More than 23 million American households – almost 1 in 5 nationwide – adopted a pet during the pandemic. And now, many of those Americans will try to take their first vacation with a cat, dog, or bird.
Are you ready?
Traveling with pets is one of the most controversial topics I’ve ever covered. From fake emotional support animals to annoying owners, the fur always flies when I write about animals and travel.
But it’s a fair question: What happens when you try to take all those pandemic pets on vacation with you? Should you even bother? And if you do, what should you know?
“Travel with pets has become more difficult after the pandemic,” says Josh Snead, CEO of Rainwalk Pet Insurance.
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There’s a long list of pet travel challenges, including new fees and tighter rules for traveling with animals. Summer is particularly hard because airlines have limits on transporting animals during hot weather. Maybe the biggest obstacle is an explosion of false rabies documents from pet importers, making it harder to transport any animal across borders, Snead says.
“Often,” he adds, “the red tape makes it so expensive it’s no longer worthwhile.”
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What happens when all those pets travel this summer?
Traveling with pets isn’t always the best idea. If you’re moving across the country and need to take Rover along, fine. If you have a documented disability and have a trained and well-behaved service animal, OK. But I’ve never seen a dog or cat “ask” to go on vacation. In fact, if they knew they’d be compressed into a carrying case for hours or cooped up in a hotel room, they’d probably prefer to not go on vacation with you.
But if even a small percentage of the pet-owning population travels with an animal this summer, things could get interesting. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, almost 39% of American households own dogs; another 25% own cats – or maybe it’s more accurate to say, are owned by cats. And those are pre-pandemic numbers. So imagine what happens when they hit the road.
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Here’s what they’ll face:
More pet fees. About half of U.S. hotels allow pets, according to CanMyPetStay.com, a site that tracks pet policies. Of those, 95% charge a pet fee, which averages $43 per night or $94 per stay. Randy Greencorn, who publishes the site, advises pet owners to call the hotel in advance to confirm pets are allowed. “And request the hotel add your pet to the reservation to avoid complications at check-in,” he adds.
New rules. Janice Costa, owner, of Canine Camp Getaway, says she’s seen all kinds of new pet rules recently. They range from higher cleaning fees to charging per pet instead of per room. Also new at some hotels are size limits for dogs. ”Other hotel chains now have policies limiting guests to one dog per room,” she says. “And more hotels seem to be instituting a policy where dogs may not be left in the room unattended, even in a crate. That can be problematic if you’d like to go out to dinner or do something non-dog-related while traveling.”
Inexperienced owners. Many Americans will be traveling with their pet for the first time. A new survey by Harvest Hosts, an RV membership program, found that only half of travelers (52%) base their travel plans on accommodating their pets. That means some pet owners will leave their dogs and cats in their hotel room or RV while they enjoy their vacation, which is no vacation for the animal. You can’t do anything about inexperienced owners. But you can plan ahead if you’re taking your pet.
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New pet programs. Hotels know that this will be a big summer for pet travel. For example, Kimpton Hotels recently introduced a new program called KimptonxWag. It’s a partnership with mobile platform Wag!, that pairs pet owners with professional pet caregivers for boarding, sitting and walking. If you’re staying at a Kimpton property, you can easily find someone to take your best friend for a walk or keep him company while you’re out to dinner. “Once you’ve determined your dog is coming on the road with you, you have to make sure you’re carefully considering the hotel you stay with,” says Nick Gregory, Kimpton’s senior vice president of hotel operation.
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That’s a lot to consider before traveling with a pet this summer. And yet many pet owners think of their own vacation needs before their pets. They travel to places where pets aren’t welcome or will not be comfortable.
Sasha Armstrong, creator of the Canine State of Mind educational program, says taking a successful trip with your pet requires more planning than a regular vacation.
“It’s a great idea to choose a spot in nature if at all possible or try to choose a place to stay that serves your dogs’ needs as much as it serves your own needs,” she says.
And if you can’t? Ask a friend at home to look after your furry companion while you’re gone and save your pet – and you – the unnecessary stress.
Your summer pet travel checklist
Food and emergency contacts. “Plan ahead to ensure items a pet typically needs at home are brought along on the trip,” advises Darcia Kostiuk, a senior veterinarian for Orijen pet food. That doesn’t just include the usual items, like food, dishes, leashes and collars, carriers, litter pans and bags, treats, toys, medications and blankets. Kostiuk also recommends having phone numbers of trusted veterinarians and local emergency vet clinics on hand.
Documentation. “It’s important to bring all the papers,” says Jean Shafiroff, a spokeswoman for American Humane. That includes any required vaccination and health certificates. Shafiroff, who owns five rescue dogs, notes that airlines are particular sticklers when it comes to documentation. “Foreign dogs especially have a more difficult time getting into the U.S.,” she adds.
Pet travel insurance. A new report by travel insurance company Battleface found that 44% of Americans want the ability to customize travel insurance policies to fit their specific needs, including a pet travel package. Some travel insurance plans offer coverage for pet-related expenses. For example, if your return trip is delayed at least six hours and you can’t pick up your dog or cat on the scheduled day, Seven Corners RoundTrip Choice will cover up to $500 for kennel fees or expenses. You can also consider a “cancel for any reason” policy. “Perhaps your pet is older, or you’re worried they’ll get sick while you’re away,” says Angela Borden, a product specialist at Seven Corners.