PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK; DESIGN: REBECCA HOSKINS/THRILLIST
Whether you’re visiting loved ones a few towns over or booking a flight for your holiday vacation, travel planning tends to be a bit hectic, especially during the busiest time of year. Since pets are obviously part of the family (and therefore crucial to the holiday activities), that might mean preparing them for the trip, too. To help you with keeping your pet safe and calm before and during travel, we partnered with Petco to highlight tricks for hitting the road with your furry plus one.
We talked to five staffers to get their tried-and-true advice on how to prep pets for long and short drives, plane rides, and stays away from home. Paired with tips from Darris Cooper, CPDT-KA, FFCP, Petco’s National Dog Training Manager, and key Petco products, your journey together can be just as relaxing as the destination.
Get your dog comfortable with a carrier before air travel
Before embarking anywhere with your pet, getting them comfortable with their accessories can make all the difference in them cooperating and not being stressed out. Before traveling on a plane with her dog, Chicken (who’s a certified emotional support animal), director Aviel Kanter does a few practice runs with her at home.
“Since most of the airlines recently changed their rules around ESAs, Chicken has had to learn how to be in a carrier when flying,” Kanter says. “To get her to be more comfortable, I’ve done a lot of positive training with her at home to make sure she doesn’t see the carrier as an uncomfortable place. When we’re actually traveling, I try to keep this mindset — we’ve got lots of treats and chews on hand, a carrier that she can move comfortably around in (and that opens from the top so she can stick her head out from time to time), and an extra blanket from home that she can curl up on.” Beyond that, Kanter makes sure to give Chicken all the love and positive reassurance so that she doesn’t get too anxious or feels alone during their trip.
Use accessories to manage cats’ car anxiety
Traveling with pets doesn’t have to be a headache, however, if you’re hitting the road with multiple animals, you might need to get a bit creative. When executive director Joanna Douglas’ two striped tabby cats, Goji and Guava, were younger, they were fantastic travelers, snoozing through noisy New York City cab rides to vet appointments and in rental cars to Pennsylvania to visit family for the holidays. However, after a year or so, they became very nervous in the car, so Douglas had to make a few adjustments to keep them calm before car rides. “We leave their carrier out year-round with a cozy crate mat inside so they are used to it,” she says. “We learned the hard way to line the crate for trips with a wee wee pad for accidents, which seem to happen every trip by at least one of them. Next, we’ll spritz a pheromone spray in their carrier and in our car — it works to calm their anxiety and make our trek a bit easier.”
For longer rides, Douglas keeps a few treats and rewards good behavior along the way. Cats also don’t like being messy for too long, especially after being in their carrier for hours. She notes, “We’re big fans of these paw and bum wipes for quick cleanup upon arrival at our destination.”
Keep your dog protected on long road trips
Sitting in a car for long periods of time requires pets to feel comfortable and safe on their journey. Director Andrea Morabito decks out the back seat for her miniature poodle Zeke when taking an annual 17-hour road trip from New York to Alabama to visit her husband’s family. “We’ve invested in a seat belt tether that quickly attaches to his harness to keep him safely anchored in the backseat while still giving him freedom of movement,” she says, adding that she prefers a swivel model so Zeke doesn’t get tangled. While you may think having the ability to roam the car is better, Cooper adds that, “Restricting your dog’s movement with a seatbelt, booster seat, or travel carrier may actually help decrease the chance of injury in an accident.” Morabito also places a crate mat in the backseat so he has a cozy spot to nap.
For rest stops along the way, she stashes a collapsible water bowl in the back seat pocket to keep Zeke hydrated. “Since boredom is real for humans and dogs on long road trips, we’ve been lucky enough to find some rest stops equipped with dog parks, which is hugely helpful for letting Zeke run off some energy off-leash,” she says. “For quicker potty breaks, I opt for a longer leash rather than his usual shorter one so that he can at least have a little space to roam before getting back in the car.”
Have enough toys to keep your cat entertained on the road
When traveling with pets, it’s helpful to take familiar toys and accessories to keep them calm and distracted. For editor Moná Thomas, who drove 14 hours from Atlanta to New York with their cat Luna, it was important to have enough of Luna’s favorite things in her carrier with her. “She doesn’t like traveling at all, so I made sure to bring her ball toys with bells that she plays with often and new toys for her to learn,” they said. “It was surprising that she spent so much time trying to figure out how her new toys worked that I didn’t hear her crying and meowing for my attention for so long. It made the ride much easier for her and driving was more relaxing for me.”
Of course, not all cats like playtime in their carriers like Luna, however accessories that are mentally stimulating (and will tire them out) could be a great alternative. For instance, catnip toys will keep them so distracted, relaxed, and entertained, they’ll forget they’re on the open road for a while.
Keep your pet company when staying in a new place
The first night in a hotel or rental house can make anyone a bit uneasy, but for pets, it’s an entirely new world. For associate director Christie Rotondo’s Saint Bernard, Cannoli, who loves hiking in the Catskills with Rotondo and her husband, it takes a few items from home and some extra love to get her to relax. “Even though Cannoli gets absolutely pumped the second we break her travel bag (yes, she has her own bag!) out of the closet, she still has a hard time settling into a new place while on vacation, whether we’re staying in a short-term rental or hotel room,” Rotondo says. “To make her feel more comfortable, we try to make that first night as relaxed as possible. We pick up our human dinner from a local restaurant, get her settled with her own food and water bowls, and then relax together and cuddle while we watch a movie or read.”
To this point, Cooper says, “Don’t forget to pack pets’ regular food for mealtimes, as well as their usual treats for training time to avoid upset tummies. Packing a bit extra than their usual rations is always a great idea if the travel plans include activities like hiking or swimming, as they may need extra fuel.” Rotondo also brings along Cannoli’s “toothbrushes” (aka brushless toothpaste) so that she can stay on track with her normal bedtime routine as if she were home. “The next morning, we all feel well rested, and Cannoli feels ready to explore,” Rotondo adds. “We pack up her drool towels, spray her with bug spray, and hit the trails.”
Of course, not all pets enjoy being too far from home, and so for those homebodies, we suggest getting a pet sitter. This way, your pet doesn’t feel alone while you’re away and can keep up with their daily routine until you return.