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How to Prepare Your Senior Pet For A Long Journey

If you are thinking of travelling this summer with your senior pet or pets, you need to take into consideration a few things. First and foremost ask yourself if it is really necessary to take your elderly pet on a long trip. Most senior animals don’t respond well to change. As animals age they become more set in their ways and are happiest with a constant, normal routine. Any changes to that routine can be very disruptive to an elderly pet. I generally think it best to always leave seniors at home unless you know that your pet loves to travel and will be happy with you wherever you go. Otherwise, find a competent, reliable sitter (ask your veterinarian for recommendations) and leave Fluffy in comfortable and familiar surroundings.

If you know that your pet is a good traveler and/or you must bring your pet with you, here are a few tips to make the trip easier. Hopefully your pet is well behaved and well socialized. There is nothing more stressful than travelling with an unhappy, misbehaving animal. It’s never too late to train a dog, even a senior. In the time before your trip make an appointment with your trainer if you think you both need a “tune-up”. Work on all the common commands such as sit, stay, down and heel. Hazards can happen much more frequently when you are away from home in unfamiliar surroundings and you want to be sure that your animal responds to voice commands should you have any type of emergency. Spend at least 10 minutes/day going over the commands and working with your dog. It will help to ensure that both of you have a safe and happy trip!

Next find out any hazards that might be in the area where you are going. Will your dog need his/her vaccines updated? Generally older animals are already well protected from the common illnesses as they have had years to develop immunity and have often been vaccinated regularly. I typically do not vaccinate my older dogs unless I know we are going into an area with any sort of potential for contracting disease. You can ask your veterinarian to do a titer test, to check your pet’s antibodies. They can then sign a certificate stating that to the best of their knowledge the animal is protected from disease. If you are travelling by plane you will have to have a veterinary certificate stating that your animal is free of disease within 10 days of your flight. It will also require rabies vaccinations which is not a bad idea anyway if you are going into unfamiliar territory. It might be a good idea to Google a local veterinarian in the area you are travelling and call him/her to find out if there are any common problems that they see regularly there (like snakebites, Lyme disease, Guardia in rivers and lakes, bee stings, etc). While you’re at it, find out where the closest emergency vet hospital will be so that in case you need it you will know how to get there. Be sure your pet’s flea and tick protection is up to date as well.

How you are planning to travel is very important. The safest and most comfortable way for your pet to travel is by car. That way you can stop regularly and have water and bathroom breaks and give your pet a way to stretch his legs for a few minutes. As older pets need to urinate more frequently be sure to pack a collapsible water dish and let them out every few hours. Also be sure to pack plenty of waste bags for pickup duties. If the trip is going to be long, hopefully you can have a friend come along to share the driving and the pet sitting. Make sure your pet is happy in the car and has a well fitting seatbelt that attaches in to your car’s seatbelt system. Acclimate your pet by taking several longer trips in the car with the seatbelt on in the weeks and if possible even months before your trip. That way you can be assured of having a safe and hopefully uneventful drive. 

I don’t recommend flying with your pet but there are times when it is unavoidable. Several years ago the American Humane Association stated that of the million or so animals that fly our nation’s airlines each year, approximately 5000 were lost, injured or killed. As the airlines are not required to list their statistics that was just an estimate but a frightening one nonetheless.  If you do have to fly there are several ways to make this easier for your animal. First make sure they are comfortable in their crate. If your pet can fly in the cabin with you (they must be less than 15 lbs) start acclimating them to their carrier. It must measure up to 17” long by 16” wide by 10 ½” high. Again in the weeks leading up to their trip, start feeding them in the carrier. You can start slowly with just tossing an occasional treat into the carrier and then praising them like crazy once they have retrieved it. Once this is easy, feed both breakfast and dinner in the carrier and then work up to several minutes being enclosed in it. Be sure to put in a tasty treat or a Kong toy stuffed with something yummy so your pet will have something fun to do. Each day add in a little more time till your pet is comfortable lying down and sleeping in his enclosed carrier. If your senior pet has incontinence issues be sure to line the carrier with absorbent pads and fit your pet with a comfortable diaper. Put your pet in the carrier at the last possible moment after having had one last bathroom break. Also be sure to learn what the airline’s fees are for flying with your animal, confirm your pet’s reservation more than once and keep your vet certificate with you at all times while you are travelling.

In the days before your trip make sure your pet’s nails have been trimmed. You might be doing a lot of walking and you don’t want them slipping or injuring their nails on unfamiliar surfaces. Find out what the weather conditions are going to be at your destination. Will your senior pet need a jacket for cooler weather? Sun block for the nose, tips of ears and any other exposed areas? Be sure to pack a collapsible dish, all of his food (you don’t want diarrhea from unfamiliar foods on your trip) favorite treats and toys, his bed if that is feasible, a brush to keep him clean and any medication that he is taking. It’s not a bad idea to get an extra prescription from your vet for any medications your pet takes, on the off chance that you run out or lose it. That way you can have meds refilled at the local vet hospital at your destination. It is also a good idea to pack a pet first aid kit just in case!

Last and probably most importantly, make sure your pet is microchipped to you and has an ID tag on. When I travel with my dogs I usually write my cell phone number on the back of my business card and tape it around my dog’s collar. That way hopefully if we get separated, we are only a cell phone call away. Bon Voyage!!

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