Q: We’re flying with our beagle, Bunny, for the first time this holiday. She’s a certified therapy pet, but we’re a little nervous about the experience. Any tips?
A. For the uninitiated, traveling with pets is as likely to elicit anxiety (both yours and your pet’s) as it is to alleviate it. Far from lending the emotional support their red vests claim to deliver, these pets might find themselves in dire need of it instead.
The good news is that it gets easier with practice. Nonetheless, thorough preparation goes a long way towards relaxing everyone involved. Here’s what you should know in advance:
▪ Calculate how many hours your pet will spend between TSA checkpoints. For example, if your flight is four hours long and you’ll be getting there two hours in advance, you should plan on at least a full six hours during which he or she may have to refrain from eliminating. If your pet can’t wait that long, you’ll have to consider some alternatives. (Is she pad-trained? Diaper-adapted? Etc.)
▪ Know as much about your airports as possible. Where are the “pet relief areas?” Do you need to leave security to get there or is there one inside? Is there real grass or just the fake stuff your dog won’t use? Will you have time to exit security and go outside during your layover?
▪ Think of your pet as if she were a child on a long flight. What will she need to keep cozy, calm and contented for all those hours? A padded bed, a few toys, a Thundershirt, some time-consuming chews.
▪ Consider mild sedation. I typically recommend that nervous pets stay home, but mild sedation is perfectly appropriate for well-socialized pets who might be a little anxious on their first few flights. Ask your veterinarian what’s best for your pet.
▪ Be prepared for little emergencies. An extra few hours on the tarmac, a nervous bladder, a vomit-y mess, etc. Paper towels, wet wipes and clean-up bags are indispensable.
Whatever you do, be sure to keep a positive outlook. Traveling with pets can be rewarding and your good attitude goes a long way to making sure you have a great experience. But it’s just as important to recognize that not all pets are born to be world travelers. Figuring that out early on can be just as valuable as getting to your destination.