Writer: Edith A. Chenault, (979) 845-2886,email@example.com
Contact: Dr. Deb Zoran, (979) 845-2351
COLLEGE STATION — The old Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared,” is best remembered when traveling with pets this summer, whether you are on vacation or are moving.
“For the animal and the human, that is the best thing to remember,” said Dr. Deb Zoran, an assistant professor at Texas A&M University’s School of Veterinary Medicine. “Be prepared not only before you leave, but when you get there and in between.”
One of the first preparations is to get the animal accustomed to riding in an automobile, if that is going to be the mode of transportation. “Try to get the pet used to getting in the car as often as you can in a non-stressful and non-threatening way,” said Zoran, who specializes in small animal medicine.
Unfortunately, the pet’s only usual exposure to a car rides is to someplace stressful, like to a veterinarian or a groomer. Zoran suggested owners begin taking their pets for rides when they are young; however, even with older animals, short, non-stressful rides over a period of time before the trip will ease their fears.
“It won’t solve all problems for all animals, but it will help — especially for those animals that don’t travel well,” she said.
Also, owners should begin getting their pets used to traveling carriers or kennels when they are young. “Get them used to the idea that those places are not scary, bad things,” she said, “that those are safe and that those places are their home away from home.”
Crating dogs during the day or at night, contrary to popular belief, is not cruel punishment, she said. “Even if it means the crate is there with the door open and that is where they go to sleep.”
As with car rides, pets should be exposed to their carriers several weeks before the trip. With her own cats, Zoran said she leaves the carriers out in an unused room so the cats can crawl in and out of it and get used to it. “It doesn’t just come out of the closet or from under the bed and then the animal goes out the door in it,” she said.
If it is a single-day trip and the animal has a tendency to get carsick, Zoran suggested cutting back on their food the night before. “You don’t want to ever completely remove their water from them. Water is an important, essential part of their diet,” she said.
With puppies and geriatric animals, plan frequent stops to feed them. “It is important to remember they cannot go for long periods of time without eating. Sometimes they need to have (over) frequent small meals, either because they tend to be hypoglycemic or because they have medical problems,” she said.
During the trip, all animals should be in their carriers, located where they can see the owner and where the owner is able to talk to them and calm them.
They should ride in the climate-controlled part of the vehicle so they do not get too hot or cold, not in the back of a rental van if moving to another area.
Carriers should be strapped in if at all possible. “Even if you don’t have a wreck — you just have to stop suddenly — the pet can be thrown all over the vehicle. It’s still better and safer for that animal to be in the crate than to be loose in the car.”
Pets wandering in a car tend to divert the driver’s attention or can get under brake petals or accelerators and cause wrecks, she added.
If traveling by air, some airlines will allow small dogs or cats to ride in carriers under seats. Larger animals must still travel in the cargo hold, which is a traumatic experience. “They’re going into basically a non-climate-controlled part of a very loud, noisy plane with different smells and different people,” she said.
Try to make the situation as comfortable as possible by placing the pet’s toys and bedding in the carrier, Zoran said.
She said she normally recommends against sedation unless the pet is one that will injure itself or try to eat its way out of the carrier because it is so frightened or is one that tends to get motion sickness easily. Sedatives commonly used lower blood pressure, creating health problems for the pet.
If traveling to another region in Texas, pet owners must have evidence of a rabies vaccination — the license and certificate. If crossing state lines, owners need proof of a rabies vaccination and a health certificate for each animal.
Introduce the pet into its new environment slowly and carefully. “First of all, you sort of set apart an area that you designate to be this pet’s new home for the short term,” Zoran said.
For cats, set up the food supply, litter box and toys in that room. For dogs, their food, toys and their kennel should be set up in their area.
“You need to keep them in that area, don’t just allow them free run of the house and the neighborhood until you have done a couple of things,” she said.
Allow the animal a chance to unwind from the trip, establish its turf and get its smells on everything, she said. Additionally, the owner needs to gradually introduce cats into different parts of the house and dogs (if they are to live in the yard) to the outdoors.
“And the real key is to have the time to allow this to happen, not just pull up in the moving (more) van, throw the dog in the backyard and the cat in the back bathroom, start unloading and going about your business. That way, one or two or three weeks goes by while you’re getting the house situated and getting situated in your new job or whatever and the animal has just been sort of forgotten,” she said.
A trip or move is just as stressful for a pet as it is for humans. “Some animals are incredibly malleable and you can take them anywhere with you. As long as they are with you, they are comfortable and happy,” she said.
However, the pet could have short-term problems adjusting to the new environment. “You may have a situation where animals don’t act the way they normally do,” she said. She suggested owners try to foresee problems that may occur, such as taking a dog for a visit into a home where only cats reside.
If staying in a hotel or motel, check ahead to make sure pets are accepted, she said.