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The Do's and Don'ts of Travelling with Aging Dogs and Cats

Generally travelling with elderly cats and dogs are not significantly different than travelling with younger pets, if they are relatively healthy.  A cardinal rule of travelling anywhere with your pet is to have the pet identifiable by a microchip AND that the microchip is registered to an address where you can be located.

Although “travelling”, is a simple word, to be all inclusive I will be begin with the simplest and then proceed through the more difficult situations of travelling with your aging dog or cat:

1.    Car or RV travel where the destination has/has not a significant temperature variant.
2.    Domestic Air Travel where the pet is small enough for you to carry aboard and the destination has/has not a significant
       temperature variation.
3.    Domestic Air Travel (non-stop) where the pet must go in cargo and there is/is not a significant temperature variation.
4.    Domestic Air Travel (with layovers) where the pet must go in cargo and there is/is not a significant temperature variation.
5.    International Air Travel
6.    International Air Travel into Rabies Free Countries.  This also would include travelling to Hawaii.

Car or RV travel where the destination has/has not a significant temperature variant.

Most people who travel with their pets usually are just going from home to a vacation spot or another state to visit relatives. If they have never travelled with them before and they are small enough to crate, that is the best.  If they are not customized to being in a crate, you will need to acclimate them to a crate before the departure date.

 A cardinal rule is not to feed your pets in the morning, rather wait until the end of the day’s journey.  Of course this would not be true with diabetic pets.  Rest and exercise stops should be taken at 2-3 hour intervals and water should be made available at each stop.  Generally, the best places to stop are the Interstate Rest Stops.  Otherwise find a safe exit and a safe spot.  Another cardinal rule is to only exercise them on a strong leash, preferably with a harness rather than a collar to reduce chances of their escape.  If your destination requires overnight stays, make absolutely sure you have reservations with a pet friendly hotel or bed and breakfast.
If you have never travelled with your pets you should be sure to take either conventional or proven holistic medications to control motion sickness and/or anxiety.

If you are travelling to areas of moderately higher temperature or elevation, or areas to moderately lower temperature and your pets are very elderly, it is best to make the trip slowly over several days to allow them to acclimate, plus provide them with blankets or warm coats or booties.  Booties are especially important for the colder climates and mountainous terrains. 

Domestic Air Travel where the pet is small enough for you to carry aboard and the destination has/has not a significant temperature variation.

This form of travel is the easiest and requires the least preparation.  This time, no food or water should be given in the morning and only limited water given throughout the flight.  Again, no food should be given on the morning of the day of departure and only a small amount of water should be given throughout the flight.

A cardinal rule here is to call the airline at least two months in advance and ask what their specific regulations are for flying with your pet.  Most all of them require a veterinary issued health certificate issued either within 10 days of travel or 30 days of travel.  They all will require and up to date rabies vaccination.  At the time of obtaining the health certificate from your veterinarian, you should ask about tranquillizers prior to flight.  Mild to moderate tranquillizers as Acepromazine will serve for both sedation and motion sickness.  I recommend this treatment, but strongly advise to do a test dosage on your pet several days before the day of flight.  It should be given on an empty stomach as this requires less of a total dose.  Also, the trial dose will give you an idea of whether to use a smaller or larger dose to get the desired effect.  Do not be alarmed at prolonged action of most sedatives; they can easily last for 12-24 hours when given on an empty stomach.

Domestic Air Travel (non-stop) where the pet must go in cargo and there is/is not a significant temperature variation.

This travel arrangement also requires calling the airlines well in advance, obtaining a certificate of health from your veterinarian but in this case get two copies and one copy should be kept by the travelling owner and other copy firmly attached to the travel crate.  Although not a cardinal rule, studies have shown decreased problems including a decreased mortality in pets that are NOT tranquillized when placed in the cargo hold of airplanes.  This is probably due to their abilities to control their balance and their body temperatures better when not under sedation.

Domestic Air Travel (with a layover) where the pet must go in cargo and there is/is not a significant temperature variation.

This method of travel should be discouraged unless absolutely necessary.  Federal laws require your pet be removed from the cargo and given water during the layover, but the pets are kept out on the tarmac where it could be extremely cold or hot and at bare minimum is extremely noisy.

The same recommendations and rules of no feeding and getting two copies of the health certificates apply to this mode of travel.  However, there is one other federal mandate and that is your veterinarian must provide you with a written letter stating your pet has been acclimated to withstand the highest and lowest temperatures at the site of the layovers for a two hour period.  Again, I would recommend two copies of the permit, one for the travelling owner, the other to be attached to the cage.

International Travel

The Cardinal rule of international travel with your pet is to start early, at least six months early for the first time.
International air travel requires International Health Certificates and a microchip that can be read by an ISO microchip reader.  The International Organization for Standardization, a sub-unit of the United Nations.  Most of the domestic microchips can now be read by ISO readers.  It is important that your pets chip be read by all readers and more importantly that you have registered the microchip number to an address where YOU can be reached.

There are many other regulations that certain countries have.  I strongly recommend for international travel that you partake of the services of a specialist in that field.  AIR ANIMAL administrated by Dr. Walter Woolf, in Tampa, Florida is one such service (1-866-283-5416).  Their charges are very reasonable and they confirm everything that is needed and working through you and your veterinarian can make the international travel least risk free for you and your pet.

If you frequently fly to the same country, many of them will offer a visa service for your pet.  Once you have a visa for your pet, very little is required from there.

International Air Travel into a Rabies Free Country.  This also would include travelling to Hawaii.

Travelling with your pet from a country that has rabies to a country that does not have rabies can be especially difficult.  I would again advise using a professional service as AIR ANIMAL.  You cannot have given your pet a rabies vaccine within the last six months and you have to have a Rabies Antibody Titer done within two months of departure and the Titer must be above the level of (5), which is the minimum level of rabies protection that your pet must have before entering the Country.  If the titer comes back below 5, you must vaccinate your pet for rabies and wait at least six months before doing another titer.  Some countries vary so you must know the exact requirements for your country of destination.


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  • Published:
  • Updated: 4/25/2018: 9:54:31 AM ET