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Pet travel tips: What to know before taking your first pandemic trip with your dog or cat

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Emily Padgett found a new travel companion in October 2020: Jolene, her miniature dachshund.

Since then, Jolene has been tagging along on trips with the 23-year-old Los Angeles resident, whether it's a quick car ride or a flight to visit Padgett's family on the East Coast.

Traveling with furry friends has been a growing trend in recent months, driven by both an uptick in pet adoptions during the pandemic and travel demand, according to Douglass Kratt, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

"(Pets have gotten) used to having people with them regularly," Kratt said. "And now we need to get them used to either traveling with us or being able to go to boarding facilities."

►When the fur needs to fly: Airlines are making it tricky, costly to bring your pets

►Everyone wanted a puppy in the pandemic: Now some dogs are being returned

Emily Padgett and her miniature dachshund, Jolene.
Emily Padgett and her miniature dachshund, Jolene.

Padgett said Jolene behaves well during flights and tends to sleep while they're in the air. She added that it's an easier alternative than leaving Jolene at home since the dog gets separation anxiety.

"There would be noise complaints (at home)," Padgett said. But with traveling, "she picked it up very quickly. … She's the best dog I've had in terms of traveling."

For people who are hitting the road, or the skies, with a four-legged friend, here are some tips on how to make the best of the experience:

What documents are needed for pets to travel?

Traveling with an animal in tow requires much more planning in advance.

Erin Ballinger, destinations editor for Bring Fido, a website and app that connects dog owners to pet-friendly businesses and places, suggests owners make sure their pets' vaccinations are up to date before leaving since it's required at some hotels and parks.

Vaccines for canine parvovirus, distemper, canine hepatitis and rabies are considered "core vaccines" that are vital for dogs, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Whereas vaccines for panleukopenia (feline distemper), feline calicivirus, feline herpesvirus type I (rhinotracheitis) and rabies are "core vaccines" for cats.

"A quick trip to your vet, or making sure that your dog's paperwork is up to date, (is) always a good idea," Ballinger said.

Pets should also have up-to-date information on their name tags or tied to their microchips. Kratt said taking a photo of the pet right before traveling can also be useful in case a pet gets lost along the way.

Both he and Ballinger suggest giving dogs a walk or some form of exercise shortly before departing.

"A tired pet is a happy pet," Kratt said.

Emily Padgett's miniature dachshund, Jolene, glances up mid-flight.
Emily Padgett's miniature dachshund, Jolene, glances up mid-flight.

Which hotel chains allow pets?

Pet parents will need to make sure their destination – whether it’s a hotel, vacation rental, restaurant or stop along the way – accepts pets.

Some hotel booking sites may indicate "pets welcome" when they're really only referring to service animals, which businesses are required to allow according to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A number of hotel chains are known for being pet-friendly, including Marriott, Kimpton, Best Western, and Motel 6, the official lodging provider of the American Kennel Club. However, there may be size or breed restrictions depending on location, so it's best to check with the hotel directly. Travelers should also be prepared to pay a pet fee.

Kimpton Shorebreak Resort in Huntington Beach, California, allows pets at no extra charge regardless of size, weight, or breed.
Kimpton Shorebreak Resort in Huntington Beach, California, allows pets at no extra charge regardless of size, weight, or breed.

Many pet-friendly hotels charge a pet fee that can range from about $25 a night to hundreds of dollars per stay. A pet-related cleaning fee can be added to the bill as well.

Bring Fido's Ballinger flagged a few other things to keep in mind.

"If your dog is a lovable yapper, you might not want to stay in a hotel that's super small," she said.

For people who plan to leave their pet at a hotel for an extended period of time, she suggests finding a pet sitter on Rover.com (which can be done in advance) or asking the concierge to recommend one.

Not all accommodations allow pets to be left unattended. Even for those that do, experts recommend waiting until they are settled.

How much does it cost to fly with your pet?

Traveling with a pet means owners won't have to pay for boarding, but there are other related fees that travelers should be aware of.

Pets typically have two options when flying: in the cabin or as a checked pet. Not every airline allows checked pets.

If flying, travelers can expect to pay to have their pet in the cabin. Fees can range from about $50 to $125 each way, depending on the airline. Service dogs can often fly in the cabin at no charge.

Before taking off, travelers should find out whether their destination requires a health certificate for their pet upon arrival. More information on this can be found on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's website since the agency regulates U.S. pet transportation.

Some airlines do not accept pets on international flights unless they're service animals.

As of January, emotional support animals are no longer considered service animals on airplanes and in airports. The U.S. Department of Transportation defines service animals as those trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.

Pets will also slow down the travel time, especially on road trips.

"If you're traveling with a dog that needs lots of bathroom breaks, you're gonna need to add some extra time to your trip," Ballinger said.

Emily Padgett said she pays about $120 each way to bring her dog, Jolene, on a flight.
Emily Padgett said she pays about $120 each way to bring her dog, Jolene, on a flight.

What to pack for your pet

Kratt suggests bringing along a pet’s medical history, either in digital form or paper, as well as contact information for their veterinary team.

Food and access to water are also essential, as well as a litter box for traveling cats. And if the pet is on any medication, there should be additional doses packed in case the return trip is delayed.

To make the ride more comfortable for the pet, Kratt suggests packing the animal’s favorite toy, bedding and a change of bedding, if possible, in case there are any accidents.

If traveling with a cat, a leash may be worth bringing along, but only if the animal is already familiar with it. Trying it out for the first time away from home could act as an additional source of stress.

Cats should also have a small cage or carrier, which not only helps them feel safe and secure but prevents them from escaping or crawling under the gas and brake pedals during car rides.

Cat owners can set the carrier out in their house a few days before travel to let the cat get used to it.

For dogs, Ballinger suggests packing:

  • collapsible water dishes

  • toys

  • a leash and backup leash

  • blankets

  • waste bags

  • a travel crate or kennel for crate-trained dogs

  • A doggy life jacket if traveling to a water destination

She added that owners shouldn't forget to bring treats.

"The best investment would be a really good chew toy or like a Kong that you can stuff with something that will keep your dog entertained and occupied," Ballinger said.

"(Traveling with a pet) is more work," she said. "It's definitely worth it."

Where can I vacation with my dogs?

Ballinger highlighted a number of dog-friendly travel destinations, including:

  • Asheville, North Carolina: The city offers plenty of hiking and dog-friendly dining options, lodging and breweries. The historic Biltmore Estate, located just outside the city, has 250 acres of pet-friendly landscaped gardens.

  • Austin, Texas: The city offers a dog yoga studio (Austin Doga) and pet-friendly botanical garden (Zilker Botanical Gardens).

  • Cannon Beach, Oregon: Located along the Oregon Coast Highway, this coastal city offers plenty of hiking, dog-friendly lodging and allows dogs to roam leash-free, as long as they remain under voice command.

  • Dauphin Island, Alabama: The Audubon Bird Sanctuary offers over 3 miles of dog-friendly trails, and is free to enter. Dogs can also explore Fort Gaines or Dauphin Island Beach.

  • Fenwick Island, Delaware: Dogs can join their humans for mini golf at Viking Golf or on the water with a paddleboard or pontoon boat rented from Island Watersports. A portion of the beach at Fenwick Island State Park is open to dogs year-round.

  • Huntington Beach, California: Dogs can run free at Huntington Dog Beach, home of the Surf City Surf Dog competition. For a special treat, there's Top Dog Barkery. The beach town boats several pet-friendly hotels, like Kimpton Shorebreak Resort.

  • Key West, Florida: There are plenty of pet-friendly tours and fishing charters available in Key West, according to BringFido.com, and the Key West Aquarium allows well-behaved, leashed dogs.

  • Lake Michigan: Dogs can set sail on the lake with Milwaukee Boat Line Cruises, or hang out in Chicago’s Montrose Dog Beach leash-free. Indiana Dunes National Park also offers plenty of dune trails and beaches for leashed walks.

  • Phoenix: The desert city offers plenty of hiking, and sports fans can bring their pooch to the PetSmart Patio at Chase Field, home to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

  • Seattle: The off-leash dog area at the Warren G. Magnuson Park is recognized as one of the best dog parks in the country, and offers an 8.6-acre park with beaches and trails. The city also offers a pet-friendly seaplane tour with Kenmore Air.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pet travel tips: What to do with your dog, cat when traveling