With the availability of vaccines, in many countries the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be behind us, including in the United States. Along with opening schools and restaurants, countries and states have begun opening their borders to welcome travelers and visitors once again. But everyone who made the most of life on lockdown by adopting a new pet may be faced with a new dilemma — how to safely travel with an animal?
Travel can be stressful on a pet in the best of circumstances, and it seems like every other day you hear another horror story about a pet who was injured or killed during air travel. But there’s no need for you (or your furry friend) to freak out. All it takes is a little research and advanced planning.
“The safest method of transporting pets will always be air travel,” said Hazel Imrie, president-elect of International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA) and directing manager of PETport. “Not only is it quicker, cheaper, it has the least amount of contact and variables that will affect the stress levels of your traveling pet.”
But even the most organized of pet-owners may find the process of pet transportation a little overwhelming and confusing, especially if there are last-minute changes. That’s why Imrie recommends a professional. “Always ensure you are working with a registered and reputable pet shipper,” she said. “Know that things can and do change and be prepared for variations! If you’re working with a professional pet shipper, you don’t have to stress. It’s that agent’s job to make sure that amendments are made, and Plan B is kicked into gear when variations happen.”
But while a professional pet shipper may be able to keep a handle on the logistics, it’s still up to the pet’s owner to keep the animal calm and relaxed for their journey, which can be even more stressful for them than for the owners. Imrie provided a few tips, starting with getting the animal ready for their new adventure.
“Don’t overly excite pets when leaving and returning home. This will teach pets to self soothe without getting their energy levels spiked during your departure,” she advised. “The calmer that the pet owner remains during the traveling process; the calmer pets will be with their relocation.”
She added that pets can sense when you’re emotional, so try to keep your feelings in check when saying goodbye so they don’t catch second-hand separation anxiety. “While goodbyes are always very difficult, try to not make them overly emotional,” she noted, explaining, “Your pet can’t speak and doesn’t understand why you are upset and clinging to them; all they know is that you are upset and they need to be with you. This adds extra, unnecessary stress to a pet when removed from the family home for their flight.”
If little Rover or Tabby needs a little something extra to get through the journey without losing their cool, Imrie said you can give them a natural, herbal calming tablet similar to Calmeeze. “A natural, herbal calming tablet is not a sedative, and we do not recommend pet owners giving their pets sedatives as it is not recommended by airlines,” Imrie said. “Airlines would not be able to monitor a pet’s heart rate and blood pressure during travels.”
An even easier trick would be to give the pet a comfort item — sort of like a security blanket that a child might sleep with. “In addition to a calming tablet, providing a pet with a small blanket that a family member has slept with a few nights/weeks before travel is also good because it provides your scent and comfort to the pet during travel.”
But before anything else, Imrie stressed the importance of preparation, including everything from medical visits to budgeting. “If you are thinking of traveling, don’t leave the pet’s movement to the last minute – give yourself as much time as possible,” she said. “If you are traveling internationally and taking your pet, some country preparations can run as long as six to eight months. Advance preparation is key.”
Imrie said the first thing to make sure is that the pet has a thorough, clean bill of health. “Pet owners should make sure they have vet books, microchips and annual vaccinations in order. This is critically important for starting the traveling process. And above all else, make sure that pets are getting their annual vaccinations on time.”
She noted that last-minute airline changes can throw your whole plan out of whack, so it’s important to be ready for worst-case scenarios. “Budget and then add some cushion to that budget! Always be prepared for additional changes, especially if your plans change and you could require kenneling or a cattery,” she explained. “Remember that airline pricing can change at any time with little to no notice, depending on the route, it’s better to have a little bit of cushion and not need it than need it and not have it!”
This is also where a professional pet shipper comes in. A pro will be able to handle all of these curveballs as they come, and a good professional will be able to communicate them clearly and thoroughly to you.
A pet shipper may be especially helpful when traveling so soon after COVID, as nothing is exactly set in stone at the moment. “Currently, not all airlines are back in the sky and there are limited routes due to airlines not being able to service some destinations because of government restrictions on passenger entry or quarantine arrival requirements,” she said. “Pet owners need to make sure they are prepared to wait for their pet to arrive, especially if they have done no research on country requirements. Country and airline changes can happen instantaneously with little to no notice.”
Traveling is always stressful — especially with a pet and even more so right after a global pandemic — but with enough advanced prep and a little professional help, it doesn’t have to be a nightmare.