Emily and I discussed how to safely evacuate, travel with, and leave pets with a petsitter in our last podcast. Because these three things have enough similarities to be tackled as one thing. However, for the purposes of this blog, we have decided to break them into their three parts to provide better in-depth information.
There are two kinds of travel with pets and we will tackle them separately. One is fun travel, usually with well-behaved pets who enjoy an adventure and are usually pretty keen to go; and mandatory travel that may or may not include willing participation from our pets.
For fun travel, there are still risks that we should mitigate to ensure that we return home with joyful pets and great stories .
First, just like all travel, ensure that your pet has at least two forms of ID on them (Usually microchip and a collar with tags), even the best behaved dog could get lost or engage in over enthusiastic pursuit of elk and you may lose them - you could also have a car accident that leads to a loose dog or cat.
Always have a solid recall in place: leashes break, doors swing open, etc... Know that novel situations may make your dog more prone to take off, either because they're eager to explore, or they find new situations worrying, so, expect all trained behaviors to become less reliable, and practice recalls under many unique situations prior to travel.
Second, bring leashes, collars, and crates. Bring their bowl, their food, and some chews for boring travel time. I bring bottles water so that I have reliable water wherever I am. I also like having both real stainless steel bowls for the crate as well as, collapsable bowls for hiking trips.
For my crates I bring a bunch of towels, some cheap blankets, a couple of comforters, and because I camp, a couple of tarps. The towels not only make good soft beds when added to the blankets, but can be used to dry wet dogs, brush mud off, and clean up spills. If my dog vomits or has an accident in the crate I am not scrambling for more bedding. I always have more towels, and towels can be easily washed in a stream, with a hose, or in a sink and hung to dry before being put back into rotation. Ditto for the cheap blankets. I use the comforters to cover the crates so my dogs aren't exposed to a lot of extraneous sights and sounds when we're camping. I can also use them to separate Tagg and Ruby's crates visually since when they're crated next to each other they squabble like children. The comforters also provide shelter from the elements, and create a safe little den for my dogs to retreat to. I use tarps for when it rains and my crates are outside because I'm camping.
Because I camp in the desert southwest, I have cooling mats for my dogs. I can add cold water to the mats in the morning, and they'll be able to stay cool through the day. I can also add ice if need be. If the nights get cool, I can remove the cooling mats and store them in the shade under the RV for use the next day when it gets warm again.
It never hurts to have veterinary records in the event of an emergency, as well as a possible last-second boarding situation.
Long lines are great for camping and traveling with your pet. They provide a sense of freedom when a recall is in doubt, can be used for tie-outs if your dog doesn't eat them (Ruby requires a wire cable tie-out because she eats through everything else). Biothane collars, leashes, and long lines are wonderfully resilient to stinky stuff, mud, and they dry quickly. They also don't pick up cactus - a big deal here.
Plan potty breaks with care. Most interstate highways have rest stops. These are loud, terrifying, busy places with easy access to high volume and speed traffic. I try to avoid pottying my dogs at these places as much as possible. If you are in the southwest, like I am, there are plenty of random two lane highways to nowhere that are quiet and far from heavy traffic and noise. You can also find random forest, ranch, and other dirt roads that will provide a quiet, safe place for dogs to relieve themselves.
In places without as much public land I would find a quiet neighborhood in a small town to walk, or a small park. You can generally find these fairly easily off highways, and they are quick and easy to access, allow dogs, and are relatively safe.
I am not a city person, and so, I try to get out of cities to let my dog out, but inside cities there will always be neighborhoods with sidewalks and shade trees perfect for that five minute break. There are also plenty of public parks as well.
If you'll be using hotels, know the rules, and if you'll be gone when staff cleans the room, place two barriers between your dog and escape (a crate and an x-pen, or a crate behind a closed bathroom door with a Do Not Disturb sign on it.). Always think in terms of worst case scenarios, and plan ahead.
Some dogs get upset GI tracts when traveling, so plan accordingly. Assume that no dog is house trained in a new location, so again, plan accordingly. Assume that other people will leave doors open, not be able to call your dog, or will drop leashes, so plan accordingly.
When traveling with pets in the car be aware that pets and crates, in the event of a major collision, become projectiles that can kill or injure you, and certainly won't do them any good. Most inexpensive crates will collapse in the event of a major collision. Most harnesses and seat-belt style set-ups will fail as well. Here is an independent testing center that tests crates and harnesses for collision survival: https://www.centerforpetsafety.org
In addition to all of these precautions, know the risks and diseases in the area that you will be visiting. For example, Arizona does not commonly have flea problems, does not have Lyme disease, has only one river complex and a few dog parks with leptospirosis, and has a highly pathogenic illness unique to the desert southwest called Valley Fever (coccidioidomycosis). It pays to plan ahead.
For those traveling with pets for fun, we hope that some of this was helpful, have fun, and safe travels!
For those who must travel with a pet who may not be a keen traveler, there are additional precautions that should be taken. First, prior to traveling cross country with a dog or cat, please take the time to acclimatize the animal to the crate. This is especially true of cats.
For pets that are fearful, always build two layers of barriers between the animal and escape. For cats that may mean being leashed in a crate, same with a dog. If a dog must be walked use two leashes, both with martingale or slip lead-style collars - do not depend on harnesses or flat buckle collars when transporting fearful dogs.
Avoid pottying in loud or frightening situations (see above), and always use two leashes attached to martingale or other slip-type collars.
Cats should stay in crates at all times, and at no time should a cat in a crate have fewer than one additional layer separating it from escape. In hotel rooms I would keep the cat crated and in the bathroom unless there is a place where there are two doors separating a loose cat from escape (a bathroom door and another door before the cat can reach the front door.)
For fearful dogs in hotel rooms or RVs I would implement the two layers method as well - a crate plus a door at minimum, or a leash on a slip lead and a door.
Always think in terms of, what if this fails? What if the cat carrier opens? What if I drop the leash? What if he backs out of his collar? If the answer to any of these is: he gets loose, then you need another layer at minimum.
For pets that hate to travel, drugs can be a very useful method to help alleviate some of their panic and make the trip more pleasant for everyone. Make sure that you test drive the medications prior to hauling your pet 2000 miles across country! Do not rely on voodoo stuff you can pick up at pet stores, and do not get anything and fail to work with it for several shorter test trips in advance.
The two biggest issues I see with pets going on trips is people failing to plan far enough ahead to test equipment (have you ver used a slip lead before? how does this drug work after 9 hours ? can I hold two leashes at once?) and failure to understand how easily escape can occur, and how devastating the results. How devastated would you feel if your recently rescued dog got loose on the highway because of a flat tire and got killed? Two layers of protection! A crate, plus the car door, saves this dog's life. Three layers means you can have the dog chew its way out of the crate, sprint out the hatchback that's open because you're accessing the tire fixing stuff, but the long line snags on the rear tire, and the dog's life is saved.
We cannot live in a world where our pets live in bubble wrap, and I rely a bit more on my dog's recall in strange places than I probably should, but we can take reasonable precautions against predictable risks and keep our pets safe when we travel.