How to Keep Your Pet Healthy While Traveling

A healthy pet is a happy pet. Check out these pet pictures.
A healthy pet is a happy pet. Check out these pet pictures.
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­Whether it's a weekend getaway, an extended trek or moving to a new part of the country, bringing pets with you on the road raises a host of considerations.

Some concerns are logistical. You'll have to worry about a getting an irritable animal into its carrier, timing both feeding and potty breaks and other matters. For your pet's comfort and your security on the road­, you'll want to invest some effort into getting the animal accustomed to its carrier.


You'll also have to consider your pet's health. As a responsible pet owner, it pays to be aware of certain precautions you should take both before and during your trip. After all, an injured or ailing pet will complicate your travel in very unpleasant ways.

­First, you should talk with your veterinarian before taking any trip. If you're flying, you must present a health certificate issued no more than 10 days before your departure date. Animals on planes usually fly in the cargo hold, except for some smaller animals that can travel as carry-on baggage.

Anxieties about confining pets for long periods tempt some people to give their pets a sedative, but this is usually a bad idea and can be life-threatening to some animals. Traveling in a pressurized airplane cabin at high altitude can cause severe cardiovascular or respiratory­ distress in sedated animals [source: Healthy Pet].

Traveling by car is easier for most animals, but you should keep them secured in a carrier, harness or seat belt designed for pets. Setting an animal loose inside a moving vehicle is very risky; the animal can create a hazardous distraction and, in an accident, the pet could be seriously injured and harm the driver or other passengers.

Read on for some other pet health factors to keep in mind on the road.


Pet Pests

When traveling with your pet, you should take a copy of the animal's medical records with you -- including vaccinations -- and learn about the diseases present in the area you'll be visiting.

In the northeast United States, you must inoculate cats and dogs against heartworm, a mosquito-borne disease. Tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis are also on the rise. This danger is highest during the summer months, when many vacationers head to mountain resorts and country houses. Dogs are more susceptible to these diseases than people, since they're close to the ground and their fur makes an attractive location for ticks to bury themselves [source: Sacks].


Lyme disease is conveyed by ticks so minute, they can elude many topical flea and tick repellents. If you're looking forward to hiking in the woods with Rover, a flea and tick collar is not a sufficient preventative measure. Consider asking your vet to administer the Lyme disease vaccine.

Lyme disease is a serious malady that can cause lameness, seizures, kidney failure and neurological damage in cats and dogs. It often goes undetected in its early stages. If your pet is eating less, lacking energy and seems to have aching joints, these could be the early warning signs of the onset of Lyme disease [source: James].

The Lyme vaccine has been criticized and questioned for its safety and effectiveness since hundreds of patients developed arthritis and joint swelling after receiving it. Some natural remedies include spraying your pet with a citrus-based solution and feeding it tonic herbs like garlic. These may be less effective -- but more benign -- than the vaccine [source: Sacks].

Conscientious grooming is key to the prevention of tick-borne diseases. Even if a tick attaches itself to an animal, it usually takes no more than two days to spread the disease. Make grooming part of the daily schedule during your travels. Check your pet all over for pests buried beneath its coat.

If you do find a bloodsucker attached, use tweezers to remove it. Make sure you extract the tick's entire body, including its tenacious jaws. While you're at it, you can search for fleas or for the tiny brown droppings they leave behind.


Pet Allergies

Fleas may not be as life-threatening as ticks, but they can pose a serious health concern­ to your pet if it's allergic to them.

Fleas are the most common source of allergies in dogs and cats. The fleas' saliva triggers the allergic reaction in dogs, not their bodies. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates that one out of every five dogs in the United States has an allergy of some kind [source: Bogue].


Some pets get the same symptoms we associate with allergies in people -- sneezing, wheezing and goopy eyes. More often, though, the allergy is evident on skin. If your pet falls into an itching and scratching fit that doesn't abate, it's probably allergic dermatitis [source: Bren].

Aside from fleas, there are four categories of pet allergens:

  • Foods like milk, eggs, soy, corn or wheat
  • Airborne particles -- such as pollens, dust and mold spores
  • Materials that affect animals through skin contact, like grass and wool [source: Bren]
  • Detergents and other chemicals -- can also cause contact dermatitis [source: Carter]

Any or all of these allergens may be present in travel situations. A new location will expose your pet to many new plants, grasses, insects and other organisms in the environment. Even the most pet-friendly hotel or apartment complex may have a carpet cleaned with a solvent that rubs your pet the wrong way.

In some locations, it can be difficult to maintain your pet's usual diet. An animal can even react to the water in a new place, leading to vomiting or diarrhea -- which can also be an extreme allergic reaction [source: Bren]. Packing foods familiar to your pet would prevent this.

Pet allergies can take you by surprise, and it is often difficult to prevent exposure. Symptoms may not present themselves until after you've returned from a trip. If you're aware of your pet's allergies, you can make efforts to limit exposure, such as limiting your pet's time outdoors during pollen season.

For a range of treatment possibilities, continue reading.


Pet Skin and Coat Issues

Itching -- and similar skin and coat problems -- are among the most common complaints heard in veterinary clin­ics. Most often, allergies are the underlying cause.

The suffering animal will lick, scratch, bite and rub the itchy spot raw, which can lead to other problems like bacterial infections through open sores. Cats and dogs may also give themselves bald spots by tearing out their fur [source: Bren]. Parasites such as fleas, ticks and mites can also penetrate the skin barrier, causing itchy raised bumps, scabs and flaky skin. While food allergies often show up in skin-related symptoms, deficiencies in your pet's diet can also harm the animal's skin and the sheen of its coat.


The weather also can be a factor. Spring and summer bring the greatest concentrations of pests and airborne allergens. In winter, the cold weather outdoors and the dry air brought by heating systems indoors have a harsh impact on animals' skin [source; Foster and Smith]. If your pet is used to a certain temperature and humidity, traveling to a different climate zone can dramatically affect the health of its skin and coat.

Since pet skin conditions often have more than one underlying cause, a proper diagnosis can become complicated. Vets commonly shave a small area of the animal's fur, scrape the top layers of skin, and examine the sample under a microscope for evidence of parasites or fungal infections [source: Hinsch]. Any secondary infections should be treated before addressing the root cause of the distress.

Paying attention to an animal's diet can improve its health. Holistic veterinarians sometimes recommend supplementing canine and feline diets with fish oil, which contains essential fatty acids that nourish the skin and coat [source: Siegler].

Vets prescribe a wide range of treatments for moderate to severe itching, including topical drugs and shampoos, steroids and antibiotics. If traveling brings the misery of dermatitis to your pet, be sure to address both the irritating symptoms and the actual cause.

Before you hit the wide open roads -- or skies -- visit the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Bogue, Gary. "Pets Got an Itch?" (Accessed January 8, 2009)
  • Bren, Linda. "Is Your Pet Itching for Relief?" Food and Drug Administration. (Accessed January 10, 2009)
  • Carter, Mia. "Why Does My Dog Have Itchy Skin, Bumps, Scabs?" (Accessed January 8, 2009)
  • Doctors Foster and Smith Educational Staff. "Common Dog Hair and Coat Problems." (Accessed January 8, 2009)
  • Geller, Tamar. "Spot Got Sniffles? How to Care for Allergic Dog." Today Show.(Accessed Januar 11, 2009)
  • Healthy Pet. "Traveling By Air With Your Pet." (Accessed January 8, 2009)
  • Hinsch, Brett. "Skin Problems in Pets." (Accessed January 11, 2009)
  • James, Darrell. "On the Road Again: How to Keep Your Pets Healthy and Happy While Traveline." Passport Magazine. (Accessed January 7, 2009)
  • Pet Supplies Review. "Dog Skin Care/Skin and Coat." (Accessed January 9, 2009)
  • Sacks, Amy. "Warm Weather Brings Out Pet Pests." New York Daily News, May 17, 2008.(Accessed January 8, 2009)
  • Siegler, Larry. "Alleviating Your Pet's Itchy Skin." (Accessed January 11, 2009)