John Steinbeck may have traveleed with his dog, Charley, but if you're thinking of taking a vacation by car this summer, you'd better think again before you take your cat or dog along.
"A fun vacation for you may not prove to be such a hot time for your pet," cautions Phyllis Wright, director of Animal Sheltering and Control for the Humane Society of the United States. Too often, she says, people simply don't think or plan ahead when it comes to traveling, and their pet can be the loser.
The best vacation, of course, is no vacation at all, according to Wright. Animals, especially cats, can become disoriented or ill when removed from their familiar surroundings. Your best bet is to head off to your favorite vacation spot while a friend or relative moves in to care for Rover or Tabby or whatever (what do people name their cats, anyway?).
Obviously, this solution is not workable for everyone, particularly if you have big dogs or a small house or no friends (perhaps because you have big dogs and a small house). If this is yor situation, you might consider a boarding kennel.
Wright stresses that the term boarding kennel applies only to bona fide boarding kennels, and not to your friendly neighborhood vet. While some animal hospitals do have facilities for boarding, they are primarily hospitals, and non-patient boarders probably won't get the kind of treatment they deserve.
Once you find a boarding kennel, make sure it is a good one. Your pet can't tell you how he was treated, so you'd better find out for yourself in advance.
Wright advises that you take a trip out to the kennel to have a look around. If the owner won't let you look, find another kennel. Check the size of the cages or runs, lighting, availability of water, temperature conditions (your Persian cat or Samoyed probably won't be happy outside all day in August). Ask questions. Find out about security, exercise, and staffing (care).
When it's time to leave the animal, take along some familiar objects. (Animals get lonesome, too.) You might discuss what with the kennel owner first, but generally anything safe and washable is okay. A favorite chair probably isn't.
If you have no choice except to take the animal with you:
First, pack a suitcase for your pet. Seriously -- a suitcase. It should contain:
Newspapers. Good for cleaning up accidents, as well as for insulation from a hot car seat or a hot beach.
A large jug of water from home. Unfamiliar water is a major cause of stomach upset for pets.
Ditto familiar food. If you are going to be away for a long time and his/her favorite food is not available, start mixing new food with old.
Doggy (or kitty) antihistamines for the inevitable run-ins with bees and other nasty creatures. Wright says that your Benadryl is perfectly acceptable.
A luggage tag to be fastened around a collar with your name and vacation address. This should be in addition to your pet's regular identification. If you pet gets lost in Kansas, your Washington area address won't be of much use, particularly if no one's home.
Insect repellent. The average spray is adequate, although it irritates the skin of some animals. A tablespoon of Vaseline mixed with three drops of repellent is particularly effective, says Wright, for sensitive places like ears. Plain Vaseline is also good for sore [text omitted from source]
A roll of cotton and a roll of gauze for minor injuries.
Sugar (those little packets from restaurants are good) and a pressure bandage for more severe cuts. Sugar is very effective for clotting blood.
Peroxide or salt to induce vomiting. You never know, as with children, what a pet will put in its mouth.
Automobile travel in the summer may seem like torture for you, but it can be literally for your pet. Dogs and cats have proportionately smaller lungs than do people. And they don't sweat, making it more difficult for them to keep cool. Try to keep most of your travel limited to the coolest parts of the day, early morning and early evening.
NEVER make your pet ride on the floor. It is the hottest place with the circulation. NEVER carry a cat in a carrier which does not have some type of mesh top. NEVER leave a dog's choke collar on in the car. It can catch on things and choke it to death.
And finally, NEVER leave you pet alone in a hot car. On an 85-degree day, the temperature inside a car, even with the windows cracked, can reach 140 degrees or more in a half-hour. Panting is a dog's only cooling mechanism, and if the air passing over the tongue is not cool enough, a dog can die very quickly from heat prostration.
If you know it is hot in the car, take a bath towel and soak it in ice for a few minutes, then pin it around the pet like a shawl. It may not look like a Halston, but it will help keep him/her cool.
If your pet does become overheated, immediate action is necessary to prevent brain damage and death. If your pet is panting excessively with sides heaving, or if the tongue has turned deep red or purple, the animal may be in the early stages of heat protration. Do not give it unlimited water. Many animals drink themselves to death this way.
Wright recommends feeding ice cubes or vanilla ice cream. (Other flavors are accetable if that's all you have -- this is an emergency.) Once the animal is cool, find a veterinarian immediately.
A little advance planning, stresses Wright, can save a lot of suffering on the road. With some effort, your pet can enjoy the vacation as much as you. Maybe more.