keeping your pet on “lock down” for a journey is much better than dealing with injuries later!

Drs of Animal Medical Clinic
Animal Medical Clinic

We put our heads together and came up with three important points to consider: regional diseases, travel stress, and planning ahead.

Regional diseases and hazards are very much something to consider when traveling. Influenza is escalating in the Northeast and heartworm disease is worse in areas where there are a lot of mosquitos. Lyme disease is more common in the Eastern United States. Coccidiosis is in Arizona, New Mexico and other mountain areas. For hikers and campers who may find themselves more than two hours from emergency care, an injectable of steroid could be the difference between life and death in the case of a venomous snake bite. If heading to tropical climates, talk with your vet about taking along medications to resolve intestinal issues should they occur.

Travel stress can involve anything from motion sickness in a car to problems with altitude. Special considerations should be taken when traveling with brachycephalic (short-nose) breeds who don’t fly well and overheat very easily. Mountain travel to high altitudes can be hard on dogs that have heart disease.

Planning ahead is the real key to without-a-glitch travel. On domestic travel, a health certificate is good for 10 days, and you can usually get it just a few days before traveling. International health certificates can take weeks to a month or more to fully complete and require specific attention to detail. One unchecked box can have your dog stuck in a kennel in another country for several weeks while it gets resolved. Some countries require rabies titers and microchips, and you should always check with airlines well in advance.

Dr. Robb Jones
Jones Mobile Vet

There are several safety considerations to think about when traveling with a pet and many factors that go into those considerations. If you are taking a short trip in a car, it may be as simple as dealing with motion sickness which can be a big problem for some pets. A veterinarian can prescribe or recommend one of several medications to combat motion sickness. If your pet is prone to anxiety, there are medications or training regimes than can help with that as well. For longer car trips, one should plan the route to take into account the pet’s need for restroom breaks. Planning a stop to eliminate and walk around every few hours will help your pet stay comfortable. When traveling in a car with a pet, it is very important to have your pet restrained in some way. Whether that is a seat belt harness or a travel crate, a restrained pet is much safer in an accident and is much less likely to distract the driver. It is illegal in some states to have a pet free roaming in a moving vehicle. It is also very important to factor in the weather. On a comfortable sunny day, the inside of a parked car can become dangerously hot in a matter of minutes. NEVER leave a pet in a parked car.

Airline travel is a whole different topic and is much more challenging to do safely. It is very important to monitor the weather if your pet is going to travel in the baggage compartment. The temperature swings from sitting on the tarmac to high altitude can be very problematic for pets and some sedative medications can make it more dangerous for them. Be sure to consult your Veterinarian and make sure they know where your pet will be traveling. Airlines will require a “Health Certificate” that is issued within 5-10 days of travel. So if you are returning home and your visit is longer than that, you will likely be required to get an additional Health Certificate before your return flight.

The Take Away

I think the big take away is plan ahead and talk with your vet. Know where you’re going and what health concerns, if any, need to be considered. Always use safety devices such as seat belts and life preservers, carry a current copy of your vaccination/medical history, and add some dog-centric specifics to your first aid kit.

Special thanks to all the vets who took time out of their busy schedules to respond to my question and help those of us hitting the road and the water do it safely.