Travel Tails: When you go, where does your pet go?


T o take your pet – or not to take – that may be your question. There are many things to think about when deciding what to do with your pet when you’re going away.

Whether you plan to travel with your pet, ask someone to care for them, or arrange a spot in a boarding facility while you’re gone, we’ve collected some tips to help everyone involved. Each of the following four options has its pros and cons. However, if you decide not to take your pet with you, the common theme is to arrange someone you trust to take care of your pet.

   When leaving your pet in someone else’s care consider their needs:

  • food, water and any medications
  • attention, exercise, safety and comfort
  • provide clear instructions for each pet
  • leave reliable contact information for you, your vet and maybe an emergency contact, especially if travelling far away.

Option 1: Leave your pet at home and have someone stay with or check on them.

This decision likely depends on the availability of a friend or family member because it’s best for your peace of mind if this caretaker already knows your pet and your house. If your pet does not know their temporary caretaker very
well, be sure to introduce them in advance. To further prepare, plan to invite the sitter over to spend time together with your pet before you leave.

If your pet’s personality is a companion-seeker, this option may not offer the attention your pet needs to be content while you’re away.

Option 2: Leave your pet at  the sitter’s home.

You will want to choose someone who knows your pet if possible. This option depends on your individual pet’s disposition too. “When dogs and cats are out of their usual environment, some of them find it stressful,” says Steve Hardenburgh, owner of Orion Kennel Club. Other considerations: is it a safe home, will your pet be comfortable, or get enough attention? Are there other pets and will they all get along? “Cats seem to adapt better to new places,” Hardenburgh observes, “since they’re more independent by nature.”

Option 3: Book your pet a  stay at a boarding facility.

Obviously, this option involves service fees. The upside is that you can count on people watching your pet most hours of the day. Boarding kennel staff are there to feed your pet on a schedule, monitor their eating, give any required medications and play with or take them outside.

Hardenburgh refers to his Orion Kennel Club staff as pet professionals. Nevertheless, he recognizes that boarding is not for every animal, “Ninety percent of pets do well,” he says, however, a few might exhibit signs of stress such as not eating according to normal habits, passing a loose stool, or not being social with caregivers. “Orion staff are observant and make notes about the animals along the way. When owners come to pick up their pet we give them a verbal report card, being very honest about their pet’s experience,” explains Hardenburgh, “If a dog or cat was unhappy, we will tell them. But we have many repeat customers and their pets are excited to arrive!”

When establishing a relationship with a kennel, Hardenburgh advises visiting and touring the facility in advance to ensure you are comfortable leaving your dog or cat in their care. Look for features such as heated floors, outdoor yards for dogs or play areas for cats. Ask how much space your pet would have and how often it would get exercise. Would it be out in groups or on its own? Also, inquire about the food; some kennels give all boarders the same food, others require customers to supply their pet’s food. Compare the services with your pet’s needs.

There are several wise ways you can prepare for your pet’s boarding experience. Taking care of these tasks well before traveling should help reduce your stress as well:

  • ensure your pet’s vaccinations are up to date
  • provide the kennel with, or ask your veterinarian to send over, vaccination records
  • check supply of your pet’s food and prepare portions for the kennel if required
  • gather important contact information for the kennel: your and your vet’s name

Keep in mind that holidays are peak travel periods so you may need to book as early as four months before your trip.

Vaccinating your pet before taking them to the boarding facility:

  • Rabies – a Michigan state regulation
  • Distemper – Michigan state recommendation
  • Bordetella – usually required by kennels because, according to the American Kennel Club, “Bordetella bronchiseptica is the most common bacterial agent responsible for kennel cough in dogs …” a highly contagious respiratory illness.

Option 4: Take your pet with you

Road travel:  If your pet is not used to traveling in a vehicle, it’s wise to help them get accustomed to the idea with a few short rides in preparation for your trip. Crate or properly restrain your pet to keep it and other passengers safe and comfortable. Also, plan to stop every few hours to let your pet stretch its legs and go to the bathroom.

It’s a good idea to have pets microchipped or ensure their ID tag contains current contact information in case they were to get separated from you. Bring a leash or harness, food, cool water, dishes, medications, a favorite toy or familiar blanket. In addition, you may need a portable crate or medical records. Remember to ask your hosts or hotel representative if your pet is a welcome guest. 

Air travel:  “If you are flying domestically, (except for Hawaii) you may bring a small pet with you, if it is at least 10 weeks old, in the airplane cabin,” says travel agent Amber Johnson of Superior Travel in Lapeer, “It must be in an enclosed pet carrier where it has room to move around, and the carrier must fit under the seat directly in front of you.”

Generally, this scenario means a pet weighs 3-5 pounds. Any larger and it must travel as cargo, as will pets heading on a Hawaiian vacation with their owners. It’s a good idea to check the airline’s policy in advance of your travel date. Each airline has its own variables and exceptions, as well as rules surrounding service animals for the hearing or visually impaired. Ask whether the airline requires a certificate of veterinary inspection or an acclimation certificate, both of which you would need to obtain through your vet and possibly within a limited number of days before travel.

“We can reach out to airlines on our client’s behalf to learn more about pet travel,” offers Johnson. Having worked two years with Superior Travel, which specializes in European river cruises and all-inclusive Caribbean vacations, Johnson knows that people don’t take pets overseas, unless they are moving or planning an extended stay, because most countries require animals to spend six to eight weeks in quarantine.

On the idea of flying with your pet, Johnson further advises, “Remember to let your travel agent or the airline know about your pet when booking your flight and also that your pet will count as one of your carry-ons.”


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