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En español | Stylish pet travel bags, decadent doggie spas … where will it all end? With making pet travel more comfortable for animals and their humans, of course. Though you'll pay extra to bring your pet on a plane or to a hotel, the experience of enjoying a vacation together is certainly worth it.
Brush up on the rules
First, read up on U.S. government rules on pet air travel issued by the Department of Transportation. Note that Hawaii and foreign countries have their own animal importation laws and requirements. Some nations require animals to remain in quarantine for several weeks, while others simply require a vaccination record to qualify for entry. The local consulate office or tourism website for your destination can tell you rules and restrictions.
Ask before booking
Before making your reservation, call the airline, rental-car agency, hotel or campsite to ask whether your pet can come with you. It would be a shame to book that Amtrak trip only to learn after you've paid that — service animals aside — pets aren't allowed on Amtrak trains. Also, check online resources such as Bringfido.com, Dogfriendly.com and Pettravel.com for pet-friendly hotels and airlines, pet hotels and pet travel tips.
Fly the pet-friendly skies
Ask your vet about whether or not your pet should fly. For instance, vets recommend that short-nosed dogs (e.g., Pekingese, pugs, bulldogs) and cats (Burmese, Persians) never do so because their unique facial bone structure can create breathing difficulties at high altitudes. Note that airlines restrict the number of animals per flight, so book by phone or in person to be sure there's space for both you and your animal on any given trip. Try to book nonstop flights (only one trip through security and point-to-point travel) or direct flights (no change of plane but with a stop).
Purchase an airline-approved pet travel carrier to keep your pet safe and comfortable — whether in the cabin or the cargo hold. In the cabin, a soft-sided carrier fits best under the seat in front of you. Pets traveling in the cargo hold will be safer and more comfortable in a hard-sided pet travel crate with plenty of air holes. Before purchasing a new carrier, review your airline's pet carrier size restrictions to make sure you get the right fit.
Stay safe on the ground
Pets are always safest crated during car rides; otherwise, purchase a seatbelt attachment for your pet's collar to keep him secure in the back seat. When camping, outfit your dog with a big, bright, easy-to-identify collar. Should your dog get lost in the campground or on the trail, a flashy collar (or even a bandanna in addition to a collar) will immediately identify him as a domesticated animal. Finally, note that pets must stay in their carriers inside most airports. PetFriendlyTravel.com has a list of outdoor "pet relief areas" in U.S. airports, where pets can be outside of carriers but on a leash.
Pack it in, pack it out
Be sure your pets are up to date on their shots, and always carry a copy of your vet records with you. It's tempting to bring your dog on an exploration of national and state parks. However, most require that your dog be leashed at all times. Ask your park ranger about leash restrictions — some parks require that leashes be a specific length. And no matter where your travels take you, carry your own bags to clean up after your pet.
Plan pet-friendly activities
Although a new destination can be exhilarating for both you and your pets, allow time for them to acclimate to their surroundings. Cats are notoriously fickle about new places, but dogs, too, need patience and encouragement to settle in. Offer your pet travel companion the comforts of home, such as favorite food, treats and toys (the latter are particularly important to have inside a pet carrier). Fit in bits of your daily home routine when on the road — regular walks and trips to the dog park for your canine companion, and plenty of warm windowsills to sit in and quality lap time for your feline friend.
Check in to your local pet hotel
If you decide you simply can't take your pet on your trip and you can't arrange a pet sitter, look into boarding options in your neighborhood. Gone are the days of doggie purgatory and weekends spent in the local cinderblock pet kennel. Today's pet hotels are truly plush, with cozy sleeping quarters, lots of play and activity time, and plenty of individual attention from doting staff. Some pet hotels even set up cameras so parents can log in online to watch their beloved four-legged friends enjoying their retreat.