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Traveling With Pets

 Dr. Marty Becker with his wife, Teresa, and their dogs Quixote and Shakira.
Dr. Marty Becker with his wife, Teresa, and their dogs Quixote and Shakira. (Drexel Love)

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Marty Becker
Veterinarian, Lecturer and Syndicated Columnist
Tuesday, May 26, 2009; 11:00 AM

Veterinarian Marty Becker explains how to safely travel with pets for long and short trips. Becker is the veterinary contributor to ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" and hosted the PBS special "The Pet Doctor with Marty Becker." He is also the co-producer of the syndicated column Pet Connection and has co-authored several books including "The Ultimate Dog Lover," "The Ultimate Cat Lover" and "Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul". He was online Tuesday, May 26, at 11 a.m. ET to answer questions.

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The transcript from this chat follows:

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Anonymous: How to travel with a cat on a plane? I want to know what to do when A) the cat cries, or worse, howls to be freed from its carrier?B) How to handle or contain the cat when it is freed from its container while still on the plane? Do airlines charge an extra fee to travel with a cat? Thank you.

Dr. Marty Becker: There is a significant group of veterinary behaviorists (Dr. Sohia Yinn, Dr. Rolan Tripp) working on taking pets in general to the vet, on a plane, in the car more pleasurable for both the pet and the owner. I highly recommend using synthetic pheromones (Feliway from Comfortzone or new one from Seargents) which are available from petstores, Walmart, the Vet. You can spritz some in the cage and it's like the cats had a couple of glasses of wine and a valium. Very safe, synthetic version of phermone cat uses to mark it's territory as being safe.

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Charlottesville, Va.: What do you think about using a harness to hold a dog in the back seat of a sedan? Any particular features to look for in the harness?

Dr. Marty Becker: New line of products I saw at Global Pet Expo from Kurgo and we featured in dogcars.com. There is a trolley that runs from the coat hooks in the car that keeps the dog in the back seat, keeps them from flying in a crash, but allows them to travel.

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Ashburn, Va.: Hi. We are heading back on the road again for vacation to the beach. Our dog, who we always secure in a collapsable crate during the trip, constantly pants while riding in the back. He has never-- over the past three years we've had him -- vomited, but is all that panting really okay? We're talking about eight hours in the car (with breaks). Our vet has given us medication in the past but it's really made him woozy and out of it so we didn't give it to him last year. Should we discuss with the vet to try again? Thanks in advance!

Dr. Marty Becker: There is a great new drug from Pfizer called Cerenia. It is available from your vet as a pill and works like an invisible cork to prevent any motion sickness. We use an injectible form in the hospital to stop vomiting. Your vet may also use generic Xanax (Alprazolam) which works REALLY good for travel anxiety (the panting you describe) and for thunderstorm phobias or 4th of July noise. I can't recommend this later drug any stronger for those instances.

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New York, NY: I frequently traveled with my chihuahua, in an airline approved carrier, on the Vamoose Bus from NYC-DC. Till the day I was told, after boarding the bus for my pre-paid return trip, that they now use a different company for their drivers. According to the new company's insurance policy, pets are no longer allowed. Not a pretty moment, but they did let me take one last trip so that we could get home. Now I have no choice but to fly, and pay more for his ticket than mine. Do you think that there is any chance that buses (or trains?) will ever realize it is worth their while to alter their policies to accommodate pets? I would gladly pay full fare for him on the bus, to avoid the time, hassle, and expense of flying. There must be a lot of people who would travel more if we could bring our pets. Any hope?

Dr. Marty Becker: Since trains and bus service is as rare as Jackalopes where I live, I can't comment on the specifics. But I can tell you that if anyone has a service animal covered under the American's With Disabilities Act, they can take the pet anywhere the public is allowed (theaters, restaurants, buses, anywhere).

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Washington, DC: My husband is driving our two cats 16 hours across the country. What is the best way to keep them calm without using a prescribed sedative?

Dr. Marty Becker: Get synthetic cheek pheromone called Feliway from Comfort Zone. For dogs, a new product from Seargents called SentryHC Good Behavior Pheromone collar which mimics the pheromone that mothers secrete in their nipples to calm their puppies.

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Dr. Marty Becker: Wanted to tell folks about great new product from OurPets called Flappy Dog Toys. If you have dogs that love to "kill" their stuffed toys, this product has flaps on the ends that the dog will shake like they have a wounded duck in their mouth. My retrievers love it, our small house dogs love it, friends I've given it to say their dogs love it.

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Carsick Doggy: Our poor little pooch gets carsick. We originally thought it was the stop and go of city driving (we live downtown); however, on his first longer trip, he got sick twice. Our vet recommended trying benedryl first and if that doesn't work, she said there are other option. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be working. Can you offer any suggestions? We'd hate to give him something that will make him too loopy but we also feel bad that he gets sick. Thanks in advance!

Dr. Marty Becker: Dog feed before traveling. Use new Pfizer product from vet called Cerenia. Take dog out to car and make a positive experience (treats, belly rubs, baby talk) with no travel, then work up to short positive trips. Then, armed with Cerenia, you'll be ready.

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Bowie, Md.: My 80-pound dog -- adopted from a shelter seven months ago -- is terrified of confined spaces after basically being caged for two years. He won't get into a crate, even without the door installed -- he won't come into the bathroom because it stresses him if I close the door. What are my options for traveling with him?

Dr. Marty Becker: We got a shelter dog two years ago named Quora, and we have the same problem. She has two nicknames, Emelda Barkos (from her shoe fetish) and now Wolf-arine from the fact that she used her 9-inch nails (like Wolverine) to tear up door jams when we left her to go to church (she had two other dogs in the house with her too). We use a product from Elanco (formerly Lilly) called Roconcile, that along with behavioral B.O.N.D. modification that the company provides has made her 98 percent better. Ask your vet if Reconcile will work with your pet.

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Dr. Marty Becker: I talked about Flappy Toys for dogs, now cats. I get sent dozens, probably hundreds of cat toys each year and a new line called Play N Squeak are the absolute best EVER. www.playnsqueak.com.

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Dr. Marty Becker: If you have dogs that are suffering from seasonal allergies this time of year (face rubbing, licking paws, scratching) there's a wonderful drug you can use called Atopica that eliminates the misery for pets and their people.

In a recent study, almost 90 percent of ear problems in dogs and most of the anal gland problems turned out to be from allergies. These can be allergies to pollens, molds, parasites, foods. In the past we've used antihistamines, steroids, but the new Atopica works wonders and I love to prescribe it because pets no longer have to suffer.

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Bethesda: I hope you will take this question -- more of a plea to your readers.When you travel with your pet, or when you're in any public place, please ensure that it is properly leashed/restrained. This includes public parks where small children and others (including me) do not appreciate being chased or jumped on by dogs. I'm sure you love your pet, but not everyone else does, or even knows that it will not nip or claw them when it comes at us uninvited. Thank you.

Dr. Marty Becker: While I'm a pet lover, and we all think there's only one greatest pet in the world (ours), I do think this is a great point. Not everyone loves pets like we do, especially exhuburant ones. They may have fragile skin, have been bitten by a dog, have allergies, want to protect a baby or a nice outfit. I recommend everyone takes their dog go basic obedience training and uses a front walk harness like the Gentle Leader Easy Walk Harness.

I don't know how many of you saw my daugther Mikkel Becker Shannon's and my article in this past Sunday's Parade (about the burned Beagle Champ) but my partner Gina Spadafori and I are tackling "What To Worry About" for June 7 Parade and "Walk This Way" for June 28. If you don't get Parade you can view articles online. On "What To Worry About" we talk about which risks are overblown or nonexistant (Greenies, Swiffer, Fabreeze, Poinsettias) and which are real dangers (dark cholocate, lillies, zylitol sweetener). On "Walk This Way" we'll be giving you tips for walking a dog like you've installed power steering.

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Alexandria, Va.: I travel with two mini-poodles. The adult is 12" and 13 pounds, goes to sleep readily in his harness. The other one, an 8-month old mini who has gone over-size, is 16" tall and very skinny. He is able to pull his legs out of the harness and get loose. Both harnesses are the type with faux shearling in front. Are there any brands that will work better with a lean, tall dog?

Dr. Marty Becker: Go to premier.com and check out the Gentle Leader Easy Walk harness. Trust me, I coauthored "Fitness Unleashed" a dog and owner's guide to losing weight and gaining health together (in 6th printing!) and this product works wonders.

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Arlington, Va.: I have two cats that are scared of being in their travel cages, traveling in the car, and going to the vet. And by scared I mean, they meow weirdly, they shake, and they are skittish. How can I get them more comfortable? Second question: I may be moving across the country. What is the best way to move the cats (e.g. do I have to drive them, what about flying, should they take sedative? Any other options)?

Dr. Marty Becker: Get Feliway from Comforzone and continually spritz their cage with this synthetic version of a natural pheromone. The cheek pheromone is what cats apply when rubbing their cheeks on your ankles, the couch, etc. to mark the area as safe, cat approved if you will. This product is available at all pet stores, major stores like Walmart, grocery stores, vets.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you have any experience with long-distance car trips with guinea pigs? I will be driving cross-country in August but my vet assures me that as long as I can keep them relatively cool/out of the sun, they should be fine. However, I'm concerned about what to do when I stop. Even if I only make brief stops, the car will heat up quickly. What do people with pets in carriers do when they stop, say, for lunch? Bring the carrier in?!

Dr. Marty Becker: You REALLY get the greenhouse effect with a car. You either have to bring the cage in with you (best idea) or leave cage in hotel while you eat, run errands, etc. BTW - Guinea pigs make wonderful, WONDERFUL pets...as you know, but many others don't.

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Beallsville, Pa.: The whole world revolves around dogs and cats, doesn't it? Well, I have an umbrella cockatoo and unfortunately irrelevant when it comes to consideration in these forums. I would ask what I should consider when traveling by auto with a large parrot, but it'd be futile. I'm only posting this to point out the narrowmindedness in which this entire piece was cast. OK, now back to your regularly scheduled sop about dogs. Yawn.

Dr. Marty Becker: Good point. Sometimes I get carried away with dogs and cats and horses because that's what I have. I also have fish but no birds. I've never really felt comfortable around birds since being bitten as a young man and again as a vet student and again as a practicing vet. My mother-in-law has birds, my brother-in-law has birds, my business partner Gina has birds and she wrote Birds for Dummies. Believe it or not, we're working on a new book called "The Ultimate Bird Lover" to go with titles for dogs, cats and horses that are already availble and have done very well. Maybe by this time next year I'll finially overcome my fear of birds and grow to love and appreciate them like you and so many others do.

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Clifton, Va.: Are traveling problems breed or group specific? My friends and I do sheep herding trials and it is rare for us to have a dog that doesn't travel well. Trips can be 10-15 hours of driving a day and 600 to 1000 miles.

Dr. Marty Becker: One of the things you do that solves so many problems is that you work your dogs panting tired everyday. If you talk with veterinary behaviorists, they say "A tired dog is a happy dog." Get a dog panting tired everyday and not only do the pounds melt away, so does boredom and behavioral problems.

Yes, some breeds are better travelers. Smaller, terrier types, Chihuahuas, can really suffer from travel.

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Alexandria, Va.: Poodle mom again: we have the Gentle Leader harness, used it on our first dog when we first got him, but it is not designed for use as a travel harness in the car, I don't believe.

Dr. Marty Becker: The Gentle leader is a head halter and is different from the Gentle Leader Easy Walk Harness (which fits around the chest).

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Loves dogs in Bowie, Md.: I was camping this past weekend and my beloved Collie zoomed out the camper door and straight into the woods in the middle of the night. No way I could have chased him in there or tracked him down at 3 a.m. I was scared and worried, as he was also, no doubt (after his initial "WOO HOO!"). However, I could take comfort in knowing that he had his collar/tags on with a contact number and rabies vaccination info, as well as, an embedded microchip ID. Just a reminder for everyone to ensure their pets have identification info so if they are accidentally lost, they have a decent chance to find their way back to their loving home and family. BTW, he managed to find his way back to me in about 30 minutes.

Dr. Marty Becker: Great point. It's pitch black to you but your doggie could see, hear, smell in the dark just fine. By the way, for camping or travel, PetMate (petmate.com) makes wonderful crates, portable kennels, etc. My daugher and son-in-law have collapsible soft crate from Petmate that folds flat, opens fully with a 2-second flip of the wrist, and keeps the Puglies (ugly Pugs) safely contained in a hotel room, rest stop, anywhere.

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DC Area: Why should travelers who have allergies be subjected to pets being carried on board the aircraft which is a confined space? Why shouldn't they be put in the cargo area?

Dr. Marty Becker: Speaking of allergies, did you know that the culprit is not the hair, but the dander? More specifically, what causes human allergies to pets is a sensitvity to a protein that's in the dried saliva and sebaceous gland secretions on pets. Hair is only the carrier. If you take a pet on a plane, make sure it's had a bath that morning to mimimize any risk to fellow passengers.

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Dr. Marty Becker: There's concern brewing about the use of topical flea and tick products in pets. I want to caution all pet owners that the risk from not using these products is FAR GREATER than the small risk from using them. Flea allergy dermatitis, Lyme disease, heartworm, internal parasites can really compromise your pet's health...even kill it. Ask your vet about which product is best for your pet. My partner Gina uses Frontline Plus. I've recommended Pfizer's Revolution, Merial's Frontline and Bayer's Advantage for years. Also, there's an oral flea product from Elanco (formerly Lilly) called Comfortis that's becoming increasingly popular.

Do get the product from a vet (know that your particular breed may be supersensitive to some products, can tell you what to look out for in reactions, etc.), DON'T USE DOG PRODUCTS IN A CAT, and don't try and use products designed for horses/cattle in small animals.

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Oceanside, Calif.: We have a Finnish Spitz mix who weighs in around 30 pounds. He's healthy and happy, but shakes terribly when we take him to the vet. We are worried about how he will take to flying across country when we move. Should we give him a sedative or just let him adapt to the cage and his strange surroundings when he gets into the cargo hold of the airplane? (We'd take him on-board, but dogs over 20 pounds must be caged and shipped as cargo with luggage.)

Dr. Marty Becker: There' is nothing, NOTHING worse that seeing a dog that suffers from anxiety like this. Whether it's going to the veterinarian's office, thunderstorm phobias, 4th of July noise, gunshots they suffer. Luckily, I have a very cheap and effective solutions. Ask your vet to prescribe generic Xanax (Alprazolam) at the dose of 0.02-0.1 mg/kg orally two-four times per day. Can also use for cats at 0.125-0.25 mg once to three times per day.

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Travel with Piggy: When I travel with my rabbit, I fill a small plastic dishpan with ice cubes. She will sit herself right down on the ice to stay cool. This would work for your piggy, also.

Dr. Marty Becker: Great tip. You can also freeze gallon jugs of water and put in a car with a towel around them and it will really help keep pets cool.

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Bethesda, Md.: Marty, I have two cats and one day may have the opportunity to live/work in London. The main thing holding me back is that I won't put my cats through trauma, I won't put them in the hold of an airplane. What is the safest way to transport them overseas? I'd be willing to pay a premium, but couldn't afford to charter a private jet for instance. Thanks.

Dr. Marty Becker: There is a veterinarian named Dr. Walter Wolf in Fl that is the world's top experts in animal travel. Google him to find his company (Air Animal Transport?) and good luck!

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Washington, DC: This question is off topic but PLEASE help me! One of my two Maltese chewed my wood blinds last week. I think he has separation anxiety as he is very attached to me (literally, most of the time). What do you recommend? He has a companion but is still more attached to me than to her. Thank you!

Dr. Marty Becker: Ah, Velcro dogs, our loyal shadows! We have them too. Ask your veterinarian about a great drug from Elanco (Lilly) called Reconcile. I have a rescue dog on it and along with behavioral modification (I think you can find the B.O.N.D. protocol on Reconcile's web site) she's 98% better. I've prescribed it a lot with great results.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: We're moving to Michigan and will be driving our cat and dog to our new home. While the dog is an excellent traveler, the cat gets very anxious and inevitably defecates in her carrier. The last time this happened we stopped to clean out the carrier and the cat escaped, leading to a two day search (successful, thankfully) for the cat in an unfamiliar state. Is there any way to prevent her from defecating in her carrier and thereby avoid a similar situation on our upcoming trip? Thanks.

Dr. Marty Becker: Ask your veterinarian for a special food (Hill's Prescription Diet a/d) that we use for debilitated pets that is so highly nutritious that it's almost 100% digestible. Also, and this sounds a little gross, you can ask your vet for enemas to use. DON'T use Fleet enemas as they can cause big problems for cats.

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Dr. Marty Becker: My busines partner Gina Spadafori and I have written about "Saving Money On Pet Care Without Shortchanging Your Pet" for Parade, I've done a Good Morning America segment on the subject, and was just in last month's Family Circle tackling the topic. Search these archives to read more but I do want to give a shout out for pet insurance. Even I have policies from Veterinary Pet Insurance (oldest company) for my pets. Gina does too.

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Washington, DC: I have a wonderful 5-year-old Greyhound rescue. He is a good car traveler and pretty calm in peoples homes if there are no other dogs. He tries to steal toys/claim beds/pants constantly when there is another dog in the house we are visiting (even if it is his normal walking buddy. Any recommendations for easy intros and keeping him calm when visiting?

Dr. Marty Becker: Have pets meet on neutral ground. Dog park, even the sidewalk. Use sythetic pheromones too.

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Dr. Marty Becker: The #1 pet owner complain is shedding. Watch Good Morning America Thursday, June 4 for my segment that tackles the topic of how to reduce, contain and collect unwanted pet hair.

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St Petersburg, Fla.: We moved from DC to Florida last summer with our cat and traveled by plane. We had to remove the cat from the carrier to go through security. Stupidly, we waited to take the cat out of the carrier last, when we should have done it first so that the carrier would have been the first bag through the security machine. Our cat FREAKED out while we were waiting for our the carrier to go through the security machines. Thank goodness we had a collar and leash on him.

Dr. Marty Becker: I can't emphasize enough how well synthetic pheromones work to calm anxious kitties. It's like they have two glasses of wine or a chill-pill (valium). Cat's that are on it, or Xanax I spoke of earlier, arrive at the vet's office calm as a cucumber vs. a hairy jack in the box that errupts from the cat carrier in a frenzy of fur. ;-)

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Dr. Marty Becker: I'm a huge PetMate fan (have their dog beds, dog waters, dog carriers) but also like a new product I saw at America's Family Pet Expo (150,000 pet lovers at Orange County Fairgrounds in Southern CA) called Sleepypod. It's great as a stylish carrier, but has also been crash tested.

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McLean, Va.: I have a cat who gets so nervous when traveling (via car to vet) that she throws herself around inside the carrier, urinates, and pants and drools. Once out of her carrier at the vet, she dashes around the vet's office and tries to find a hiding spot. It's so sad. Feliway does not touch her anxiety (we've already tried). What else can we do??? She's just an exceedingly nervous kitty. :( Our other two are not like this.

Dr. Marty Becker: Ask your vet for a prescription of generic Xanax (Alprazolam) and give at the dose of 0.125-0.25 mg/Cat (NOT per kg!). DON'T try and dose this yourself at home if you have Xanax!

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Dr. Marty Becker: If you have a pet that suffers from thunderstorm phobias, road noise phobias, 4th of July, ask vet for prescription of generic Xanax (Alprazolam) and give at the dose of .02-.01 mg/kg orally two to four times per day. DON'T wait until the dog is freaked to give. Start when thunderstorms are in the forecast or start on July 2 and give through the 5th. IT WORKS WONDERS! The only side effect is an excessive appettite. These dogs will eat onions, rocks, anything as Xanax is like Valium

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Dr. Marty Becker: I've really had a wonderful time talking with all of my fellow pet lover's today. Because we don't have pets, but rather four-legged children, we increasingly want to take them with us on trips, vacation, etc.

KEEP using flea and tick control products. Make sure your pets have microchip ID. Never leave them in a parked car. Use new products such as Cerenia for motions sickness and you'll all be happy campers. Speaking of camping, take a little pet emergency kit with you that includes hydrogen peroxide (to induce vomiting), Benadryl (for insect bites), bandages, and your pet's meds.

Wags!

Dr. Marty

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