Whether you’ve got a summer vacation lined up or are planning a winter getaway, a major factor is figuring out what to do with your dog. Taking your trusty pup with you on your travels sounds great, but the logistics of getting them there can be complicated.
You and your dog may be used to short day trips, but long-distance travel can be stressful on a dog, whether by plane, car, train, bus, or boat. Here’s everything you need to know about traveling with a dog. That includes tips to make the trip easier, your best travel options, and how to make the journey as safe as possible for your pet.
Please note that the tips and information in this article assume your dog is not a service or comfort animal. Typically, airlines, cruise, and train companies accommodate these animals, and it’s best to call ahead to confirm policy with the company itself.
Options for Traveling with a Dog
Generally speaking, dog owners only have a handful of options if they want to include the furriest member of their family on a family trip. Depending on where you’re located (and where you’re traveling to), you may be able to drive. You also may have access to airplanes, trains, buses, or boats.
Most bus lines flat out do not allow pets. Train policy will vary from country to country, but Amtrack in the U.S. only allows dogs to fit in a small carrier. This means larger dogs are out of luck. Traveling by boat can be equally strict. Many cruise ships and passenger lines don’t allow pets. In cases where dogs are allowed on board, they’re only allowed in the ship’s kennel. It’s also worth noting that both these methods of travel are considerably slower than a plane. They also don’t allow your dog the flexibility of frequent stops to stretch and exercise, as a car trip does.
For these reasons, Pet Plate tends to recommend car or air travel, if possible.
How to Travel with a Dog in a Car
Seasoned dog-owners likely have some experience bringing their dog on car trips. While it’s good for you (and your dog) to have that experience, long-distance trips require a lot more care and planning. In fact, if your dog has never been on a car ride, it’s best to take them on a few short trips as practice first so that they can get acclimated.
Some of these tips should be followed even for quick drives to the groomer or vet, while others will ensure your vet has a comfortable time on long-distance or cross-country road trips.
Bring the proper pet protection and restraints. While it’s tempting to have your dog riding shotgun as the world’s cutest copilot, it’s not safe for your pet or you. Your dog could get excited or scared by many sights and sounds and jump around the car. So making sure your pup is properly restrained is critical in ensuring you can drive. Even then, the front seat isn’t a good place for dogs. Airbags were not designed with canines in mind, and an airbag going off could seriously injure (or even kill) your dog. And while it may be tempting to throw a carrier in the trunk of a hatchback, your dog will not be secured properly. Instead, it’s best to use a pet carrier that can be strapped or anchored into the back seat. The carrier should be large enough that your dog can sit up and lie down so they’re not too confined during the trip.
Please note that letting your dog stick their head out of a moving vehicle is also incredibly dangerous. Your dog could be hit by debris kicked up by other vehicles or thrown from the car during a crash (or even just a sharp, unexpected turn). These situations could end in serious injury or death.
Keep your dog well-fed. Give them a light meal about four hours before you’re due to drive off. Pack enough food to guarantee they’ll have regular meals until you reach your destination. While you and your family might be content to wolf down some fast food during the drive, don’t feed your dog that way. Instead, take frequent stops and feed your dog while the car is stationary; your dog could get motion sickness otherwise.
NEVER leave your dog alone in a parked car. While most dog owners are familiar with this rule, it’s easy to forget during long road trips. In addition, sitting in a parked car can be dangerous to dogs at temperatures starting at 70°F. Whenever possible, take your dog with you, or have someone stay with your dog while you take turns using the bathroom or buying snacks.
Pack a travel kit just for your dog. We bring plenty of supplies for ourselves, and packing for our canine friends should be no exception. Bring plenty of food, bowls, and even your own water either in a jug from your tap or simply bottled). Your dog may not be used to the water wherever it is you go, which could lead to stomach problems.
Bring everything you need to walk your dog, including scoopers, waste bags, and leashes. It’s also good to pack your pet’s health records and proof of immunizations, just in case. Finally, pack some fun toys. Bringing a handful of old favorites plus a few shiny new ones is always a good idea. Lastly, bring a first-aid kit for any emergencies.
Make sure your dog has identification. Microchipping your pet is a great idea if you haven’t done so already. But even if your dog is chipped, make sure they’re wearing a strong, sturdy color with clear identification and contact information. While you hope your dog never gets loose at a rest stop, it’s important to have all this information easily accessible just in case.
Ultimately, it’s about making the long car ride as enjoyable as possible. Keep a bed or bedding in the carrier, as well as a water bottle and a toy or two. Take frequent breaks so your dog can stretch and use the bathroom. Lastly, it’s not a bad idea to bring some treats along to make the ride more fun. This won’t surprise you, but we recommend Pet Plate’s very own organic treats. They’re delicious for your dog so that you can give them some guilt-free rewards for their good car-trip behavior.
How to Travel with Your Dog on a Plane
If driving isn’t an option because of time or distance or, well… an ocean being between you and your destination, there’s flying. Most airlines will allow dogs to fly, although the details can be very different based on the airline and your dog’s size. Also, keep in mind that some airlines won’t allow dogs on international flights at all.
The Difference Between Cabin and Cargo
Many small dogs can board the plane with you as long as they’re in a carrier that can fit under your seat. Ideally, this is how your dog should fly. The alternative is to fly your dog as “checked luggage” or “cargo.” The Humane Society of the United States recommends only bringing your pet on a flight if they can fly via the cabin. They consider pets flying via cargo too dangerous. Also, even in the best of circumstances, the baggage hold where larger dogs are kept can be dark, noisy, and too hot or too cold.
Of course, in some instances, dog owners may have no choice. While it’s not ideal, and the decision should not be made lightly, the stats may be more comforting. In 2017, approximately 507,000 animals were transported via airplane. Of those, 24 deaths, 15 injuries, and 1 loss were reported. Altogether, that’s a .07% rate of incident. Still, it’s evidence that a baggage hold isn’t the best place for a dog, so avoid it if you can. To help minimize risk, try to travel morning or evenings during the summer months and midday during the winter.
Know the Policies of Your Airline and Destination
Airlines may have specific blackout dates for pets and may even bar certain breeds of dogs from flying. In addition, certain countries may not allow pets to enter. The airlines may even have very specific requirements for your dog carrier in terms of size and weight. Ideally, you should contact your airline in advance for the most up-to-date information.
If you’re flying international, it’s good to know the policies of the destination country. They may require specific paperwork upon arrival. To be safe, contact the US Embassy in that country a month in advance to clarify any rules or regulations regarding dogs.
Avoid Flights with Layovers
While this may not be possible, direct flights are better for your dog. As mentioned above, the baggage hold can be stressful enough, and adding hours to your dog’s experience should be avoided whenever possible. Layovers can also cause you to incur additional pet fees. Be sure to check with your airline on their layover policies, as those indirect flights might not be cheaper with a dog in tow.
Have Your Dog’s Paperwork Handy
As mentioned, some airlines and/or countries will want your dog’s immunization and medical records. So be sure to have those to ensure your pet will be allowed on the flight. Some countries may even require your dog is microchipped before they can travel.
Pack and Prep Accordingly
Whether they’re flying in the cabin or cargo, ensure your dog has everything they need for the flight. For example, it’s best to avoid feeding your dog several hours before the flight. It’s also strongly recommended that you do NOT sedate them for the plane ride. Sedatives can cause problems in animals at high altitudes.
If your dog is traveling in the baggage hold, you may choose to freeze a bowl of water for them. Ideally, the bowl will still be frozen when they’re loaded onto the plane (to avoid spills), and your dog can drink it as it melts.
It’s also a good idea to tape a picture of your dog to the top of their carrier if they get loose.
How to Travel With Your Dog Internationally
While most of what’s been covered applies here— make sure your pet is microchipped and has proper identification, bring their paperwork, and know your airline’s rules— there are special considerations to make for jet-setting pups that are traveling to a different country.
As mentioned previously, know the rules of the country you’re traveling to, as well as the rules returning home. For example, some countries are rabies-free zones, meaning they’re very careful when letting dogs into the country, and medical paperwork is required. Others are rabies-controlled zones. In these countries, rabies may be a problem, and they’re careful about letting dogs out. You’ll generally have an easier time traveling if your dog is from a rabies-free country, but you’ll need proper paperwork regardless.
Lastly, some countries may require permits to allow your dog to travel or even a blood test. Again, make sure you know these requirements in advance and have taken the necessary steps.
Common Questions About Traveling with Your Dog
While these tips are helpful, you may still have some burning questions regarding you, your dog, and traveling, which we’ll answer below.
How Much Does it Cost to Bring a Dog on a Plane?
This can vary greatly based on the flight, the size and breed of the dog, and the airline itself. Airlines charge $100-125 to fly a pet one-way when flying with your dog in the cabin. Add the price of a return flight, layover fees (if applicable), an airplane-compliant pet carrier (which can range from $30-200), and flying with your dog can cost anywhere from $200-$500.
How Much Does it Cost to Ship a Dog on a Plane?
The price of shipping a dog can vary greatly depending on the dog and the flight itself (larger breeds will typically cost more). Owners could pay anywhere from $275-1000 for a domestic flight. International flights can be double or triple that amount.
Can I Buy a Seat for My Dog on an Airplane?
Surprisingly, the answer is “yes” (but probably not the way you’re picturing). No, your dog can’t just plop down in the seat next to you. But United Airlines and JetBlue do allow you to buy a seat for your pet carrier. So while you’re dog still has to ride in the carrier, they’ll at least be sitting near you, and you’ll have more legroom and space for other carry-ons. Keep in mind that you’ll still be charged the price to bring a pet on board in addition to the price of the seat itself.
What Can I Give My Dog for Travel Sickness?
There are a handful of medications that are dog-safe. Cerenia is the only FDA-approved prescription medication to help with vomiting in dogs with motion sickness. Your veterinarian would be able to prescribe this, as well as anti-anxiety medication for your dog if needed.
If you’re in a pinch, you can give your dog Meclizine or Dramamine. Benadryl can also be administered, but make sure it’s the only active ingredient first. In these instances, it’s best to consult with your veterinarian first, as these are not drugs designed for dogs.
Should You Travel with Your Dog?
If you’re moving, traveling with your dog is necessary. In other cases, long-distance travel creates unique challenges and poses specific risks for your dog. Kenneling your dog or booking a stay at a puppy hotel are both viable alternatives. You may even have a close friend or family member that’s available to dogsit. However, considering that flying your dog with you can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, a kennel may be a more reasonable option.
Ultimately, it’s a question only you can answer, but spending a few days apart from you may actually be less stressful on your dog. If you choose to bring your dog along, the information provided should help make the process as easy as possible for you and your dog.
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