San Juan Veterinary Hospital

2197 E Hwy 160
Pagosa Springs, CO 81147


Traveling with Pets

As winter approaches, many of our Pagosa residents start to plan their move back to their winter homes.  The magoriaty of these residents have furry friends.  It is difficult to tell how many of these owners discuss their travel plans with their veterinarians, yet there are many important aspects of pet travel owners should know about and may not.

Preparing for Travel
Several considerations should be made before traveling with your pet.  Will you be traveling by airplane or car?  Does your pet suffer from motion sickness when you travel?  Does your pet suffer from chronic illness?

For pets traveling by air, it is necessary for you to contact the airline well in advance in order to obtain specific regulations.  Federal guidelines require pets be at least 8 weeks old and weaned at least 5 days before they can fly.  Generally, a health certificate no more than 10 days old will be necessary in addition to a valid rabies vaccination certificate.  Consideration should be given as to the weather.  If it is cold, flights during the day would be preferred.  If possible, arrange for nonstop flights and avoid plane changes.  Time should be allotted for exercising the pet prior to being placed in a crate for flight.  Several major airports have designated areas for walking pets.  Call the airport for more information.

Car travel may require more preparation.  If you are traveling across state lines, they will want to check out the U.S. State and Territory Animal Import Regulations web site for the latest relevent requirements.  Prior to the trip, you might want to consider having a checklist of items that will be necessary along the way.  Cats are best confined to a cage or crate; dogs may be crated or fastened securely with a seat belt sttachment.  This serves the dual purpose of keeping you safe (preventing pets from getting underfoot or causing distraction) as well as the pet (preventing jumping out of the car or being flung around if the car swerves or stops suddenly).  If the pet has never traveled by car; you may want to prepare the pet by taking it along on short trips to acclimate and see how it will respond to car travel.

Anxious pet travelers will need special consideration.  For pets traveling by car, very gradual acclimation (starting simply with sitting in a parked car; then driving around the block, and so on) will sometimes help.  For those it does not help, medication may considered.  Travel by air is somewhat more complicated, consult with your veterinarian in these cases. 

Another potential problem for traveling pets is motion sickness.  One study cites that 17% of dogs (ie, 7.2 million dogs in U.S.) suffer from motion sickness as reported by owners.  When acclimation does not help, medication for these pets may be considered.  Antihistamines, such as the over-the-counter drugs diphenhydrmine and dimenhydrinate, have often been used in such cases but have variable efficacy and can be sedating.  Cerenia (maropitant citrate), a nonsedating medication for the prevention of motion sickness in dogs, has been recently approved and is another alternative.

Preventive Health Measures
All pets should have a current health assessment prior to travel.  If a health certificate is necessary, this should be done within 10 days of travel.  Vaccinations, including rabies, should be up-to-date and owners should carry proof of vaccination with them.  If travel plans include a different geographic region, additional preventive health measures may need to be taken, depending on the destination.  Dogs that are not surrently on heartworm preventative may need to start it, if traveling to a high-risk area.  The need for flea and tick control should be assessed for pets not currently using any.  Additional vaccinations might be considered, again depending on the destination.  Vaccinations that are not part of a pet's usual regimen should be completed at least 2 weeks prior to travel in order to have time to take effect.  Owners should also be prepared for unforeseen pet illness or accidents by carrying a pet first-aid kit, health history, and the contact information for your hospital.  A recent photograph of the pet might be useful should the pet become lost during travel. 

Pets with Chronic Illness
In pets with chronic or ongoing illness, specific recommendations will need to be given.  For instance, owners of diabetic animals may be advised on storage of insulin, what to do is insulin or syringes become lose during travel, or how to handle a hypohlycemic crisis.  We will ensure you have enough needed medication, and perhaps a prescription to carry in the event medications become lost.  A health history is particularly important for these pets, including; details of the pet's illness, a list of medications (including dose and frequnecy), and contact information for your hospital.  This eill enable veterinary teams unfamiliar with your pet to better care for it should an emergency arise during travel.

On the Way
During travel, pets should be kept secure.  As mentioned previously, a crate or seat belt attachment should be used when in the car.  Dogs should not ride loose in the beds of pickup trucks, nor should they be allowed to hang their heads out of windows.  A small pebble that hits the eye at interstate speed can do serious damage, and some dog may get carried away with something they have seen or smelled and try to jump from moving vehicles.

Owners should use extra care when car doors are opened,, as excited or anxious pets may try to bolt.  During rest breaks, dogs should remain on leashes to reduce the risk of running into traffic or geeting lost.  Both collar name tags and permanent identification (eg. a microchip) should be used for traveling pets.  Lastly, pets should NEVER be left in a warm car, whether or not the windows are left open.  We recommend that owners use drive-through windows or picnic at rest stops rather than stop at roadside restaurant and leave pets in the car.

Safe and Happy traveling!!!