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Advice for Pet Owners
Traveling With Pets

Bill Wood
Executive Editor, Director of Product Development with AAA Publishing
Wednesday, June 4, 2008 11:00 AM

Updated annually, "Traveling With Your Pet: The AAA PetBook" contains more than 13,000 listings of AAA-rated pet friendly lodgings, first aid tips, a complete list of animal clinics in North America and other useful information for traveling safely with an animal. Bill Wood, executive editor and director of product development with AAA Publishing, was online Wednesday, June 4, at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about bringing pets on vacation.

Bill Wood has been with AAA Publishing since 1989. Except for the past two years, he has lived with a cat or dog(s) since 1971 and traveled coast-to-coast with his first dog, an Australian shepherd named Spot.

Submit your questions and comments before or during the live discussion.

Please join us again Wednesday, June 11 at 11 AM ET for another discussion on pet care with the Animal Doctor Dr. Michael W. Fox. And check out washingtonpost.com's new pets section anytime!

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Alexandria, Va: What are your thoughts on the use of car harnesses for dogs in the car? I've used one with my 7-month-old retriever/shepherd puppy with great success (it's especially helpful in teaching her she cannot be in the front seat with me), but I sometimes question its use.

Bill Wood: I think it's an added measure of safety for dogs and the human driver. I shudder when I see Labs bouncing around the cab of vehicle: A sudden stop sends the dog flying and that could be into the human trying to manuever the vehicle. Our PetBook recommends the harness in the back seat or a crate secured in the back seat.

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Bill Wood: Hi I'm Bill Wood with AAA Publishing.

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Baltimore, Md: I was planning to take my 10 pound miniature Daschund on her first plane ride, under the seat with me on the plane. I went to American Airlines' Web site and got the size limit for a pet carrier, but I am having a tough time finding one that meets their requirements (23 inches long by 13 inches wide by 9 inches high) and that she fits in! Any tips would be much appreciated.

Bill Wood: I can't endorse a specific product, but try Googling "pet carrier." You'll see dozens of outlets offering multiple brands. Just be very careful that what you buy meets the airline's requirements specifically. If you need more insight into crate selection our PetBook has some tips. Good luck! Flying the dog under the seat is a great option.

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Washington, D.C.: I am possibly moving from Washington, D.C. to Montana late this year and will be taking my 10-year-old female Tabby cat with me. She is a creature of habit, is not too fond of the car, and gets nervous easily. Seeing as it will be a several day road trip, how do you suggest that I keep her calm? Also, how does one arrange litter box logistics for cats in a car? Thanks for your help -- I have no clue in this matter!

Bill Wood: I grew up in Montana. And I had a very car-nervous cat named McCartney. He never did settle down to car rides. Using a cat carrier is the only way to keep the cat safe on the trip. Make sure it's secure in the vehicle, preferably in a location where she can see you. I've seen some portable litter boxes online. The most important consideration would be making sure the cat is securely confined in whatever room you make the litter box available to her. For example, going in a gas station bathroom that you can lock. You don't want the cat to escape your care.

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Leesburg, Va: Here's a question that many many people want the answer to. I hope you can answer this one! I drive to Long Island regularly and take my 10-pound Italian Greyhound with me. I would like to fly there with her but I'm unsure of the rules. I can't get a definitive answer from the airlines. What happens if I just show up at Dulles with her in a small carry on bag?

Bill Wood: Definitely don't just show up. Your dog's safety is your top consideration and she needs to be transported in full compliance with the airlines regulations. You should be able to obtain specific requirements from the airline; if you can't I wouldn't trust them with my dog. See if you can't fit her into a crate that fits under the plane seat. That way she's in the pressurized cabin with you.

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Columbia, Md: We have an 8-month-old German shepherd/Newfoundland mix and two questions. His plastic airline crate is so large that it obstructs our view out the rear window of the car. For short, local trips, how safe is a seatbelt harness? For our summer drive to Wisconsin, is there a different crate type that would offer more visibility for us and more air circulation for our fluffy pup?

Bill Wood: Your vision while driving is imperative. Your dog won't be safe if you can't operate the vehicle safely and that means rear vision. The seatbelt harness is a fine option. Bring the dog with you to the pet supply store to ensure you get a perfect fit and strength. They'll have all kinds of crates in stock for you to try too. Measure from your back seat to the window so you know what you have to work with.

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Washington, D.C.: My dog has always had a problem with car sickness. I have been giving her Dramamine, and I try not to get in the car right after she's eaten. I've tried rolling down the window so she can get air, but she's not interested. Sometimes she won't get sick, sometimes she will and sometimes she'll be fine the entire time and will get sick at the very end of the trip when I'm getting off the highway. I only take her on longer trips. She always seems miserable in the car and will sometimes pant and foam at the mouth a bit. Is there anything else I can do to help her be more comfortable?

Bill Wood: It sounds like the dog is experiencing severe stress when traveling by car. I had a dog that reacted the same way. I just couldn't take her in the car except to the vet's because she suffered so during the drive. Please check with your vet for alternatives.

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Fairfax, Va: So basically, if you decide to fly with a pet, you just show up at the airport with the pet in the approved airline carrier? What happens at security? At the gate? I have never witnessed this at the airport. My fear is my small, nervous dog will end up in cargo.

Bill Wood: The airlines have different regulations. I would work very closely with the airline to understand their requirements and comply with them. Getting your small dog in a crate under the seat is your best option. You can shop the airlines to find one best for your situation.

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NY, NY: Any thoughts on taking cats on a train? They do fine in the car (once they realize they aren't going to the vet!). I can't decide if it would be better to leave them alone at home (with pet sitter visits) or take them with me over Thanksgiving (a three hour train ride.) Thanks!

Bill Wood: If your cats don't mind the car they might be OK on a train, although there is a lot more going on inside the train than in your car (I hope!) Check with Amtrak or the carrier you use for specific requirements. You'll need a crate or two for the cats; don't overload yourself with stuff to carry to the extent their safety is compromised. I hope it works out; cats love turkey.

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Old Town -- Doggie HQ!: I want to travel with my 30-pound mixed breed dog, but noticed that most hotels that allow dogs say that they cannot be unattended in the rooms. What am I supposed to do with him if I have to go on interviews (I want to spend two weeks driving around CA, sprinkling in some job interviews) or if I want to tour something that doesn't allow dogs? I don't mind leaving him in a crate while I'm gone or letting him roam with a "do not disturb" sign...I, of course, would assume any damage that he causes. But how can you take your dog on a trip if you can't leave him behind to have dinner or something for a few hours?

Bill Wood: Do some more hotel shopping, and I think you'll be fine for dinner or longer away from the room. Our PetBook lists hundreds of hotels in California. They all have different requirements, but I'll bet you can find some that will allow you to let Rover roam in the room. I've always been able to find a place with that option. Since you're flexible with crating that broadens your options. Call ahead and nail down the details. Have fun!

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Los Angeles, Calif.: We have a Great Dane and will likely be moving to Europe, meaning we need to take an airplane at some point. We've come to terms with shipping him in the belly of the plane or on a separate cargo flight (and have looked at all the airlines' requirements), but how do we find a big enough crate for a 150-pound, tall, gangly dog? How will the handlers lift such a big crate? Thanks!

Bill Wood: Boy have you got a project! My biggest worry for you is the requirements of the new country to which you are moving. Some nations will quarantine a dog for months. For the crate, try contacting a local or regional Great Dane breed group or prominent breeder. They should have Dane-worthy product knowledge.

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Chantilly, Va: I have a hard time finding reputable hotels I can take my pet to. The major chains forbid it. What are my options? How can I find good hotels? My dog does not do well at a kennel.

Bill Wood: There are chains that celebrate their pet-friendly status. Starwood, Loews, many Best Westerns -- and others. Our PetBook lists thousands of hotels that have been inspected by AAA and welcome dogs. When you find a hotel that meets your requirements, call ahead and make sure you understand fully the property's pet requirements. But there are plenty of options for you.

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Laurel, Md: Hi, Our 5-month-old Zu-Chon (Shi-Tzu + Bichon mix) gets carsick after every ride. We don't take him out unless necessary -- puppy-training or to get his shots. When I remember, I withhold his food for a couple hours before the trip. Is there anything we can do for him? Don't most dogs love car rides? Thanks for your help!

Bill Wood: Your puppy isn't totally unusual. I see lots of dogs that aren't happy in a car or become physically ill like your little guy. I'd talk to your vet about the specific breed. He might grow out of it or the vet might be able to suggest something medical. Also, if you got the dog from a reputable breeder she/he might have insight.

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Columbia, Md: Thanks so much for answering questions. What do you recommend for making car travel safe and comfortable for a small (24 pound) elderly dog? The car is a four-door, mid-size sedan. Thanks

Bill Wood: If the dog has been crate trained or will adjust to one, I'd recommend securing the dog in the back seat inside the crate. You can put down a cushion or blanket so it's a little softer for your dog. The confinement keeps them secure in case of sudden stops or turns. Use a leash to get them from the crate to the hotel, preferably leashing them while the doors to the car are closed.

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Silver Spring, Md: When folks think of traveling with a pet, they naturally think of a dog. Do you have suggestions for traveling with a cat on vacation?

Bill Wood: It's tough to generalize. I think it really depends on the animal. One of the first things we always recommend is assessing your pet for "travel aptitude." I've had dogs that traveled like champs -- no problems. But I've had dogs and a cat that were miserable travelers and eventually they got to stay home with the pet sitter. If you think your cat will be a good travel buddy, get a good travel crate and use it in the car and when moving from car to hotel or whatever. Never let the cat be outside loose or in a situation she could escape from you. That's your biggest concern. Finding a vet you can contact at your destination is a good idea, too.

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Crofton, Md: Good morning, and thank you for taking my question. We have just adopted an older Golden Retriever and will be driving to the mid-west in two different shifts, both nine hours long. The second day we will be stopping for about two hours to visit friends. I have never driven further than the park with my dog. Do I need to stop more often than normal? I usually walk him in the morning around 7 a.m., 3 in the afternoon and sometime after dinner.

Bill Wood: I'd stop to let the dog stretch and have a drink of water every 2-4 hours. It's good for you and the dog. Keep him leashed, of course.

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Dogland, Va: I grew up taking my dog to various hiking trails. I have a 2-year-old English Springer Spaniel who I would love to take, but if we have to drive for more than 20 minutes, he poops in the car. It doesn't seem to matter if he poops before the ride or not. What can I do to help him feel more comfortable and get him to stop stinking up my poor car?

Bill Wood: Is there a trail within 20 minutes of your house? Seriously, you can try a crate. Dogs typically won't mess their crate on relatively short trips, but if he does it's easier to clean a plastic crate than it is car carpet. You might try conditioning the dog by taking frequent drives and gradually building the length of the drive.

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Washington, DC: I recently researched the possibility of taking my small dog on Amtrak and my understanding from their Web site is that no pets of any kind are allowed on the trains. Am I wrong? (You just discussed someone taking their cat on Amtrak.)

Bill Wood: I was mistaken about Amtrak. I forgot their pet policy is service animals only.

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Richmond, Va: Does the AAA guide list the weight limits of the hotels that are pet-friendly? I have an 80-pound Golden Retriever who is CGC certified but almost every lodging place we have looked for has a 30-40 pound limit, regardless of the pet's temperament.

Bill Wood: Yes, we do list weight restrictions in the AAA PetBook -- provided the property supplied the pounds. Because of staff and ownership changes at properties we always advise travelers to call before booking to be certain of the property's policies. I've seen a lot of big dogs in hotels lately, so I know you'll find the right hotel.

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It Must be Montana Day!: I'm originally from Montana, too (Missoula)! This summer, husband, daughter and I were planning to take a driving vacation in upstate NY, camping the entire time. We'd like to bring our two dogs who love camping, but are worried about what we'd do with them when we are in restaurants or other places that don't allow dogs? We've previously locked them in the car with the A/C running, but still had an encounter with a police officer as someone had apparently called about the dogs being locked in the "hot" car, so we're not sure about this route anymore...Any suggestions? Thanks.

Bill Wood: Please don't leave your animals alone inside your car under any circumstances. Look for a restaurant with outside seating and a pet friendly policy; there are some out there. Otherwise, you've got to confine your activities to those your dogs can enjoy, too.

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Bill Wood: Thanks to everybody for joining me today. Lots of great questions and good advice from readers, too. If you need any more information about Traveling with Your Pet, please consult the latest edition of the AAA PetBook.

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