Planning can help you and your beloved pets stay calm during summer travels

The goal of a vacation is to get away from stress and to relax. But one sure way to add stress to your travels is to not properly plan for the well-being of your furry travel companions. The change of environment and routines can be enough to create a stressful situation for you and your animal. But Dr. Lori Bierbrier, medical director for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Community Medicine department, says that careful consideration and advanced planning will make for a smooth trip.

Tip: Talk to a veterinarian before a trip to make sure you have everything you need, such as a full supply of any medications your animal takes.

The process starts by getting your cat or dog used to the travel carrier you’ll use on the trip, and making it a place they don’t mind hanging out. For a dog, that might mean throwing a favorite toy inside, or for a cat, a bit of catnip. Once the animal adjusts to the idea of hanging out in the carrier, the next step is to drive them around for a bit to get them comfortable with movement. The goal is to create positive associations with trips in the carrier. If every trip the animal makes is to the vet, like was the case for Bierbrier’s family dog when she was growing up, the animal will have negative associations with the carrier and traveling.

Dogs and cats — especially cats — are creatures of habit, Bierbrier says. When you travel with a pet, try to adhere to your schedule as much as possible. Make sure the food goes out at the same time each day. Give cats the social interactions they crave. And if you normally go home over lunch break and take your dog for a quick walk, try to emulate the same walk about the same time of the day.

“They are going to be so much less stressed,” Bierbrier says.

Bierbrier says you can use exercise to your advantage. Particularly with a young and more rambunctious animal, a walk before traveling can tire them into taking a nap for part of the journey.

Before you take off, Bierbrier recommends talking with your veterinarian to make sure everything is in order for the trip. Specifically, she suggests getting refills on any medications the animal may be taking to ensure you have enough for the trip. You should also find location and contact information for a veterinarian in the area you intend to travel to so you’re not scrambling for that information during an emergency.

If you’re traveling by plane and chose to bring an animal with you, much of the same recommendations apply. Familiarize your pet with the travel carrier in advance of the flight so they are as comfortable and relaxed as possible. And if that flight is overseas, make sure to check out what health certificates and permitting requirements are needed for your animal. These laws can be quite confusing, so you’ll want to start checking what’s required by your destination well in advance of your trip, Bierbrier says.