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Tips for Traveling and Boarding Your Dog During the Holidays

December is a busy month because with so many people gathering family together for the holidays. However, some furry family members are forgotten until the last minute. Here are some tips for taking care of your four-legged friends during the holidays.

While some dogs love travel, some do not. It is always important to figure out which category your dog fits in prior to a holiday trip. Ideally, take a test run in the car with your dog in an appropriate-size carrier. If your dog vomits, is extremely anxious, or soils the carrier, your dog is probably a poor candidate for travel. However, if your dog is excited, happy, and does not show signs of illness, then travel may be an excellent option. Finally, dogs with heart problems may have issues with the stresses associated with flying.

Get your dog used to a carrier in advance so that there is no anxiety associated with it. This is especially true with short-faced (brachycephalic) breeds, since anxiety may lead to breathing problems. If flying, make sure the carrier meets the specifications listed by the airline. With large dogs, ask the airline what the maximum weight is allowed before planning your dog’s flight. If you are flying, you will need a health certificate. Some airlines will require the certificate dated within 10 days of the departure date, so get it done within that time, not an hour before the flight. Make sure you have your vaccine paperwork in order before requesting the health certificate from your veterinarian.

If you are going to another country, check the U.S. Department of Agriculture website (www.USDA.gov) for pet requirements, and let the veterinarian know which country is on your itinerary. Check the requirements of the host country well in advance, as there may be special testing required that cannot be hastened or done last minute.

If you plan to have your pet in the cabin with you, the dog must fit in a carrier under the seat in front of you. Airline carriers have different standards for carrier dimensions and weight constraints for pet and carrier, with 15 pounds usually the maximum.

You don’t want your pet to get lost, and microchipping is an excellent way to ensure your pet has permanent identification, but keep on a collar with tags so that your pet can be identified by people without microchip scanners. Ideally, have tags with your contact information, a place your pet may stay in case of escape at the home-end of the trip, and information about where your pet may stay in case he or she get lost at the end destination. This information should also be on the carrier, as well as the words “LIVE ANIMAL” on the top and one side, as well as an arrow or “THIS END UP” markings on two sides. Having your dog’s name on the carrier may help in case of an escape.

Put newspapers or towels in the bottom of the carrier to soak up any accidents, and make sure there are two dishes attached to the kennel; they should be accessible from the outside to allow food and water to be offered to your dog. However, it is advised that you not feed your pooch two hours prior to your flight, as eating may upset your dog’s stomach.

Do not assume that the same brands of dog food are available in all locations; bring your own. Diet changes can lead to vomiting or diarrhea, neither of which is pleasant to deal with on holiday. Packing enough of your dog’s regular dog food can prevent this problem.
Many people put their dogs in a boarding facility over the holidays. The most important tip is to call ahead and make a reservation in advance. Most facilities get very booked during this time of year and may need a deposit in advance as well as a reservation.

Know your boarding facility. Basic questions that should be answered are: What vaccinations or tests are required? What are the dogs fed? Can you bring your dog’s normal food? How often are dogs exercised? If there is a day-care facility with other dog interaction, how is the suitability of each dog determined? If there is a medical issue with your dog, who is the default veterinarian? If your pet is on medications, ask whether staff members are comfortable giving medications. Are people on site 24 hours a day? If not, what hours are the staffers not available? If possible, take a tour of the facility, and try to get a feel for the staff.

It is always wise—and easier on everyone—if the pet has a test run for perhaps one or two nights in the boarding facility prior to a longer stay. That way your dog learns he is not being abandoned, he learns the rhythm of the place, and he can arrive with more confidence the next time. This also lets you fill out all necessary paperwork in advance.

One word to the wise: Expect that dropping off your dog may take some extra time during the holidays, as there are likely going to be many other people doing the exact same thing.

Shanna Compton is an associate veterinarian at South Bay Animal Hospital and Pet Resort in San Jose, which is a 24-hour facility and is open on Christmas as well as all other days of the year. Learn more at www.SB-AnimalHospital.com or call 408-899-4791.

Main article photo by: Minda Haas Kuhlmann-Creative Commons