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As the weather warms up, we all begin to look forward to those two or three weeks of freedom we get each year, no work, no responsibility, right?

If you have kids, you know, unless they are shipped off to camp, the responsibilities go along with you. Most people quickly learn that after children come along, there is nothing that resembles a carefree vacation. Once parents understand the special needs of their children, they can plan ahead, avoid disaster and manage to have a great vacation. It’s to bad the same amount of planning and attention is not paid traveling with pets.

A family vacation can quickly turn into a nightmare when a pet goes missing, or has to be rushed to a veterinarian.  Making a short checklist now could help you avoid a future calamity.
Many people just toss the pet into the back of the car along with the luggage and other baggage. Pets are not baggage, but living creatures that have special needs when traveling; their needs are not that different from children’s needs.

A cat or dog that has never been for a ride in a car, not counting those dreaded trips to the vet, will not make a great traveling companion. So if you’re planning a holiday on the road, it’s time to begin his training. Start with a short trip, like when you run to the store to pick up a quart of milk or newspaper. Every few days increase the distance you go and spend time enforcing the rules, it’s a good idea to stop at a rest area and practice how he leaves and re-enters the car.

Just like your dog or cat had to learn the house rules when he joined the family, he has to learn what is and is not allowed while traveling.  Good manners are not inherited but taught. Motion sickness, nervousness and hyperactivity are less likely when a pet is accustomed to car travel.

As with each member of the family, your pet will need to bring a few special things along. A small travel bag, recycled diaper bag, or small box is a great place to keep what he needs.

Things like ownership, identification papers, rabies vaccination certificate and other health papers are needed if you plan on crossing the border, also many national parks will refuse entry without proof of rabies protection (if you have pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs or birds you’ll need to have special papers from your veterinarian saying your pet has passed a physical and is in good health), these should be kept in your wallet.

When I use to travel a lot with my critters, each one had a little homemade passport. On the front was a resent picture of the pet, inside where each pets medical history, identification and vaccination papers. This always saved a lot of time and trouble crossing the border, besides adding a bit of humor to the situation.

Each pet, should have name tags made up especially for your vacation, instead of you home address and phone number, it makes more sense to provide an address and phone number where you could be reached while on vacation. You can place the vacation tag, right along next to the at home tag on the pets collar, just remember to have them write vacation address on the top of the new one.

Pack a couple of toys, a water bottle, dinner and water bowl, rug or dog bed to sleep in and plenty of his favorite canned or dry food. Depending on where you go, you might not be able to find the food he is use to eating.

Car travel with cats is an adventure of it’s own. My cats were introduced to travel when they were kittens, each wore a collar and leash and sometimes I’d tie two leashes together, you seldom get two cats that want to go in the same direction at the same time, so they would usually lie down on the back seat.  While my cats were great travelers, and never left the back seat while the car was in motion, it is still safer to crate your cat. A pet can quickly dart out of a car and into moving traffic, or just lose himself chasing something into the brush along the side of the road.

If you are traveling with one or more cats, you can make the trip more enjoyable for all by lining the floor of the back seat with plastic and placing a kitty litter tray down for their convenience. In all the years I traveled with cats and dogs, as many as six cats and two dogs at a time, no one ever had an accident in my car.

Things have changed greatly since the days I traveled across country with my dogs, now they have seatbelt attachment for most breeds. The dog wears a harness that secures him to the seat so that he is not tossed around whenever you come to a quick stop or thrown through the window in an accident.

Pets should never be left in the car while everyone goes to the rest room or has a meal.  It’s best to take turns, even if it does take a bit longer for one person to stay with the car and pets while the others eat and refresh themselves. Just as it is not safe to leave children in a hot car for any length of time, it’s just as deadly to leave a pet.

Taking a pet along on a vacation is a commitment; schedules and activities will have to revolve around your best friends needs. Many tourist attractions do not welcome four-footed family members and you can’t just leave them locked in a strange motel room while the family takes off to have a good time. The results could wind up costing you a few hundred of those vacation dollars to replace damaged carpeting and furniture.

In many ways a pet is as dependent on family members as an infant is and needs almost as much attention, if you are not ready for this kind of a commitment while on vacation, maybe boarding your pet for a few days would be the more loving thing to do.
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