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Traveling With Pets: 12 Need-to-Know Tips

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travel smart with pets

With an automatic feeding dish and a friend to check in occasionally, proudly independent cats are probably fine staying home alone while you vacation this summer. Dogs need a lot more attention. Boarding is a pricey option -- sometimes prohibitively so -- and not suitable for every dog. Whatever the case may be, many pet owners would prefer to bring their furry family members along for the ride. Here's what you need to know before bringing a pet on board a plane.

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don't sedate your pet

Although a loud pet, like a crying child, can be a nuisance on an airplane, never sedate the animal while traveling. Just as alcohol affects people differently at high altitudes, a sedative can be dangerous, even deadly, for pets.

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not all airlines can accommodate large pets

Most airlines impose a weight and size limit for pets allowed to be carried on board, and only a few airlines have the necessary heated and pressurized compartments to transport pets in the belly of the plane. Check the rules before buying your ticket.

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outside temperatures matter

It's best to book morning or evening flights during the summer if your pet needs to travel in the cargo hold. The compartment is temperature controlled, but precautions should be taken if it's too hot or cold outside. At Delta, for example, animals are not allowed to fly if the forecast for the day is higher than 85 degrees Fahrenheit or lower than 10 degrees.

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not all pets should travel

See a vet and get a checkup before buying your ticket. Old and very young pets may not be healthy enough to travel. Short-nosed breeds, such as Persian cats and pugs, are more sensitive to changes in the air and at higher risk while traveling. A health certificate is also required for pets being checked as baggage.

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meal prep is important

To avoid motion sickness it's best for pets to fly on an empty stomach. Give them lots of exercise and food the day before traveling, and skip the morning meal on departure day. When pets are flying in the cargo hold, it's wise to tape extra water and a bag of their favorite food to the outside of the crate where airport employees can easily access it if there are delays.

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have a suitable crate

Airlines and the USDA have strict requirements for crates. To be transported inside the plane, the crate must fit underneath the seat in front of you. Among other rules, checked crates must be made of rigid material, closed but not locked (use releasable zip ties to make sure the door stays shut), have ventilation on three sides plus an opening door, and be large enough to allow the pet to stand.

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prepare your pet for the crate

If your pet has come to see confinement in a crate as a punishment for misbehavior, that message needs to change. Take a few weeks before the trip to make the travel crate a safe place where the animal receives treats and gets to play with favorite toys.

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plan ahead for international travel

If you're heading overseas over the summer and haven't already made preparations to bring your pet, it may be too late. Countries have specific requirements that must be met before a pet is allowed entry, often including a microchip and vaccinations. Owners must wait several weeks after a vaccination before the pet will be welcome.

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buy plastic tag

Remember that pets need to go through security. Make the process easier by buying non-metallic collar and plastic tags that won't set off metal detectors.

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take your shirt off

Pets may be frightened by all the new smells and noises. Help ease their travels by wearing an old shirt to bed the night before and leaving it in the crate -- the familiar scent will be reassuring.

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avoid layovers

Some airports now have "pet relief areas" inside the security zone, but layovers are still a hassle. The extra cost of a direct flight might be offset when flying with pets because some airlines charge a fee for each segment flown.

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sign up for rewards

Although JetBlue allows only pets that are small enough to fit in a crate under the seat in front of you, the carrier's JetPaws program rewards members with 300 TrueBlue points for each segment flown with an animal.