Whether you’re going on vacation or traveling for the holidays, many pet parents want to bring their fur baby along. It’s important to know how to travel with your pet — there are lots of rules to follow! And if your pet can’t join your trip, you may have questions about boarding your pet.
If you plan to bring along your pet, you’ll want to be aware of any guidelines, particularly for flying. Plus, you want to make sure your pet is comfortable, whether you’re traveling a couple of hours away or across the country.
Should your pet travel with you?
No matter how much you love your pet, it’s important to know whether they’re suitable for traveling. Pets with a history of aggression or anxiety may not be the best travel companion. You also shouldn’t subject older pets or pets with an injury or illness to the added stresses of traveling.
If you’re considering whether your pet should come along on the trip, think about their comfort levels along the way. If they’re sick, will they need quick, easy, and frequent access to grass or other spaces to use the bathroom? Does your pet become aggressive or anxious in a carrier? You should be honest with yourself on how your pet may act while traveling and what meeting their needs will look like.
5 ways to travel with your pet
For U.S. travelers, you may decide to move from point A to point B by car or plane. Other less chosen travel methods include buses, trains, or boats. No matter what vehicle you decide on, it’s best to talk to your vet beforehand, because you may need an interstate health certificate to travel with your pet. Your vet can also offer recommendations to make your pet comfortable.
👉 It’s important to talk to your local vet as soon as you know the dates of your trip, as some requirements need to be done at certain time intervals.
It may take a while to complete all the necessary paperwork, too. Before you hit the road (or water, or skies), you may also decide to microchip your pet in case they escape their carrier.
Car. Some dogs enjoy a road trip, but you’ll still want to prepare them for longer trips. Bring a crate, leash, food, water, and identification for your pet. Traveling on an empty stomach can help prevent car sickness, and make sure to stop often for potty and exercise breaks. Most importantly, if you stop for gas or go into a rest stop, don’t leave your dog alone in a closed car. Always make sure your pet is in a well-ventilated space. It’s best to keep a human with them at all times when you’re in unfamiliar places.
Plane. Flying with pets is more common these days. Many airports have pet relief stations, so your pet can use the bathroom before catching their flight. You’ll need to check with your airline about pet requirements. You may travel with smaller pets in a carrier in the main cabin. Pets in carriers can also go into the heated and ventilated cargo hold.
👉 The U.S. Pet Travel website offers more information on traveling by plane with pets depending on location.
Bus. Some bus lines will allow small pets and/or pets in carriers. Buses may require pets to be up-to-date on vaccinations, particularly rabies vaccines. Be sure to contact the bus line in advance to make sure your pet can be accommodated.
Train. Some trains, like Amtrak, do allow small pets up to 20 pounds to ride along with you. There may be a limit on the length of the ride. For example, pets can ride on some Amtrak trains for routes 7 hours or less. Note that there may be strict requirements for bringing a pet on a train5. This may include keeping your pet stowed in a carrier.
A boat. If you’re traveling by boat, like on a cruise, you may need specific documentation. You can inquire about the requirements for pets with the cruise or boat company. Also, come prepared with a life vest for your furry friend if the boat won’t have one available.
Choosing your mode of transportation
Depending on the length of your trip, some travel methods make way more sense than others. For a cross-country trip, you may choose to fly. In that case, you’d want to make sure to pick flights with minimal layovers. For a short trip, a car is often your best bet.
Driving in the car
Ready for a road trip? Fortunately, your pet may already be familiar with riding in a car. It’s also easy to acclimate them to this type of travel. But there are some downsides.
- If you often load up Fido to hit the dog park or go visit friends, your pup might already be familiar with the car. This can be more comfortable for pets compared to other modes of transportation.
- You’re in control of the car, so you can stop as often as you need for potty breaks.
- Taking a car is usually best for pets of all sizes, while there may be weight restrictions for public transportation.
- You may need to buy extra safety equipment, like doggy seat belts or harnesses to secure their crate in place. This simple seat belt from Active Pets can be used with your dog’s harness. It simply snaps into your car’s seat belt holder.
- Cars are one of the least safe methods of transportation for both humans and pets due to the high risk of collisions.
- Never leave a pet unattended in a closed vehicle.
- Don’t let your dog hang their head out the window. Yes, they might look happy with the wind in their face, but this could result in serious eye injuries should something fly into their face.
- Besides your pet’s regular food, water, and medications, you should also pack proof of vaccinations and other health documentation. These papers may be required if you are traveling from state to state.
- Keep pets in the back seat, and don’t let them roam the car freely when it is in motion.
Flying on a plane
Pets fly on planes every day. But this experience can be nerve-wracking for your furry friends. Traveling by plane means you should think a lot about your pet’s comfort. For example, you may want to arrive at night at a hot location. Keep layovers to a minimum.
- Flying may be the quickest option for longer routes.
- Flying with a pet is expensive. Major airlines charge an average of $125 to bring a pet, but it could be higher depending on your destination.
- You’ll need to follow strict policies, including pet carrier size limits and health checks.
- Flying is risky for brachycephalic dog breeds, like pugs or bulldogs. It’s also more dangerous for overweight pets or pets with existing health conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes.
- There are usually limits for the number of pets that can board each flight.
- You’ll need to take your pet to the vet for a health checkup, usually within 10 days of your trip2. Check with your vet as soon as you know your travel dates. Some countries have several travel requirements for pets that have time restrictions.
- Airlines may have stipulations on the types of carriers and where pets can board. Sometimes, your pet may not be allowed in the cabin with you. Make sure you purchase a USDA-approved shipping crate1.
- Label your pet’s crate with your name, cell phone, and destination phone number1.
👉 Read our entire guide on how to fly with your dog for more info.
Riding on a bus
Buses offer both short- and long-term travel solutions. You can travel by bus to get around a city or take an overnight bus to travel through several states. Buses may or may not allow pets on board.
- Buses are a low-cost method of travel.
- Many buses only allow service animals to ride.
- Traveling by bus is not recommended for pets. Most bus lines won’t allow pets at all, aside from service dogs.
Taking a train
Like buses, trains often don’t allow pets. Some major train companies, like Amtrak, do have recent updates to their animal policies. For example, Amtrak does allow small pets up to 20 pounds on some of its trains.
- Bringing a pet on a train is usually cheaper than flying. Pets can travel for just $26 on Amtrak.
- Many trains only allow service animals.
- There may be a weight limit.
- There may be a limit on the length of the trip. For example, Amtrak only allows pets on routes that are 7 hours or less.
- Check with the train company about pet requirements. You may need to prove your pet’s clean bill of health and bring along medical records or vaccination status.
- Pets often must remain inside a carrier under your seat on trains.
Sailing on a boat
Whether you plan to catch the ferry, ride in a sailboat, or take a cruise, it’s best to keep your pet with a friend or board them at a kennel. If you do decide to bring your pet along, consider these important pros, cons, and special requirements.
- Boating may be positively stimulating for your pet.
- Bathroom breaks can be more challenging for dogs and cats on a boat.
- Pets may become motion sick on a boat.
- Because you need to keep your pet restrained (either in a carrier or on a leash) while boating, they won’t get much exercise for longer excursions.
- Boats will only stop when they reach the next destination, again making bathroom breaks and exercise tricky.
- You’ll need an International Certificate of Veterinary Inspection if you are traveling to other countries, like on a cruise.
- Bring a life jacket for your pet.
- You’ll need to keep your pet in a carrier, on a leash, or confined to your cabin to prevent them from falling overboard.
- All that sun and sea means you’ll need to consult your vet for a pet-safe sunscreen option to protect your furry friend’s skin.
A note on international travel
Traveling internationally with your pet can increase their health risks. There are some countries with a high risk of rabies, and there are restrictions on bringing your dog to or from these locations. No matter where you’re traveling, plan to show your pet’s good bill of health. You may need to prove that your pet’s vaccines are up to date. Check with your vet about necessary blood work, health checkups, additional vaccines, vaccine titers, and copies of medical records before traveling. You may need your vet to sign off on a health certificate for your pet.
👉 You can learn more about requirements by the destination country or state at the U.S. Pet Travel website.
3 ways to prepare for your trip
Now that you’ve decided whether to bring your pet on your trip, here are the steps you need to take to prepare for travel. Whether the trip is one city over or across the pond, there are important things to do to make sure your pet is allowed to travel. Plus, you want to keep your best friend safe and comfortable.
1. Ask your vet for advice
If you’re going on a long trip with your pet, ask your vet about tips on when to give food, water, and potty breaks (this is important for long flights). They’ll help you ensure your dog is up to date on any shots and may provide more supplements to keep your pet calm during travel.
👉 Keep in mind that you should skip sedatives or tranquilizers. The International Air Transport Association3 says these may harm animals while in flight.
2. Documentation and tags
Other states and countries may require health documentation to allow pets to enter. Before you take your pet on a trip, make sure they’re up to date on their vaccinations. Contact your vet and the company that will be transporting your pet as soon as possible to find out what health documents your pet needs. Keep copies of their medical records and proof of vaccinations with you. If your pet needs to visit an emergency veterinarian during the trip, these documents will be crucial for proper treatment.
Traveling can be stressful for humans and pets. With all the unfamiliar places and people, your pet may begin to feel stressed or anxious. They may try to escape the second they have the chance. Make sure they have ID tags with updated contact information in case they get lost. It’s also a good idea to consider microchipping your pet before travel. This is the most effective way to recover lost pets.
3. Is your pet microchipped?
Microchipping your pet is the best way to find them if they become lost. This process will add your contact information to the microchip. Your pet will also receive an ID tag. If your pet is lost, someone can check their ID tags or scan the microchip to receive your contact information. Or, a shelter or vet can scan the pet to determine if they have a microchip. From there, they can use the microchip to find your contact information and contact you.
Dr. Michelle Diener
If you ever change your phone number or move to a new address, it is crucial to update this contact info with your pet’s microchip company.
What to pack for Fluffy or Fido
You’ve packed up your suitcase, and now it’s time to pack for your doggy or kitty. There are many items to consider bringing, both documents in case of emergency and comfort items to help your pet feel at home wherever you may roam.
- Documentation. Bring your vet’s contact information, copies of your pet’s medical records, the microchip number, health and/or vaccine certifications, and the contact information for emergency vet hospitals along your route. Also jot down the National Animal Poison Control number, 888-426-4435. You may not always be able to connect to the internet on your phone to look up this crucial information.
- Identification. Make sure your pet has ID tags on their collar in case they get lost. Bring their normal ID tags with your home address and phone number. Also include travel ID tags with your cell phone number and the address of where you’ll be staying.
- Pet needs. Bring enough food, water, and medication for the duration of your trip, plus surplus in case your return trip is delayed. Bring along their pet bowls, too, which can help your pet feel more at ease in a new place.
- Toys. You wouldn’t want to embark on a trip without a good book or your favorite shows downloaded on your laptop. Make sure your pets will stay entertained, too, with their favorite toys.
- Bed and blankets. Bringing their bed or favorite blanket can help your pet sleep better in a hotel or at someone else’s house while you are away from home.
- Collar and leash. Don’t forget to pack a collar and leash, so you can walk your dog during the trip.
- Carrier or crate. You’ll need to keep your pet in a carrier or crate, regardless of whether you drive, fly, ride, or sail to your destination. Make sure the crate is large enough for your pet to stand up and turn around comfortably.
- Calming supplements. For anxious or nervous pets, calming supplements can help soothe your furry friend when traveling in the car.
If you can’t bring your pet along, consider boarding
If you don’t have family or friends nearby that can watch your pet, you may want to consider a boarding facility. Many pet owners feel guilty about boarding their dog or cat, but it’s the safe and responsible thing to do if you can’t bring them along or are worried that your pet won’t do well with travel.
How to find the right boarding facility
If you decide to board your pet, you want to find a place where they’ll be safe and well cared for. You can start by asking your vet for recommendations. Also, reach out to friends or family members who have boarded their pets before. You want to find a clean boarding facility, with sanitary conditions for your pet.
Also, make sure the place is secure with proper fencing for outdoor or play areas. Many kennels may be certified by reputable institutions. When you narrow down the prospective boarding facilities, visit them in person with your pet to make sure your dog or cat feels comfortable in the new environment.
Do they require immunizations? — Many boarding facilities will require immunizations, especially for Bordetella (kennel cough), rabies, distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, and parainfluenza.
Make sure they have certified or professional members on staff — Certifications show that the staff has gone through proper training on caring for animals. You’ll also want to find a boarding facility with staff that is available 24/7 in case of emergency.
Check the area where your dog will be staying — When you tour the facility, make sure it offers clean, comfortable places for your dog to play, lounge, and sleep. Look to see that there is adequate food and access to fresh water. Check that the facility is well-ventilated and kept at a comfortable temperature.
Do they provide daily updates with owners? — Some boarding facilities may have webcams running for you to check in with your pet any time. Others may send you daily texts or calls with updates on what your pet did that day. While these may not be necessary, they can give you added peace of mind that your loved one is in good hands.
Making your pet feel at home
Whether you travel with your dog, take them to a friend’s house, or board them at a certified facility, you can help them feel more relaxed. Pack their favorite toys or blankets, or pack up their bed. Bring their usual food and some extra treats. If you plan to keep them at someone else’s house or doggie daycare, you may want to leave them there for an afternoon or short overnight stay before your trip to help them get used to the new space.
Share this information with your boarding facility
While you want everything to go smoothly during your trip, accidents and emergencies can happen. If you plan to board your pet, make sure the caretakers are aware of any medical needs your pet may have. Write out an emergency authorization4 for pet care that outlines the care you want for your pet in case of an emergency. You may want your pet to go to a specific vet or emergency hospital. Outline any financial limitations you have and what treatments you would and would not accept for your pet.
👉 Learn about the cost of common dog and cat emergencies.
Inform the boarding facility of your pet’s health records. If they need medication, be sure to pack plenty for the duration of their stay. Include instructions for medications, like how much to give and how often. Of course, include your contact information so the staff can reach you quickly in case of an emergency.
Frequently asked questions
Are pets allowed on cruise ships?
Cruise ships only allow service dogs aboard their ships3.
Is traveling with a pet expensive?
Traveling with a pet can be expensive. You’ll spend at least $100 to fly one way with a pet, and you may spend about $30 to bring a small pet on a train. It can be especially expensive to fly with a pet internationally. Plus, you may need to pay for extra vet visits for health checks and vaccinations before you can travel.
Are pets allowed on trains now?
Amtrak recently changed its policy to allow pets on some of its trains. But there are many stipulations, including weight limits and length of travel. For the most part, any pets other than service animals aren’t allowed on trains.
Is it easy to travel with pets?
Traveling can be stressful and difficult for anyone. Even a solo traveler with no kids or pets can find it challenging, so it’s certainly not easy to bring along a four-legged friend. Especially when that creature can’t say exactly what they need. Being in unfamiliar locations surrounded by other people, like in an airport or new city, can be stressful for pets. It’s usually best and safest to leave your pet with a friend or family member or to board them.
How much does it cost for pet travel?
Expect to spend about $30 to $200 in fees each way when traveling with a pet. Lower costs apply for smaller animals on trains, like Amtrak. You’ll spend at least $100 each way on flights.
Can a pet fly alone?
Pets can fly alone on some airlines, but they’ll be transported as cargo. Airlines that accept shipping pets have more modern facilities, with cargo sections that are heated or ventilated the same as the main cabin. Check with your preferred airline’s Air Cargo department on regulations around shipping pets.