Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Summertime Travel Tips for Pets

pet travel

Pet travel has been all over the news these past months from the changes in service animal travel regulations to the errant shipping of pets to destinations other than their planned one. Seems like there has been a new pet travel crisis reported daily. Managing pet travel from the veterinary standpoint has been challenging too. Airline travel forms are being changed so quickly that if pet families print the form a few days before their trip, the forms are no longer valid when the pet gets to the airport. Here are some tips for smoothing out the bumps in pet travel.

Travel to Rabies-Free Countries
Orchestrating travel with your pet to a foreign country can be one of the most complex organizational tasks ever involving negotiating the airline’s rules and government regulations. Rabies-free countries pose the greatest challenge as many require not only proof of rabies vaccination, but laboratory documentation of protective titers based on a blood test. Most of the rabies-free countries are island nations with complex rules about pet travel.

Although Hawaii is not a foreign country, its pet travel regulations rival those of England and Australia. I started in April working on administering the proper vaccines and submitting the blood tests for a patient of mine hoping to make a trip to Hawaii in August. The take home message here is to keep your pet’s rabies vaccination up to date and start early if you plan to fly internationally with your pet. Requirements for vaccinations other than rabies vary between countries, so be sure your pet has the required vaccines administered well in advance of travel.

Automobile Safety
The classic American vacation involves piling the whole family, including the pets, into the car and driving to the beach, mountains or a National Park. Before you load up, make sure your pet is safely secured in her seat. Pet should not be allowed to roam free in the car because in a crash, your pet becomes a free flying projectile capable of injuring a person riding in the car or sustaining severe injuries themselves. Your pet should be in a crate in the back seat or cargo area and the carrier should be secured to the child restraint loops between the seat and backrest. If your pet must sit on the seat, be sure to use a harness to prevent them from becoming a distraction when you are driving.

The Center for Pet Safety certifies products based on safety testing using animal crash test dummies. They also author independent safety standards to keep your pets safe. The Center for Pet Safety website lists products meeting their standards to keep your pets safe during a road trip vacation.

Riding the Rails
Just like the airlines, Amtrak has rules about pet travel, so be sure to read the fine print on their website before riding the rails with your pet. Your pet will need a reservation and will have to pay a fee to travel on Amtrak. The California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco is out if you are traveling with Fluffy or Fido since pets can only travel on trips less than seven hours. My current foster kittens, Nathaniel and Nino, would not be welcome on Amtrak since they are only 20 days old and pets must be eight weeks of age to travel on the train. Not all trains accept pets, so be sure to plan your travel schedule around trains accepting pet passengers.

If there is one unifying theme for pet travel it is to plan ahead. Get your pet’s travel papers in order and double check exactly which forms you need, investigate pet-friendly accommodations, and make airline reservations well in advance to ensure your pet will be allowed to board.

New Travel Regulations Affect Service Animals

emotional support animal

“Can peacocks fly?”
“Pets on the fly”
“Delta tightens the leash on emotional support animals”

These are but a few of the clever headlines online and in print over the past few weeks regarding emotional support animals traveling in airplane cabins. The topic of traveling with emotional support animals came to the forefront when Delta Airlines announced that beginning March 1, 2018, it would require additional documentation for customers traveling with an emotional support animal. For travel after March 1, passengers will need to provide documentation from a certified mental health professional, a veterinary health form documenting the health and vaccination records for the animal, as well as confirming that the animal has appropriate behavioral training. I completed the veterinary health form for a patient of mine today. Forms were readily accessible on the airline’s website.

Can Spiders, Sugar Gliders or Hedgehogs Fly?
One of the issues highlighted in the series of articles with clever titles was the story of an emotional support peacock denied the opportunity to board his flight and occupy the seat his human purchased for the trip. The peacock, named Dexter, was trying to fly on a United Airlines flight, but even if he had switched airlines, he would have also been disallowed on a Delta Airlines flight for not meeting several requirements for a flying service animal: must fit under the seat, cannot occupy a seat intended for a person, must be a household bird. In addition, the emotional support animal cannot encroach on other passengers. Whoever was booked to sit next to the support peacock probably doesn’t know it, but they really dodged a bullet on that flight. I also found a report of some support bees that were not allowed to board a Southwest Airlines flight.

Delta Airlines has a very specific list of what animals cannot be accommodated in the cabin. I could not find a similar list for United, but Southwest Airlines will not accept rodents, ferrets, insects, spiders, reptiles, hedgehogs, rabbits, or sugar gliders, a list nearly identical to Delta’s.

Before You Go
Before traveling with your emotional support animal, service dog or any animal, you have some legwork to do before you buy tickets. First, check the website of your airline for their requirements for traveling with pets or support animals. If you plan to travel outside the United States, each country sets its own rules regarding animal importation. The United States Department of Agriculture maintains a very informative website to assist pet families in navigating these rules. Start early in getting your pet’s travel papers in order as some countries require preapproval and special blood tests for entry. One, you know what tests and documentation are required, make an appointment with your veterinarian to obtain the proper travel papers.

Resources for Summer Pet Travel

Memorial Day has passed, school will soon end, and then comes the annual family summer vacation–an event which now more than ever before includes the family pet. Because pets are not always welcome at hotels, parks and on public transportation, planning ahead for your furry friend will help make your summer vacation memorable for fun and not for travel headaches. Here are some tips and websites to help you plan the perfect pet holiday.

General Travel Tips
For a good overview of traveling with pets, try one of these sites:

Public Transportation
During the busy travel months of summer, finding a parking spot for your car can be difficult, making public transportation especially attractive. gives information on pet travel on trains and buses

Parks and Recreation
America’s National Parks have been called “our best idea” because they preserve the most spectacular natural wonders for all Americans, except pets. Because of their fragile ecosystems and the risk to pets’ safety from large predators such as coyotes, pets are only welcome in a limited number of National Parks. has information on the accessibility of state parks throughout the country.

Pet Friendly Hotels
Westin Hotels, W Hotels, Kimpton Hotels and a number of other hotel chains advertise pet friendly rooms. Be sure when you make a reservation to request a pet friendly room and also inquire about additional charges to have the pet stay in your room.

International Travel
Taking your pet on an international vacation requires the investigative powers of Sherlock Holmes and better planning than the D-day invasion of Normandy. Start your investigation with the United States Department of Agriculture’s website.

Pay close attention to the rules for export (taking your pet out of the USA) and import (getting your pet back into the USA). Also check the website of the country you plan to travel to on your vacation. Every country’s entry requirements for pets are different and your pet may need special paperwork, blood tests or vaccinations months in advance of the trip. If your trip stems from a job-related relocation, you may want to use a professional pet shipper to help you interpret and follow the travel guidelines. For more information about international travel with your pets, read our archived blog.

Here’s to safe travels for you and your four-footed companions this summer!

On the Road Again: Safety Restraints for Car-Traveling Pets

According to the American Automobile Association, 30.9 million Americans will drive to their vacation destinations this summer. Sixty-one percent of pet owners take their pets on vacation. If you do the math, that equals nearly 19 million car-traveling pets. No wonder pet seat belts for dogs were the topic of a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.

Proper restraint of your pet while riding the in the car is an important safety consideration for both you and your pet. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) lists unrestrained pets as a driving distraction. Proper restraint keeps your mind focused on the road, keeps the pet from becoming an injury-causing projectile or from becoming injured in the case of an accident. Keeping your pet restrained while you are traveling also keeps your pet inside the car when you roll down the windows to pay a toll or ask for directions.

If you travel in the car with your cat, a carrier will keep your cat from roaming about, distracting you from driving. You should put a seat belt though the handle or straps to keep the carrier immobile during an accident. The cat carrier will only keep your cat safe if you can get the cat into the carrier. The minute a cat spies the carrier coming up from the basement or out of the closet they make a beeline underneath the middle of your king-sized bed. Once you flush them out of their hiding place, the most placid pussy cat becomes a man-eating lion. The folks at the Catalyst Council Channel on YouTube offer several videos to help cat owners train their cat to like getting into its carrier and traveling in the car.

When you buy a car or a child safety seat, you rely on data from crash tests to evaluate the quality of the product you intend to buy. The NHTSA website does not have information about pet restraint systems and I could not find any guidelines for evaluation of pet safety restraints. IMMI designs, tests and manufacturers vehicle safety systems. Their dog product is manufactured using seatbelt materials and they have video showing how it functions during crash testing using a doggie crash test dummy.

Since there appears not to be criteria for pet seat belts, here is what I would look for:

  1. Device has metal hooks, latches and loops Plastic will not be strong enough if you and your pet are in an accident.
  2. Device attaches to the car’s seat belt or the child safety restraint anchor located in the junction between the back and seat cushions. A device that attaches to the hooks for hanging clothes is not strong enough to hold up during a crash.
  3. Device fits your pet — not too tight and not too loose. Most systems I looked at online came in various sizes.
  4. Device keeps your pet in the back seat where they are safer.

Additional car travel resources include:

  • The American Automobile Association offers tips, product reviews and a pet travel book to its members.
  • Bark BuckleUp offers a free pet safety kit on their website to serve as a reminder to first responders about a possible pet in your car.

Click here for additional information about driving with pets.


This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Traveling Internationally with Your Pet

By Deirdre Chiaramonte, DVM, DACVIM, The Animal Medical Center

The key to successful international travel is to start planning early. First, review the pet policies of your foreign destination and call the consulate at least a year in advance to determine what vaccinations, blood tests and paperwork are required for your pet to successfully enter a foreign country. Regulations change unexpectedly and you should check with the consulate frequently to prevent a last minute rule change from thwarting your carefully planned trip.

For example, prior to 2002, travel to the United Kingdom was prohibited unless your dog was quarantined for 6 months! Quarantine is no longer required, but travelers should anticipate an involved process requiring multiple trips to the vet for vaccinations, blood tests, microchips and deworming. A useful website for UK travel information is There is also a helpful brochure to download called "Protecting the welfare of pet dogs and cats during journeys."

If you are thinking of traveling to a different hemisphere, there may be other requirements. For example, if you are traveling to Australia you need to apply for an AQIS import permit. Additionally, many countries use a ‘Pet Passport’ to facilitate pet travel. For more information, visit

Which pets should travel?
Not all pets should travel internationally. It is much safer if your dog or cat can travel under seat with you than in cargo for those long transoceanic flights. Besides geriatric dogs and dogs with chronic diseases – brachycephalic dogs, dogs with behavior issues (separation anxiety) and dogs with arthritis (staying in same position for long hours is hard on joints), also epileptic dogs should not travel in cargo.

How to get there?
If traveling by sea, some ships have kennels, but most do not permit pets in the staterooms. Airline websites usually have their own section on pet travel rules and regulations and these sites will detail what crates they will approve for travel. Choose direct flights if possible and try to avoid the hottest or coldest part of the day to travel.

Label the crate (in English and the native language of the country to which you are traveling) with all identification and medical information in case you are separated from your pet due to unforeseen circumstances. Secure a photo of the pet to the crate, a copy of the medical record and some of the pet’s food so airline personnel can feed your pet in the event of an emergency. A large sticker saying LIVE ANIMALS should be placed on the crate as well. Animals should be familiar, comfortable and acclimated in their crates long before embarking on a trip. Supply your pet with a non-spill bowl for water inside the crate and line the bottom of the crate with absorbent paper.

On the day of travel, feed only a light meal a few hours before departing. Water can be frozen so it will thaw slowly and spill less or you can teach your pet to drink from a special water dispensing bottle attached to the inside of the crate. Veterinarians at The Animal Medical Center do not recommend sedatives due to possible adverse reactions and inability to react to certain situations such as take-off and landing.

Research Required
Once you have determined the travel regulations for your pet, the real research begins. You need to find pet-friendly hotels and a veterinarian who can handle emergencies at your destination. You will also need to plan for any changes in weather might affect your pet as well as determine the pooper-scooper laws at your destination.

Carry health and vaccine records, extra food, medication refills and extra copies of paper prescriptions, microchip information, extra leashes and collars and photos of the pet. You may elect to purchase a personal microchip reader to facilitate entry through customs.

Helpful websites:

You may want to seek additional advice about international travel from a USDA accredited veterinarian. Ask your veterinarian if they hold this certification. If not, you may contact The Animal Medical Center for assistance. To make an appointment at The AMC, please call 212 838-7053.

For nearly a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Summer Travel with Your Pet Made Easy

To quote George Gershwin, “Summertime and the livin’ is easy,” but travelin’ with your pet requires more than just hopping in the car with your furry family member and heading off on a road trip. Here are some tips about travel for the pet-owning family.

Which pets should travel?
Travel is not for every pet. If you are going to be gone only a few days or less, it maybe better for your pet to stay home with a pet sitter, especially if you have a large dog and the trip involves air travel as cargo. (Read more on air travel in the “How to get there” section.) Geriatric animals may not be the best travelers either. Just like grandma, changes in schedule, water and nap time may not be the older pet’s idea of fun. Pets with chronic health conditions such as kidney disease or heart disease may decompensate from travel stress, so check with your veterinarian about the feasibility of traveling with your older pet.

How to get there
Pet owners are limited to travel by car or airplane since long distance trains and buses typically do not allow pets. Local buses and trains may allow small pets if they are confined in a carrier.

Car – If you are traveling by car, your pet needs to be restrained to protect your pet if you stop quickly and to protect you from being distracted by their antics. Seatbelts can attach to a special harness or you can use the existing seatbelts to curtail any movements of the pet carrier during quick stops.

Air – An excellent resource for the pet owner planning an airline trip is This site has travel tips, airline information and travel alerts. Each airline has its own rules about pets on flights, so be sure to check with your carrier well before your planned trip. Make sure your pet and its carrier meet the airline’ regulations, and you have the appropriate travel certificate from your veterinarian.

New to the world of pet travel is Pet Airways the only airline focused on transporting your pet as a passenger, not as cargo. The airline launched July 14, with flights between New York, Denver, Los Angles, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

What to pack
Although bulky, taking your pet’s regular food is likely to prevent a serious case of stomach upset and save you from having to find an emergency clinic and a new source of your pet’s regular food. Abrupt changes in food often set off a bout of vomiting and diarrhea. Litter is bulky too, but a necessity if you are traveling with a cat. Be sure to carry a copy of your pet’s most recent vaccinations. If your pet has health problems, ask your veterinarian for a summary letter explaining your pet’s condition in case you need veterinary care when your regular veterinarian’s office is closed. Be sure the letter lists your pet’s current prescriptions and most recent blood test results.

In addition to packing your pet’s medical information and food and bowls, you need to pack a leash/harness/collar and a backup set all with current ID tags. If your pet has not been microchipped, have your veterinarian implant one so your pet can be identified if it slips its collar.

If you will be staying in one location for more than a week, you might want to ask your veterinarian for a recommendation of a veterinarian in that area. You could also identify a veterinarian using the American Animal Hospital Association’s accredited hospital locator. Finding a veterinarian in advance will save time in an emergency.

Where to stay: finding a pet friendly hotel
The American Automobile Association has an advanced hotel option which allows you to search for hotels which allow pets. The website is also a good resource for all things dog friendly. If national parks are your destination this year, the website can serve as your resource guide for parks and park lodging friendly to your pet.

Always follow good “petiquette” when staying in hotels with your pet. Cover the furniture with a sheet or blanket to protect it from hair. Crate your pet if you leave it alone in the hotel room while dining out and put the “do not disturb” sign on the door so hotel staff will not inadvertently open the door and let your pet escape. When walking your pet, keep away from the building and be sure to pack enough plastic bags to properly dispose of waste. Cats present a different set of problems in a hotel room. Picture yourself trying to get your “scaredy” cat out from underneath the hotel bed. Cats might be better confined in the hotel bathroom or in their travel crate.

While traveling with a pet may present some challenges, being well prepared can help to alleviate stress on you and your pet.

For nearly a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit