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Travel and safety tips – for your older pets

Approx. 8 minutes read

We all look forward to the change of scenery that a holiday brings and it’s especially rewarding when our pets can go on holiday with us. No more worrying about Ginny or Bella while we’re at the seaside trying to relax. Taking your pets with you on holiday does require some planning, so here are some travel and safety tips for travelling and holidaying with older pets.

Health and safety

It may be exciting to think about taking your pet with you on holiday, but it’s not fair to your furry family member if going on the trip means pushing them to their limits of comfort and safety. Take your senior pet for a check-up and have an honest conversation with your vet regarding your pet’s fitness for travelling. If she’s a sprightly spaniel or a bounding basset, she’ll probably be fine, but if she’s slow on her feet, a little blind or hard of hearing and she tires easily, then perhaps rethink the holiday gallivanting. If she’s fit and fabulous and ready for a vacation, then just ensure that all her vaccinations are up to date and that you travel with your pet’s health certification. Health certifications are required for airline travel.

After considering all the factors, you may decide to carefully move forward with your plans, or you may decide that it’s just not worth putting your ageing pet through it. There are two options now: leave your pet with a caring family member or friend or opt for a pet sitter, or reconsider your holiday plans and rather stay home and spend quality time with your furry companion. Ultimately your pet’s wellbeing is first and foremost.

If you and your pet are holidaying together, don’t forget:

Bring along a supply of her regular food and some local or bottled water to ensure she stays healthy while travelling. Include any medication she may need. Try to stick to your pet’s routine so she can feel more comfortable and relaxed.

Crates

Crates come in metal, wire, plastic and fabric, and are used as a safe space/den for your dog – both at home and while travelling.

Crating your dog while driving is a great way to keep her safe and secure. It also keeps her still, so she doesn’t unexpectedly end up on your lap while you’re driving! Crates are also ideal for when you stay in pet-friendly accommodation and want to stop her from getting into trouble.

Ideal crate features

  • Large enough to allow your pet to stand, turn and lie down.
  • Strong with handles and grips, and free of interior protrusions.
  • Leak-proof bottom covered with absorbent material.
  • Ventilation on opposing sides, with exterior rims or knobs to encourage airflow.
  • ‘Live Animal’ label, arrows upright, with owner’s name, address and phone number.
  • Stock the crate with a comfortable mat, your pet’s favourite toy and a water bowl. If your crated pet is going on a long flight, put extra food in a plastic bag and tie it to the crate and your pet is ready to go.

Crating your pets for travel

It’s natural to feel bad about crating your elderly dog. After all, you wouldn’t want to be crated. But try not to show your feelings to your dog as she may pick up on them and become anxious. Usually, dogs or cats don’t mind being in a crate and some even feel safer in one. It is always best to train them from a young age, but it is never too late. So what do you need to do to crate-train your adult/senior dog in the right way?

Get them ready

Before you begin crate training, always give your pet some exercise, e.g. taking them for a long walk or playing a game to use up excess energy. Additionally, you want to take your pet outside to do her business, so you don’t have to interrupt your training for a pee break.

Have patience

Unlike puppies and kittens, which don’t have ingrained habits, adult pets may have spent years without ever entering a crate. This means they’re probably going to be a lot more resistant to the idea and may fight against it. Your job is to bear with them and keep trying. Over time, most adult pets will come to accept a crate with the right training.

Use treats

Try and make your pet feel that the crate is a good and safe place. Encourage her to go into the crate by putting treats, toys and even food inside it. Eventually the crate will become associated with a positive experience like a new bed – a place she wants to go to.

Make it comfy

Doggies love the feeling of a comfy soft blankie and they love to find comfortable spots to lie on. So, why not put one in the crate and create another resting place for her? Put her favourite blanket in the crate or treat her with a new one on her regular bed.

Close the door — briefly!

The obvious goal is to eventually close the crate door and still have a calm and relaxed dog, even when you pick up the crate. When you see your pet is getting comfortable with the crate and likes to be in it for a long period of time, slowly start to close the door in intervals. Distract your dog with a treat or toy and close the door while he/she is busy enjoying it. Once you get to the door being completely closed, start with intervals of five minutes or less and make sure you stay close by and visible. In time you can keep it closed for longer periods and leave the room. 

Your pet will come to understand that it is still safe even with the door closed, and that she will eventually get out even if you’re not right there in front of her. Keep up with these routines and eventually your senior pup will come to like and accept the crate willingly. Who knows, maybe it will become your dog’s favourite place to nap in.

Arrange a playdate with a friend

Yay! Your dog loves playdates and this is a GREAT time to train her to drive in a car inside her crate. This way your senior dog will get used to the idea of being inside a crate during drives and find that the end result is always a positive one.

Modes of travel

Travelling by car

Travelling by car is easier for your pets than air travel. Your elderly pets may need frequent additional stops for toilet breaks and to stretch their legs – it will help to move their joints around a bit. Only exercise them while on a strong leash – preferably with a harness rather than a collar to reduce chances of escape in an unfamiliar place.

  • Get your pet used to the car, by letting her sit in it with you, without leaving the driveway. After that you can start going for short drives.
  • If you have never travelled with your pets before, take either conventional or proven holistic medications with you to control motion sickness and/or anxiety.
  • Avoid car sickness by letting your pet travel on an empty stomach. However, make sure she has plenty of water at all times.
  • Keep the car well-ventilated. If your pet is in a crate, make sure that fresh air can flow through it.
  • Do not let your pet ride with her head sticking out through an open window. This can lead to eye injuries and much more.
  • Never let your pet ride in the back of an open truck or bakkie. This is extremely dangerous and can lead to severe injuries or death.
  • Car rides are boring for everyone, so instruct your children not to tease or annoy your pet inside the car.
  • Never ever leave your pet unattended in a closed vehicle, particularly in the summer. If you must leave the car, designate a member of the family to stay with your dog.

Travelling by plane

Before putting your elderly dog onto an aeroplane, think twice. Flying in the cargo hold can be very stressful for your older baby, especially in cold weather. Unless your dog is small enough to travel with you on the plane, it is best to keep her at home where it is safe and she’s relaxed. If you still want to take your senior baby with you, here is what you need to know:

  • Each airline has its own set of rules for pet air travel. You should call for information and make arrangements well in advance of your trip. You can also use a pet travel agency to make it a lot less stressful and ensure you have all the paperwork in order.
  • All airlines require health certifications and proof of vaccinations.
  • Some airlines will not transport animals when it is extremely hot or cold.
  • Pets must be in an airline-approved crate when transported as cargo.
  • Many older pets are finicky eaters or have digestive problems, so be careful about pre-flight diets. Don’t feed your pet too close to flying time (allow a few hours between feeding time and flight time), and offer only a light meal.
  • Since pets can pick up on your vibes and tend to follow your lead in terms of mood and energy level, it’s important to set a good example for them by exhibiting a calm demeanour and keeping them on a regular schedule as far as possible, before and after the flight. The less their lives are disrupted, the more likely they’ll cope well with the flight and adjust to their new surroundings.

Make sure you pet wears an ID tag

Elderly pets do wander and might not be able to hear when you call. Put on an ID tag on her collar, which includes your home address and cell number. Never travel with a pet that is not microchipped, and make sure your contact details on the microchip database are up to date. Microchipping is the ultimate fail-safe if your pet happens to lose her collar.

Check that your destination is pet friendly

Plan in advance. It’s important to know if your pet will be welcome at your holiday destination. Fortunately, there are more and more pet-friendly destinations these days, but if your destination requires an overnight stay or two, make absolutely sure you have reservations with a pet-friendly hotel or bed and breakfast.

  • If your pet is allowed to stay at a hotel, respect other guests, staff and the property.
  • Keep your pet as quiet as possible.
  • Do not leave your pet unattended – many dogs will bark or destroy property if left alone in a strange place.
  • Ask the management where you can take your pet for a walk. Pick up after her and do not leave any mess behind.
  • Remember that one bad experience with a pet and her owner may prompt the hotel management to refuse any pets in the future. Be considerate of others and leave your room and the grounds in good condition.

Take enough pet food

Be sure to pack enough of your dog’s regular brand of dog food. Pets are sensitive to sudden changes in diet. Also, try to keep to your pet’s regular feeding schedule as much as possible.

Stay calm

Speak to your dog throughout the trip in a calm and relaxed tone of voice. Try to relax during the drive and trip – your dog can sense if you are having a good time or not and will react to your emotions.

Preparation in advance makes a difference between a positive and enjoyable trip or a potential nightmare. Prepare for your dog’s needs and make their safety a top priority.

Tip: If you are worried about anything, ALWAYS check with your vet since they know your pet’s ins and outs. That way you’ll make the holiday one to remember for everyone.

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