Cars, Planes, Dogs and Cats – Traveling with Pets

This week on Vet Chat with Dr. Ryan Llera, he discusses how to safely travel with pets.

The arrival of the spring-summer travel season is upon us and perhaps you’re getting ready to take some time off with the family including the pets. Traveling with pets can be lots of fun but also can be an anxious endeavor for both you and them. Before you hit the open road or take to the skies, let’s do our part to make it a safe and enjoyable time for everyone.

Car Safety, not just for humans; your pets have to be safe also. We’re talking about restraint. Cats should always be in a carrier.


Preferably the carrier should be large enough for them to stand up and walk around in but small enough to fit on the floor behind a seat which is the safest place. For longer trips you may need a larger type crate (if space allows) for a litterbox and water or food dishes.

Gremlin in carrier

Dogs should wear seatbelt harnesses unless they are a toy breed then they should be in a carrier. Seatbelt harnesses should be comfortable, well fitting, and sturdy.


One such recommendation is the Sleepypod Clickit Sport harness. There may be other restraint devices out there but they may not have been tested for safety ratings. For more safety info, you can visit the Center for Pet Safety website where they have tested many types (using crash test dummies).

What about when you fly? Carriers will have different requirements if you are flying on an airplane so you will need to check with the airline. If your pet is going in cargo, make sure the carrier has a screw type of closure, not clips as we wouldn’t want anyone escaping!

A common request I get is about sedation for the trip. Many dogs don’t seem to be bothered by a car trip but some do mind and there is a fair chance that many cats will vocalize. In some cases they’re just talking but sometimes it’s more of a concern or bother for the other passengers especially if kitty is frantic in the carrier. As mentioned before, by no means would I suggest that your cat get free roam of the car as it is a safety hazard to everyone.

I must first stress you should never give any over the counter or prescription medication without the advice of a veterinarian. Sedatives or anti-anxiety medications can vary from homeopathic to mild common medications to heavy tranquilization. It is best to look into any type of medication at least a few weeks before your trip as I prefer to start on a benign medication (something that won’t affect heart rate or blood pressure) or start on a lower dose of a mid-grade medication. Each pet will be different and may require different drugs. When traveling on a plane, I do not recommend heavy medications that would normally require monitoring unless nothing else will work and we have no other choice.

These are the two main points to focus on when traveling with your pets. There is much more but we will touch on them briefly here:

  • Nausea: Some animals can get car sick just like people! If they do, it may be best if they are fasted before a trip or only feed them a small meal. Alternatively, your veterinarian can recommend or prescribe something to help.
  • Identification & Records: Before leaving, make sure your pets tags or microchip information is up to date in case of a separation. If you will be gone for awhile or if your pet has a medical condition, it may be useful to bring a copy of pertinent records or information should they need medical attention.
  • First aid kit: Particularly if you’re camping, this may be a necessity. Bandage material, antibiotic ointment, tick removers, peroxide, and eye wash are just a few of the items that might be handy.
  • Pit stops: Take a break every few hours on longer trips! Stretch your legs and let your dog do the same. For cats, this might be a good time to set a litterbox in the back of a vehicle for them to try to use though some cats may be too stressed. I would also suggest having a leash & harness on cats just as another aid in keeping them from escaping or getting under seats.

Well that’s the basics of pet travel and we didn’t even talk about moving overseas!

Plan ahead and be safe.

Remember, it’s not just a vacation; it’s an adventure!

Thank you Dr. Llera for your helpful travelling tips. You can connect with Dr. Llera on his blog, or follow him on Facebook 

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are that of Dr. Ryan Llera. If you have any questions or concerns about your pet, always check with you personal veterinarian.

Author: Kelly Harding

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