Prepare your pet for a plane or car trip now so there is less stress at the holidays
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It’s always hard to be away from your pet — so that’s why many owners opt to bring their furry friends with them when they travel.

But hitting the road with an animal isn’t as easy as buying another plane ticket or making room in the car: As the travel-heavy holiday season approaches, it’s important to have a plan for your pet.

If you want to bring your animal on your festive adventures instead of getting a sitter, Dr. Sarah Nold, an on-staff veterinarian for Trupanion, has a few helpful safety tips for you and your furry friend.

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What is the safest way to fly with your pet?

The safest way to fly is to fly prepared for any situation. Make sure your carrier is the proper size for your pet and durable. Call the airline to determine if your carrier/pet is approved for riding in the cabin or if they will have to go in cargo. Keep in mind there may be maximum weight and minimum age requirements for traveling, these are usually enforced for the safety of your pet.

If your pet is traveling in cargo, ask the airline what they allow in the carrier with your pet. Most airlines require a USDA health certificate issued by a veterinarian, so ask the airline how many days before travel the certificate must be issued.

Make sure your pet is comfortable in the carrier. If your pet has never been in a carrier, your veterinarian can give suggestions to make the transition easier. Getting your pet used to the carrier should ideally be done over a span of weeks and months, so prepare ahead of time. And don’t forget to have your pet microchipped to help with identification.

How can you keep your pet calm and comfortable during air travel?

If your pet is in the cabin with you, you can put a familiar toy or blanket in the carrier with them. You also have the option of using a sedative/anti-anxiety medication, if approved by your veterinarian. Again, plan on this in advance so you can try a dose of the medication with your pet before travel, so if they don’t respond appropriately, there is time to ask your veterinarian about other options.

Your options are more limited if your pet is in cargo, as there is no one there to monitor your pet and sedatives can affect their ability to regulate their body temperature. Whether they are with you in the cabin or in cargo, make sure there is absorbent material such as puppy pads or newspaper in the bottom of the carrier (ideally with spares on hand!). Don’t feed your pet within two hours of departure, as this can upset their stomach.

What are common problems people run into with a pet at the airport? What is the easiest ways to avoid them?

If you are traveling with your pet in cargo, ideally book a nonstop flight to minimize time on the tarmac. If you are traveling with your pet in the cabin with you and you have a layover, make sure it is long enough to find a designated area for your pet to stretch its legs and go to the bathroom.

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What are some dangers you should be aware of before flying?

If your pet is flying in cargo be cautious about flying when outside temperatures are very high or low, and keep in mind both where you are departing from and where you are arriving at. Ultimately your pet will have to spend an unspecified amount of time on the tarmac prior to being loaded on the plane.

What happens when a pet flies in cargo?

The specifics likely vary depending on the airline. You should contact the airline before booking tickets to find out which one is the most accommodating to you and your pet. Ask your friends, family and/or veterinarian which airline they recommend.

What is the safest way to travel with your pet in general?

It depends on your pet, but in general, traveling by car may be the safest because it allows for the most flexibility — you and your pet can make frequent stretch and bathroom breaks. If your pet is showing signs of distress, you can detour to a veterinarian for evaluation. However, sometimes traveling by car may not be possible due to the location of the destination or because it significantly increases the length of time of travel (which in itself may cause more stress to your pet).

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What are some misconceptions people have about pet travel?

Some pets actually would prefer to stay at home with a pet sitter while you travel, if they are uncomfortable or do not respond well to different surroundings. Another misconception is the amount of time that goes into planning to pet travel: Additional paperwork (and possibly preventive care, such as additional vaccines) may be necessary when traveling to some destinations, especially a foreign country. Some destinations, such as Hawaii or Japan, take a significant amount of time to get the proper paperwork processed and you should plan as far in advance as possible.