Thursday, October 30, 2014

Flying With FIDO: Tips for Traveling with a Finicky Pet

All dogs and kitties aboard....My Frenchie Bleu has never been out of the state of California. He’s not what you call well-traveled, cultured, or worldly. The furthest he’s been is Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, and Palm Springs. So when I decided to make a trip back east, I knew it would be a task to say the least to lug my 30 pound brindled bulldog 3,000 miles from San Diego, California to Wilmington, Delaware. He’s not the easiest, most docile creature. He is a bit neurotic and doesn’t like change. If he could read, I’d buy him the book, Who Moved My Cheese? and rename it Who Moved My MilkBone? So if you are thinking about traveling with your pet this upcoming holiday season, here are some tips to keep in mind before you and your furry friend step on board for your flight.

  • Make sure you get your pet acclimated to an airline-approved pet carrier prior to going on your journey. Bleu doesn’t like to be confined. Call him claustrophobic, or perhaps he just likes his freedom, but the second I tried to place him in his new pet carrier, he had a fit. I had tried another carrier at Target, but it was too dark in there for the poor guy, and no amount of cucumbers or blueberries or toys was going to get him in there. So I stuck with the one we had: a mesh tote I had from Petco that zipped up at the top.
  • Clear your travel plans with your vet. Make sure your pet is healthy enough to travel with you and is up to date on all of his shots. If he requires any medications, make sure they are filled and bring them with you. Also be sure to locate a vet nearby wherever you are vacationing in case an emergency should occur. Because Bleu is a bit of a basket case, I had doggy valium on hand for our trip. The 20 mgs should have been enough to knock out a football player, but it didn't do a thing for Bleu. While it should have easily sedated and relaxed him, Bleu spazzed out for the entire six-hour flight. 
  • Bring plenty of treats and bottled water. Especially for anxious doggies like Bleu, it’s imperative to provide them with positive reinforcement. Because my special dog is on a restrictive, hypo-allergenic diet, I can't feed him regular treats. Instead, he gets sliced cucumbers and blueberries, which makes it a little bit harder to carry treats around because they have to stay cold. But for most dog owners, keeping simple and tasty treats around in your carry-on is easy and helpful for your travel buddy. 
  • Purchase a travel-size mesh water bowl to keep your pooch hydrated. At the airport, buy a water bottle,  for your pet prior to boarding so you have it on hand. You can also use the water bottle as a toy if your dog likes to chew on the water bottle. Bleu likes the crunchy noise of the water bottle, but be careful to take the cap off and monitor your dog with plastic. 
  • Bring your pet's favorite toy on board with him/her so he feels more comfortable. Bleu has a stress ball he likes to chomp on while most pets prefer a rawhide. Avoid bringing anything that squeeks too loud that would disturb your fellow passengers. 
  • Be respectful of your travel companions. Thankfully, my traveling neighbors were very kind and courteous, accommodating my neurotic and antsy dog. While Bleu did not bark or make a peep the entire time, he would not sit still. He was like a Mexican jumping bean.
I apologized profusely to my travel companions, but they did not seem to mind. In fact, they seemed happy to have a pretty pet on board to entertain them for a six hour flight to Philly. My seat mate offered to hold my pet carrier for me. For about ten minutes, Bleu even dosed off on his tray table, drool dripping on his paper napkin. But as soon as I got up, he began his sporadic movements again, like a possessed puppy. I felt terrible for him, but there was nothing we could do, but endure the long journey together.

Perhaps it was the confinement, or the air pressure, or the new experience of flying, or a combination of all three, but one thing I learned is that you have to acclimate your dog to new experiences, and flying can be terrifying to a dog like Bleu who has never done it before. I don’t think Bleu will become a frequent flyer anytime soon, but equipped with these tools, your pet will fly a lot easier, and it will be less stressful for you, the passengers on board, and your lucky dog who gets to vacation with you.