Travel with pets requires planning

By Susan Collins-Smith

MSU Ag Communications


Whether families head to the local park or an out-of-town destination, veterinarians advise them this summer to take steps to ensure pets stay safe and healthy as they travel.

Dr. Joey Burt, assistant clinical professor and director of the Animal Health Center at Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said before setting out on any trip, pet owners should make sure their pets are comfortable with riding in an automobile. Burt suggested taking pets on short trips to gauge their tolerance.

“Not all pets are good travelers,” Burt said. “Medical conditions, age and temperament can affect whether an animal will be a good travel companion. If the pet is not comfortable traveling, owners should consider boarding or pet sitting services.”

Pets that ride well in a vehicle should be restrained for their safety and the safety of the driver and other motorists. Unrestrained pets can jump out of open windows or distract the driver, and a frightened or injured pet might run away after an accident, Burt said.

“Carriers are best for cats, and appropriately-sized kennels are best for dogs,” he said. “Another option for restraining dogs is the special harnesses that attach to the vehicle’s seat belts.”

Owners should introduce both restraints slowly by taking short trips at first. Dogs should be taught to sit while wearing the harness so they don’t get tangled in the seat belt. Kennels should be large enough for the dog to stand, turn around and lie down comfortably.

“It may also be helpful to bring along a familiar blanket, bed or toy to ease anxiety the pet may feel while in the car or at the final destination,” Burt said.

Vacationers should map their route, planning food and rest stops so pets are never left in a vehicle. The interior air temperature of a vehicle can rise to 99 degrees in as little as 10 minutes when the outside temperature is 80 degrees, according to an independent study published in Pediatrics, the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. With warmer outside temperatures, interior vehicle temperatures rise more quickly.

“Dogs don’t sweat to regulate their body temperature like humans. They cool themselves by panting and drinking water,” said Dr. Glenn Thomas, veterinarian at Tupelo Small Animal Hospital. “If the air temperature is too warm and they don’t have access to water, they can’t cool themselves down. That leads to heatstroke and sometimes death.”

Pets need to get out of the car every two to three hours to relieve themselves and drink cool, clean water, Thomas said. However, travelers should be aware that their pets could be exposed to viruses and parasites at rest areas that are frequented by other pets or wild animals.

“Most viruses will not be viable for long if it is hot and dry, but in wet areas, leptospirosis is a concern,” Thomas said. “Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that is making a comeback in our region and can be contracted by humans from their pets. Pet owners should use good judgment about which rest areas their pets use.”

Leptospirosis commonly affects dogs, but cats are also susceptible. Leptospira bacteria thrive in warm, wet areas and are found worldwide in soil and water. Animals are most likely to pick up the disease from slow-moving or stagnant water contaminated through the urine of infected animals such as infected pets, farm animals and wild animals, such as raccoons, skunks and opossums. However, the bacteria can also be picked up from wet, shaded grass or the banks of rivers or streams, Thomas said. Symptoms of leptospirosis can develop within a couple of days to up to four weeks after exposure and include fever, chills, muscle aches, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, skin rashes, red eyes and yellowing of the skin and eyes. Vaccinations to protect pets from the bacteria are available from a veterinarian.

Outdoor enthusiasts who take their pets camping or hiking should guard against fleas and ticks and the diseases they transmit, such as Lyme disease.

“Collars that repel fleas and ticks do a good job,” Thomas said. “Topical products are also available and work faster. If traveling to a different region of the country, pet owners should consult with their veterinarian about possible vaccinations or boosters their pet might need.”

Pets also should have a form of permanent, current identification.

“Microchips are the best form of identification,” Burt said. “The pet can’t lose it. It can be kept up-to-date easily, and most shelters and veterinary offices have the equipment to read the chip. Microchips greatly increase the chances of getting lost pets back. Thirty-five percent of pets go missing at some point, and 90 percent of those never return home.”

Burt said people should also make a list of nearby emergency veterinary clinics on the trip route and at the destination, ensure the destination has pet-friendly lodging, and check the site’s pet policies. Some states require a current health certificate for each out-of-state pet. The certificate confirms the pet is up-to-date on vaccinations, has been examined by a veterinarian and is not showing signs of disease that could be passed to other animals or humans. A health certificate can be issued by a federally accredited and licensed veterinarian and is valid only for 30 days.

To get more detailed information about all types of travel with pets, visit the American Veterinary Medical Association’s website at Then click on “Traveling with your pet” under “Out and about” in the center of the page.

To find out if pets need a health certificate for out-of-state-travel, contact the destination state’s public health veterinarian.