People care a lot about their pets. Some refer to them as members of the family, designate rooms in their houses for them, shower them with gifts on their birthdays and hold funerals for them when they pass along to that great animal paradise in the sky. If you aren't convinced of the widespread pet love, look at the numbers: In 2008, Americans spent $43.4 billion on pet-related products [source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association].
One of the newest pet niches that's grown in recent years is pet travel. Hotels, resorts and spas designed specifically for pets have sprung up. For owners who wish to bring their cherished pets along for the journey, countless pet travel accessories fit the need of any traveling feline or Fido. But taking your pet on vacation with you requires preparation. Just like you have to plan ahead and pack clothes and necessities appropriate for the weather, location and duration of your trip, you must do the same for your pet.
In the pretravel rush, basic things like your toothbrush or extra socks can slip your mind easily. Writing out a list of items to bring can solve that problem. Since your dog or cat can't hold a pen or pack a bag, it's up to you to remember all the pet travel essentials. To help you get started, here are 10 of the most common pet travel items to consider carrying along.
10: Pet Passport
A pet passport sounds adorable, doesn't it? A little mug shot of your cute dog or cat and tiny paw print in the place of a signature would warm the heart of any customs officer. Well, that's not exactly what we mean by pet passport. It's basically certification from your vet that your pet is healthy and that its vaccinations are current. You can purchase passportlike journals to carry the documents in for easier handling. Tuck a picture of your pet in that passport as well in case you lose your pet.
Pet passports aren't necessary for interstate travel, but if you're leaving the country, it's a good idea to have one. In fact, a passport may be required by law, as in the European Union. Why would governments care about your pet? Let's say you're crossing the pond and vacationing in England with your Pomeranian for a couple weeks. British authorities wouldn't be too pleased if that cute Pomeranian had an ugly case of rabies or distemper that spread to other dogs and sparked an outbreak. Different countries have varying regulations regarding vaccinations and quarantines. To investigate the pet import rules of your international destination, you can consult the U.S. Embassy in that country.
9: Pet Microchips
OK, it's not something you need to pack, but a microchip is a good idea to implant in your furry friend before you travel. One of the major reasons you may avoid traveling with your pet is fear of losing it. But here's where you can rest a little easier. Microchips, which are slowly becoming more common for pets, can help you track down a lost pet.
The data inside microchips contains an identification number, which usually consists of nine digits if sold in the United States and 15 digits in the European Union. These microchips work off of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, and the varying amount of digits in the identification numbers indicates different radio frequencies. When you register your microchip with an agency such as the American Kennel Club, that number corresponds to your contact information. When a pet becomes lost and -- hopefully -- ends up at an animal shelter, the shelter can scan the microchip for identification information. Personnel at the shelter can then contact you and return your pet.
Pet microchips are barely larger than a grain of rice, and most vets implant them regularly into animals via hypodermic needle. Some animal shelters also offer microchipping services. Implants generally cost less than $50.
8: Seat Covers
When traveling by car, dogs in particular might not be the kindest to your seats. What about cats? For safe car traveling, kitties should be housed in carriers. Of course, you want your pup where all the action is, but you also don't want to spend hours cleaning hair and dander off the upholstery. How about placing old towels or blankets on the seat? They might suffice for short jaunts, but neither does a good job staying in place when a pet moves around on them for a long time. For extended trips in the car, purchasing a seat cover might be in order.
Seat covers are simple to understand -- they do exactly what you think they do. The fabric encases the seat to protect the upholstery or leather. You can find seat covers in different sizes to fit captain chairs in the front of the vehicle or longer passenger seats in the back. Sound drab? Not so. Manufacturers make pet seat covers in a rainbow of colors and textures to keep you and your pet at peace on the road. Some even come in eco-friendly, water-resistant or scratch-durable fabrics. The main decision when shopping for a seat cover is how much you'd like to spend. Seat covers fit any budget, running from under $50 to more than hundreds of dollars.
7: Portable Litter Boxes
Nothing makes for a more unpleasant trip than having to go to the bathroom while driving down a deserted stretch of highway. Imagine how your pets must feel, cooped up in a carrier. If you're traveling with a dog, it's up to you to monitor its behavior and pull off for pit stops regularly. But with cats, things are slightly more complicated. Few people would allow their cats to hop out of the car and relieve themselves on the side of the road for fear that they might run away.
So what to do if you're driving across the country with a cat? Train it to walk on a leash? Unless you have plenty of time and patience at your disposal before your trip, you bring the bathroom with you. A portable litter tray folds up for easy storing, and you toss the contents after your cat uses it. This tray can also come in handy if you're staying over at someone's house or at a hotel with a cat.
Before you travel with your cats, remember that they're extremely territorial, habitual creatures. In addition to getting them acclimated to the motion of riding in a car, you should acquaint them with the new litter box in the weeks before your trip. That way, it will look and smell familiar, and your cat will be more willing to use it. Otherwise, you could end up with a stinky mess in the backseat or the hotel floor.
6: Toys and Play Sets
When you're trapped in a car for a while, you probably tend to get a little restless. So do your pets. Once they grow accustomed to the movement of the car, some dogs and cats will nod off and nap. But unless you give them sedatives, that probably won't be the case for the duration of an hours-long journey. Perhaps they have excessive energy from being confined to a small space or just want some old-fashioned attention. One way you can kill two birds with one stone is bringing along a few toys or play sets.
Pet entertainment doesn't have to be anything extravagant. A favorite chew toy or pillow from home makes an excellent distraction. The items smell familiar and, thus, keep your pets calmer. This can go for cats as well. If they have a preferred stuffed animal that they chase around the house or blanket they enjoy snuggling in, put it inside their carrier. Portable play sets can also rid hyper dogs of excess energy. These mini obstacle courses encourage jumping and running. Of course, a stick or ball to fetch will also tucker out a pooch.
5: First Aid-Kit
Sickness or injury is the last thing you want to happen to any of your companions on a trip. But as everyone knows, things go wrong sometimes, and it's best to be prepared. If you're traveling in a car, you might already have a first aid-kit suitable for injuries to humans. When traveling with pets, you should also have one ready for the special needs of your pet. You can purchase premade pet first aid-kits in stores, or you can package one of your own from items you probably have at home.
If you want to take the do-it-yourself approach, the American Red Cross recommends the following basic supplies for any pet first aid-kit: gauze pads, gauze rolls and bandages, cotton swabs, instant cold pack, roll of cloth, tweezers, thermometer, hydrogen peroxide and antibiotic ointment [source: American Red Cross].
You can also include additional items, such as plastic gloves, scissors, mild pet sedatives, eyedroppers (for feeding) and bottled water. If the pet becomes seriously ill or hurt, take caution if attempting to treat it on your own. For major injuries, you may want to locate the nearest vet.
4: Travel Water Dispenser
If you've read How often should I give my pet water during a car trip?, you know already that access to fresh water is essential to maintaining your pet's health during travel. To prevent dehydration, cats and dogs should always have fresh water available. Just how much water do they require? As much as they consume normally during the day at home.
Now, you may be wondering how you can meet that necessity without water splashing around the interior of the car. If you hit a bumpy stretch of road, will it send the water bowl flying? You won't have to worry about that if you use a pet travel water dispenser. These accessories are designed specially to halt spills and stay put. Some, for instance, dispense only a shallow amount of water into the drinking dish at once. Collapsible travel bowls are made of thick fabrics and have square bases to prevent them from tipping over. If you're interested in a fabric travel bowl, be sure to check the tag first to ensure that it's suitable for food as well as water. These accessories don't cost much more than the water you'll pour into them -- you can track down a pet travel bowl easily for under $10.
3: Seat Belt Harnesses
Every state has automobile seat belt regulations. About half the states will ticket drivers solely on the basis of not wearing a seat belt, while the other half can fine drivers for it only when they're pulled over for another traffic violation. No matter which state you're cruising through, it's always smart to err on the side of safety and wear a seat belt -- passengers included.
If those passengers are of feline or canine variety, treat them with the same amount of care. As mentioned earlier, when traveling in cars with cats, they should remain inside a comfortable carrying crate since they're smaller and sometimes more difficult to control. Even if your cat rides in a carrier, it's wise to buckle the crate in or secure it in some way as well.
Naturally, you can't buckle in a dog in the backseat the same way you would a human. Most commercial pet seat belts consist of a harness that fits around the dog's torso and a belt attachment that snaps into your car's seat belt insert. These usually allow dogs to sit or stand up, but not walk around. Other kinds of pet seat belts provide for more mobility. They're similar to short leashes that attach to the car's seat belts. Dogs can walk around on these, and owners can adjust them to desirable lengths to keep them from jumping into the driver's lap. Smaller dog breeds may also fit snugly into pet car seats that also hook into the seat belt inserts.
2: Pet ID Tags
It's one of the most fundamental basics of pet ownership: Make sure that your dog or cat is always wearing a collar with a tag on it whenever you venture forth from home.
Pet collars and tags are probably essential travel accessories that every roving pet should wear. Most dogs and cats already wear some sort of collar and tag with their name on it. But in addition to an identification tag bearing the pet's name and the owner's local contact information, animals also need rabies tags and travel tags with your out-of-town contact information [source: American Association of Veterinary Medicine].
Think of detailed identification tags as a form of pet travel insurance. The pet microchips discussed earlier will help if you become separated from your pet; however, lost pets don't always end up at shelters. If a person finds the pet but doesn't turn it into a shelter, he or she has no way of scanning the microchip. That's when the travel contact information could save the day. Since those important tags are attached to a collar, make sure that your pet's collar is secure on its neck. An old, ratty one could fall off.
1: Pet Carriers
Like identification tags, carriers are an obvious necessity for traveling with a pet. Yet, you ought to evaluate the kennel you have and determine whether it's suitable for an extended trip -- especially if your itinerary includes flying. First, check the carrier's doors. How secure are they? When you crate your dog or cat for a quick outing, does the animal chew or scratch on the door? Has it ever successfully escaped? If so, it could be time to invest in a new carrier. Grated metal doors will be the most secure and chew-proof. Determined pets might eventually work their teeth through plastic ones. Carriers should also have plenty of ventilation. The windows or air openings shouldn't be large enough that a pet could shimmy its way out, though.
Planning to fly with your pet? The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) warns against companies that tout their kennel as airline-approved. While most airlines won't allow wheeled carriers on board, there are no pre-approved types of carriers [source: USDA]. Just opt for the strongest and most comfortable one for your pet. Pet travel rules differ among airlines, and you can contact them individually for their specifications.
Lots More Information
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- How Pet Microchipping Works
- 6 Pets that Traveled Long Distances to Get Home
- Do pets suffer jet lag?
- Top 5 Risks When Driving with a Pet
- How Pet Shipping Works
More Great Links
- American Association of Veterinary Medicine. "Pet Travel Tips." Updated Dec. 2, 2008. (Jan. 8, 2009)http://www.cvm.umn.edu/newsandevents/facts/petsafety/Pet_Travel_Tips/index.htm
- "Caring for Your Pets When You Travel." The Humane Society of the United States. (Jan. 8, 2009)http://www.hsus.org/pets/pet_care/caring_for_pets_when_you_travel/
- "Dog Tip: First Aid Kits and Emergency Treatments -- Prepare Now!." Paw Rescue. (Jan. 8, 2009)http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_FirstAid.php
- "First Aid for Pets." American Red Cross. (Jan. 8, 2009)http://www.redcross.org/SERVICES/disaster/beprepared/firstaid.html
- "Industry Statistics & Trends." American Pet Products Association. (Jan. 8, 2009)http://www.americanpetproducts.org/press_industrytrends.asp
- "Pet Travel." U.S. Department of Agriculture. Updated Oct. 1, 2008. (Jan. 8, 2009)http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/pet_travel/pet_travel_tips.shtml