5 Myths About Traveling With Pets

Bringing your dog or cat on vacation with you just adds to the fun and alleviates the worry of not knowing what’s happening with your pet while you’re on the road.

You need to do your homework on traveling with your pet though.

Travel can be stressful at any time, but for pet owners bringing their beloved pet along on vacation, the stakes are even higher. Cautionary tales abound, especially about incidents on aircraft.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) reports that in 2014, there were 17 pet deaths, 26 pet injuries and two pets gone missing on U.S. carriers. While one pet death, injury or loss is too many, more than two million pets and animals are flown by the nation's carriers each year.

Here are five myths about traveling with pets

Myth 1. The pet cargo hold is either too hot or too cold on the aircraft.

"This is a myth," says Laurie S. Coger, DVM, CVCP, who runs TheHealthyDogWorkshop.com and is resident veterinarian at Canine Camp Getaway in the Adirondacks. "The pet cargo area is temperature and pressure-controlled, just like the passenger cabin."

What is true is that some animals have a harder time than others, says Dr. Jeff Werber, who hosts Pet Care TV and is past host of Petcetera on Animal Planet Network. Dr. Werber says that "short-snouted breeds like bulldogs, Boston terriers and pugs are more prone to travel-related problems."

If you are flying with your pet, Dr. Werber recommends choosing a non-stop flight to minimize the changes in temperature that your pet is subjected to. He notes that there are companies that arrange pet travel, but to be sure to find a reputable company with references you have checked.

"Flying your pet is not something you do lightly or without vigilant involvement," Dr. Werber says. "Go on the same flight as your pet so you can keep track and check on him or her."

Myth 2. Animals frequently get injured or even die in the pet cargo holds.

Not true, says Dr. Coger. "Most injuries, escapes or deaths occur on the ground," she says. "Heat stroke, injuries due to crates being dropped or broken, or other mishaps are most likely during loading and unloading."

"The reason many airlines restrict travel during hot or cold times is the lack of climate control while waiting to board the plane," says Dr. Coger. "Tarmacs can get blazingly hot or dangerously cold, putting a pet sitting in an airline crate at great risk.

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Some airlines have climate-controlled pet areas where pets are held until they board. Always ask what an airline's procedures are for pets that are waiting to board, and for when they are unloaded."

Myth 3. It's safer to take my pets by car, even on a long drive, than to fly with them.

In fact, this is really case-dependent, Dr. Coger says, adding that "traveling by car gives the owner control over when to take a rest stop, to feed, water or exercise the pet. 

This is safer and more advantageous for some pets, such as an arthritic pet, one with other health conditions or one that is extremely anxious. "

That said, she states that "travel time may make air travel the better choice for an individual pet. If you are going coast to coast, flying certainly lessens the amount of time the pet will be confined and potentially stressed. 

It's important to consider that the driver of the car is an amateur, sharing the roads with other amateurs. The airline pilot is a professional, and the traffic around the plane is not only piloted by other professionals, but also managed by air traffic controllers."

Myth 4. You should always administer a sedative or tranquilizer to your pet before traveling with them.

Both Dr. Coger and Dr. Weber agree that this is false, even if many people commonly accept it as wisdom.

"Sedatives and tranquilizers have an effect on heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory function, balance, response time and even temperament," says Dr. Coger. "There can also be a health risk for pets with conditions such as epilepsy or cardiovascular disease. Your pet should be at his normal physical condition for travel."

That said, there are other preparations that pet owners can make before traveling.
"Training and acclimating your pet to travel is vital," says Dr. Coger. "That means learning how to be in a carrier or crate, to urinate and defecate on lead or in a travel litterbox, and cope with the noises and motions of engines and the road. The more time and energy invested in training, the less stressful travel will be."
Dr. Weber has some additional tips for those taking the family pet on vacation this summer. It's important, he states, to "get your pet accustomed to his or her crate well before the trip. Make it a comfort zone for them which will reduce stress otherwise associated with a new environment. 

Make sure your contact information, including your flight information and seat number, is attached to the carrier. The carrier must be strong and give your pet sufficient room to move. Make sure your pet has water. Freezing ice will help it last longer."

Recommend Reading: Tips on Flying With Your Pet

He also suggests asking if the airline will allow you to watch your pet being loaded or unloaded from the cargo hold. It's important to notify your flight attendant that you are traveling with your pet. If the flight experiences delays, check with the crew to make sure the cargo heating or cooling system is operating.

Long before you go, he says, "check with your veterinarian to make sure your pet is healthy enough to fly, and has no respiratory or other issues that will invite complications."

Myth 5. A "pet-friendly hotel" is just another name for a hotel that allow pets.

The term pet-friendly is used to mean many things in the lodging industry. 

A pet-friendly hotel can run the gamut from properties that simply allow pets "with or without restriction and fees, to catering to the owner traveling with their pet," says Dr. Coger. "I have stayed in hotels where the pet-friendly rooms were also the smoking rooms," an experience that she describes as "awful!" She's also stayed in "hotels that placed dog treats, poop bags, and directions to the nearest veterinary clinic in my room."

It's an even bigger divide between hotels that merely accept pets and those that roll out the red carpet when the luxury element comes into play.

A classic example of that, Dr. Coger says is "during the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City." For those who can afford it, there are hotels that "provide all sorts of dog services, from a dog room service menu to bathing and grooming stations, dog treadmills, massage therapy, and even indoor dog potty facilities."

Text by Everett Potter of USA TODAY NETWORK - Special for USA TODAY

Note: As you can clearly see, there are two sides to every story, which this article approaches.