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Travel Tails by Gayle Martz
Traveling in the Fast Lane when your Pet is in the Slow Lane

Gayle Martz
Gayle Martz, Sherpa & Su-Nae

Whether or not to take your cat or dog with you on your travels is a dilemma faced by many pet owners. However, for the owner of a pet of - let's say - "advanced years", the decision is even more complex as are its potential ramifications.

The most important consideration before you take your pet on a trip is his or her overall physical and emotional health. With middle-aged and elderly pets, a trip to the vet for a full work-up is a good idea well before you can make an informed decision about packing for your pet. Remember that no matter how much you want your pet along for the trip, it may not be the best thing for his or her health. Pay attention to not just the vet's recommendation but your own instincts.

How Old Is Too Old?

In general, dogs reach "middle age" at around seven years of age, whereas for cats it is between eight and 10. While you may still glowingly recall fairly recent memories of your pet as a "baby", that puppy or kitten may now in fact be middle aged, with many of the similar health and emotional challenges we humans face.

When your pet starts getting a paunch and moving a little slower, you need to think carefully before you move him or her into your fast lane. Travel for all pets, the middle-aged or elderly in particular, is tremendously stressful, both mentally and physically.

Just like us humans, older pets get set in our ways, have dietary restrictions, chronic health problems and, quite often, prefer to stay home in a familiar and comfortable environment than jaunt around the globe.

Tips for Traveling With a Senior Pet

  • For air travel during the summer, choose early morning or evening flights to avoid high temperatures. During the winter, avoid near frigid temperatures by taking daytime flights. Always try to book nonstop flights to avoid potentially traumatic transfers or delays. Avoid heavy traffic times such as weekends and holidays.
  • Federal law requires you to feed and offer water to your pet four hours prior to flight time. Take care to prevent your elderly pet from overeating and remember, he or she should never travel on a full stomach. By federal law, airline personnel must give food to older pets every 24 hours, and water every 12 hours. Ensure you affix written instructions to the outside of the carrier.
  • Many pets drink less as they get older, which can lead to dehydration, a challenge for all travelers. Always carry a container of drinking water and frequently offer your pet small amounts spread out over time because too much at once will fill their sensitive tummies, increasing the likelihood they'll get sick.
  • Many older pets need to relieve themselves more frequently so prepare in advance. Incontinence is a common problem of aging dogs and cats. Older dogs require bathroom breaks approximately every few hours. If you have a long trip ahead, consider doggie diapers.

    Older cats are a little more capricious in their need to relieve themselves so they should be given every possible opportunity to do so. When you arrive at your destination, place a few litter boxes in different areas because your cat will be disoriented and might not have the energy after traveling to find the potty.

  • Carry your pet's medications with you at all times
  • Find a vet located close to where you will be staying. Ensure you have all your pet's medical records with you.

Packing for Your Pet

Your pet needs his or her own "carry on" bag which you should not check at the gate, but carry with you. Besides, the usual items, (i.e. leash, collar, I.D. tags) include the following:

  • Elderly pets are especially fussy about their food and they want it the same as at home, thank you very much. If you aren't confident your pet's favorite delectable will be available at your destination, bring enough for the whole trip. And don't forget the treats!
  • Your pet may be sensitive to the tap water in a new locale so have distilled water handy.
  • To make your pet feel "at home away from home", take his or her own pet carrier (that your pet feels comfortable in) food and water bowls, and toys or chew items.
  • All required medications, supplements, and preventatives.
  • Extra sheets to cover bedding and furniture at your destination.
  • Elderly pets yearn for familiarity so don't forget his or her favorite bedding.

Older pets are that much more finicky, set in their ways and attached to not just the familiar items of home, but most importantly, you. But with proper planning and preparation you and your mature companion should share a joyful sojourn.

Gayle Martz traveled with her beloved Sherpa from her sprightly puppy years up until her passing this summer at the age of 17. Su-Nae, Gayle's Coton De Teleur, continues to globe trot with Gayle.

Sherpa Bags for Pet Travel

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Most recent update: 2/14/05
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