Summer vacations with pets can be tons of fun, but nothing would spoil a trip like a lost, sick or injured pet. To ensure your pet is safe at all times, follow these tips for safe traveling.

Before You Go…

First things first, make sure your pet's shots are up to date, and that he or she has a collar and tag — or microchip — with your contact information on it. You’ll want to ensure that your pet's carrier or harness fits properly and comfortably as well. Be sure to bring a carrier or crate that your pet has gotten used to by allowing him or her to explore it while still in the house. Familiar toys, a pillow, or a blanket can also help.

If you want to take your cat on walks during your trip but haven't already trained her to wear a harness and walk on a leash, start practicing now. You never know when an unfamiliar sound or animal will startle your cat and make her want to run for cover.

Training Your Pet for Car Travel

The best way to ensure your pet is safe and comfortable on car rides is to train him or her to love the car ahead of time. Dogs don’t usually have as much trouble with cars as cats, but cats tend to be creatures of habit, so you’ll want to help your cat adapt to the car gradually before you go anywhere.

On the first day, allow her to sit with you inside the car and become familiar with the surroundings, then bring her back inside. Do the same thing the next day, eventually working up to a short drive with your cat in her carrier, even just around the block.

If possible, start when your cat is a kitten, and try to make your training runs happy experiences for her. In other words, making your cat's first car ride a trip to the veterinarian is probably a bad idea.

Pet crates or carriers should be large enough for your dog or cat to turn around inside. Some dogs are too big for a crate. Large dogs can travel by car with a special harness clipped with a safety belt in the car.

Of course, you should never leave a pet in the car unattended.

Air Travel

Aircarriers usually require pet carriers that are non-collapsable. Some pets — especially those who spend most or all of their time indoors — can get very stressed while traveling, but tranquilizing or sedating your dog or cat for air travel can be dangerous. Sedation reduces the internal heat production of the pet and its body temperature can get dangerously low during a long trip. Instead, we recommend providing familiar blankets and toys, and getting your pet used to his or her carrier before going on any long journeys.

In deciding whether to fly or drive, consider that flying is faster, but more stressful for your pet. Driving takes longer, but your pet may be more relaxed in a car.

Keeping Well-Fed and Hydrated

Be sure to pack enough pet food for the duration of your trip, and make sure to include plenty of water, some kind of water bowl, and even some extra snacks for your pet. There are a whole range of products for your thirsty pet, from collapsible fabric bowls to pet water bottles that hang from your belt or backpack.

If your usual pet food is a dry kibble, think about switching to wet food while you're on the road. Wet food can contain up to 70 percent more moisture than dry food, which can do a lot to keep your pet hydrated. Of course, you should start making the transition to wet food a week or two before you leave the house so your pet's digestive system can get used to the change.

Stretching All the Legs

Remember that your pet will probably need to stretch every couple of hours. If you're traveling with your dog, look for dog parks. Just make sure to pick up your dog's waste before leaving. If your traveling companion is a cat, let her out of her carrier with the car doors closed so she can stretch inside the car, but make sure you've stopped first. There's nothing more dangerous than a cat hiding under the brake pedal!

At the Hotel

Once you check in, never leave your pet alone in a room. (If a maid were to enter, your cat or dog could become frightened and try to escape.) If you must leave your pet alone in a hotel room, place him or her in a carrier or crate and post a "do not disturb" sign outside the door.

The Great Outdoors

If you're planning on hiking, camping, or enjoying the beach, a retractable leash is a nice addition — but don't use one that's too long. You don't want your pet scampering off the trail after the first animal he or she sees. Keep your pet away from water, unknown plants and other hazards where he or she could get trapped and be hard to retrieve.

With a little preparation and care, you and your pet can have a fun, safe trip, and make this summer a memorable one!

Photo Credit: K J Payne via Flickr