Traveling With Pets: How to Do it Right

How do you reconcile your holiday travel needs if you have a pet? Do you haul them along, hope that the trip doesn’t stress them out and that your holiday host is OK with also hosting a pet? Or do you kennel your dog, cat, bird or wallaby and hope that they don’t get too stressed at spending the holidays away from family and friends?

I don’t have the answer for every circumstance, but I do have some tips and suggestions to make holiday travel less stressful for you and your pet.  I’m going to give it to you straight, though — I am a big fan of boarding your pet while you travel, with only a few exceptions.

First, let’s do the exceptions.

  1. Short trips (< 4 hours) for a day or so to a place you know your dog is welcome. If you’re heading to Uncle Ned’s house a couple of hours away for Christmas dinner and Uncle Ned has dogs that your dogs know and love, this is about the same thing as heading over for a summer barbecue; most of the time, this situation works out well if you know the players and your dog is pre-approved. Bonus points if your dog loves a car ride, doesn’t get car-sick and you won’t stay the night. (Talk to your vet if you have a car sick pet — there are some new and amazing therapies for this that really work.)
  2. Cats. Most cats do well for a few days as long as they have water, clean litter and food. It’s never a bad idea to make sure a neighbor or local high school kid can come over once or twice a day to do a “cat count” and make sure no one’s gotten themselves locked in a closet or bathroom away from food and water. The longest a cat should go unattended is 48 hours and make sure that pet sitters can reach you and reach your veterinarian in case of emergency. Obviously, this doesn’t work well with pets who are on medication, unless you have a really good petsitter. (Talk to your vet — sometimes techs who work at the clinic have a side job as pet sitters and those folks know how to pill a cat!)

As I said above, if you’re going on a long car ride and staying for several days, I think a boarding kennel is the best place for your cat or dog. Ditto airplane trips — unless you have a small dog who can go in the cabin with you, it’s best to reserve air travel with your pet for those few unavoidable circumstances like a cross-country move — and even then, I think a car trip with frequent stops probably beats a plane ride. Snub-nosed breeds like bulldogs, pugs and the like should never fly in the cargo hold. Also on my list of “nevers” is buying into the current trend of fake service animals — having your companion game the system by getting a fake service dog vest and claiming they perform services that they don’t. It’s happening more and more and it’s flat-out wrong.

Cats tend to take being at a boarding kennel better than dogs in most cases. Either that, or they just internalize all the stress, but they always seem so happy when I see them at our local boarding kennel. Some dogs can really get wound up if they’re away from home, so knowing your dog’s temperament and how they do in new surroundings is important for making the call on whether kenneling is best for your situation.

Finding a reputable kennel is one of the small joys of life — like finding a good babysitter. If you know your dog is comfortable, having fun and safe, you can rest easy over the holidays and enjoy the egg nog, cheer and company. Talk to your family and pet-owning friends, and see if your veterinarian has a recommendation — they may even have a kennel associated with the hospital. It’s worth the homework ahead of time so you can avoid adding more stress to an already busy and hectic season.

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