By Suzan Haskins
My husband and I traveled with a 90-pound chocolate lab when we first moved abroad 15 years ago. We like to say that our dog, Jack, had more stamps in his passport than most of our friends. He traveled to Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, and again to Mexico with us over the course of his life, with trips back to the States in between.
And while pets don't really have actual passports, they'll have scads of documents. Honestly, we'd be all for it if there were such a thing as a pet passport that allowed pets to travel as easily as people do.
But traveling with pets can be easier than you think. It just takes some time, patience, and organizational skills. And some money. These days, you'll find the cost of traveling with your pet can often be nearly the same as your own airline ticket.
Traveling with a large animal, of course, brings a different set of issues that you won't face if your pet is small enough to fit in a carrier that goes under the airline seat in front of you. I like to think that's because airlines today have stricter policies to ensure the health and safety of your pet.
And I do think that is true. Nearly all airlines these days have pressurized and temperature-controlled holds and give crated pets special handling and care.
The best advice—before you ever book a ticket—is to call the airline you are considering traveling on. Some, especially budget airlines, do not accept animals at all. Others have limits as to how many they will accept. Some airlines have restrictions on certain breeds. There are moratoriums at specific times of the year when pets are not allowed in the cargo hold under any circumstances.
And there are precise rules about the types of carriers that may be used. Be sure to do your homework here.
By the way, don't even try to pass off your large dog as a service animal just to get it into the airline cabin. Not only is this morally questionable, legislators in several states are now considering bills to establish a service animal certification process and to penalize those who fraudulently claim their pet is a service animal.
As you might imagine, your furry companions will need all their vaccinations and immunizations. If it is time for a rabies booster, this will need to be done in advance. How far in advance depends on the country you'll be traveling to.
Then you'll need an international health certificate signed by your veterinarian within a specific time before your departure. This will need to be certified so you'll need to leave a few days to get this done. (EU countries require a micro-chip.)
When it comes time to travel, the best advice is to take direct flights whenever possible. If this is not possible, you might consider an overnight stay near your connecting airport to break up the trip into manageable segments.
It's best not to give your traveling pet any sedatives when they travel because if there is an emergency there will not be anyone to attend them. Feed them six hours before you get on the flight, but don't put food in the crate with them. A small bowl of frozen water can come in handy, though. As the ice melts, water will be available but won't spill.
There's lots more to share to help improve your experience traveling with your pets. Most of it is common sense, but much of it is "must do" and "should do" advice.
If you'll be taking your canine and feline companions with you when you retire overseas, the best advice is to do as much research as possible and make your pet as comfortable as possible while they travel. Be sure to help them become accustomed to their crate well in advance and put some soft, familiar items inside.
It can be stressful to travel with your beloved pets but knowing you have everything in order can help relieve those worries.