Pet Travel Tips: Staying Safe while Transporting Pets

CitizenShipper CitizenShipper · Updated February 23, 2024

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as things start to drift back to normal, we will all try to get back to our usual way of doing things. But that might take some time since there has been so much disruption.

Health care and social services have been under enormous pressure. The job market has gone haywire. Even education has been put on hold. Hopefully, all of these will slowly reset to their standard mode of operation. But some experts suggest that transportation could take longer to recover than other branches of industry.

To assist readers in putting their traveling schedule back in order, we’ve prepared this comprehensive guide. It provides pet travel safety tips and describes how the ongoing crisis has affected pet transportation options.

Keep in mind that, for the most part, the following advice is focused on the safety of animals in transit. For broader coronavirus safety recommendations, please refer to the CDC, WHO, or Red Cross guidelines.

How to prepare your pet for travel

Regardless of the mode of travel you choose, there are certain steps you’ll need to take before your furry friend can hit the road.

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  • Visit the vet. Never too early for a check-up! Make sure your pet’s had all the necessary shots. Tell the vet about your travel plans, and ask about the health certificates they provide. And it really does bear repeating – please try to follow the health professional’s recommendations to the letter!
  • Choose the right carrier. Whether flying, driving, or sailing, odds are your pet will need to spend much of time inside a carrier crate. Ideally, it would be a container that the animal is already used to, but that’s not always an option. If purchasing a new one, make sure it meets the standards recommended by AVMA. Since a good air flow is crucial, make sure there’s plenty of ventilation. There should also be enough room for the animal to comfortably stand, turn around, and lie down. 
  • Pet stress-training. Some animals might need a little extra care to handle the journey. As animal behavior professionals suggest, it’s often a good idea to go through basic containment training with them. For pets suffering from anxiety, sedation may also be an option if recommended by the veterinarian.
  • Gather the supplies. You might think that your pet prefers travelling light, but you’d be surprised to hear just how much stuff some animals need. In addition to food, water, and medication, it’s usually a good idea to include a favorite blanket or toy – familiar smells reduce stress.

Do your research. Stay on top of the conditions at your destination and local travel requirements.  and. Think ahead, stay flexible, and get informed. Reading all the way through this guide would be an excellent start!

Pet travel by plane

Heavily impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, the airline industry will take some time to get back on its feet. In late March, shares were down by almost 25%. Numerous flights have been suspended to control the spread of the virus; some airlines report reductions of up to 40% in overall traffic. This affects primarily international flights, thanks to federal bans on travel between the US and Europe’s Schengen Area. However, domestic air traffic has faced significant disruption as well.

To compensate for the expected drop in revenue, many airlines are sending non-essential staff on furlough. This, in turn, reduces their capacity to meet the needs of passengers that they still have and cuts into their revenue further. It won’t be easy for the industry to dig its way out of this hole, which is why they’re calling for federal aid measured in tens of billions.

When it comes to pet air travel, the situation remains uncertain. Many airlines have designated animal transportation as “non-essential services” — unavailable during the crisis. Transporting pets involves significant health hazards and liability risks, so it was never much of a priority.

For owners looking to transport their pet by way of commercial flight, here’s a shortlist of safety tips:

  • Get all relevant health certificates from your local veterinarian no more than a week before the flight.
  • See if the airline will let you bring your dog into the cabin as carry-on luggage. (This is typically available only for smaller breeds, or dogs classified as service animals.)
  • If your dog can only travel in the cargo hold, double-check the availability of support staff at the flight’s destination. This will help avoid delays on the tarmac, reducing the chance of heatstroke and other undesirable outcomes.

Pet travel by car

If looking for alternatives to air travel, you’ll be glad to hear that road traffic is in much better condition. The demand for small-scale shipping has grown in leaps and bounds since the coronavirus pandemic has kicked into gear. Some shipping companies have struggled to keep up with this, firing or furloughing workers, but others have ramped up instead. As to the conditions on the road, there is far less congestion than there used to be:

It’s difficult to say exactly how long these conditions will persist. Yet for the time being, long-distance car transport is perhaps the most viable option available to pet owners. Prices can vary, but online marketplaces offer the customer the option to pick any transporter they want. 

Staying safe with a hired driver

Here’s our selection of safety tips for pet owners deliberating which ground transporter to hire:

  • Feedback is essential. It’s no small thing, trusting a stranger with the well-being of your beloved pet. This trust needs to be earned, which is why you should browse through each driver’s reviews and establish how reliable they really are. User-rated professionals that manage to maintain high marks over long periods of time are your best bet.
  • Experience matters. The one thing that all pet owners favor in a transporter is experience. Your pup is the safest in the hands of someone who’s dealt with dogs of the same breed, age, and temperament. Look for a driver whose bio shows that he has the exact type of experience that fits your requirement.
  • The cost isn’t everything. Try not to let yourself be lured in by those low, low prices. A driver’s quote should be less than the price of an airline ticket, but not less than the price of gas. Take into account the cost, sure, but don’t let that be the main factor.
  • Love of animals comes first. At the end of the day, pets are only safe with someone who cares for them as if they were their own. Don’t be afraid to talk to the transporters that send you a quote. Try to get a sense of how they see the business, and hire a genuine pet lover whenever possible.  

Staying safe when driving on your own

Optionally, you might decide to transport the pet personally, inside your own vehicle. Here are the extra steps you’ll need to take if you’re the one behind the wheel:

  • Think it through. Plot your route well in advance, paying attention to each individual stopover. Is there an area that you could use to safely walk your dog? Is there a pet-friendly motel to spend the night in? WHat supplies do you need for each leg of the journey?
  • Don’t get caught out. While planning, make sure your information stays fresh. If the states you’ll be driving through are introducing new regulations, that might set you back significantly.
  • Double-check the paperwork. Make sure all your documentation is in order, and kept at a handy location. If driving on your own, there’s no professional available to tell you what certificates and licenses are required.

Safety first: Along the way, don’t forget that social distancing applies to both humans and animals. To avoid unnecessary friction, try to keep a respectful distance from other travelers and pet owners.

Pet travel by train

Historically, passenger railways in the United States have long been in a state of decline. Amtrak has shown encouraging signs in 2019, indicating that a recovery may be possible. However, the pandemic has forced them into service reductions; projected losses are in the hundreds of millions. And with budget cuts on the horizon, things look grim for the future of passenger railway service.

Nevertheless, pets can still be transported by train. In flyover country, major airports are few and far between. When transportation options are limited, residents make do with railways. Keep in mind that pets won’t be allowed aboard every passenger line; service animals are a common exception. Reservations are needed if you intend to bring a dog or cat on board as carry-on luggage. Amtrak does not transport animals as checked baggage, though some smaller companies still might.

To those who intend to transport their pets by train, we advise the following:

  • Make sure your pet carrier complies with the railway’s requirements. For Amtrak, it must be up to 20 lbs (including the animal!) and 19 x 14 x 10.5 inches. If you’re unable to meet these standards, your pet will not be allowed to travel.
  • On long-distance rides, scheduling potty breaks is your responsibility. Study the station stop schedule so you’ll be able to take your pet for a walk at every opportunity. (Otherwise, be ready for cleanup in case of a messy accident.)
  • As is the case with airlines, railways may be understaffed in certain areas. Arm yourself (and your pet) with patience before embarking or disembarking.

Pet travel by ship

Just like tourism in a broaders sense, the cruise industry is expected to take quite a long time to recover from the coronavirus disruption. Many cruise lines have put all operations on indefinite hold, laying off or furloughing workers. Further complicating things is the hit they expect to take to their reputation. (Cruise ships quarantined off the coast of California are still fresh in the public’s memory.)

It’s difficult to estimate the losses that this will incur. Still, it’s not all bad news for the literal kind of shipping! The government has promised generous measures to make them whole in the wake of the crisis:

While transporting pets by sea is not exactly common these days, it does still happen. If considering whether to bring a puppy along the next time you’re on a cruise, keep the following in mind:

  • Each cruise line has its own set of rules and regulations when it comes to pets. Many of these have gone through changes during the COVID-19 crisis. Try to catch up so you can avoid unpleasant surprises at the start of your journey.
  • Most lines that allow dogs on ships restrict them to kennels. If your pet has any special requirements, check with the staff whether or not they can be met.
  • Those that do allow cabin access tend to restrict these to service animals. Whether your pets qualify or not, the line will likely require you to limit their contact with the crew and other passengers.

FAQ: pet safety in a pandemic

When discussing pet safety, we’d be remiss if we did not touch on coronavirus concerns as relating to animals. In late April, COVID-19 was indeed found in two cats in the New York area. Rumors have been spreading like wildfire ever since, so let’s try and dispel some of them.

Questions: Can animals be infected by COVID-19?

Answer: Yes, some of them can. It isn’t currently known which species are susceptible to the virus, or to which extent. However, cases have been confirmed in cats, dogs, as well as (experimental) hamsters and ferrets. The number of recorded cases worldwide is extremely small, indicating a low risk of infection overall.

Question: Is my pet at risk of contracting COVID-19 in transport?

Answer: Highly unlikely. The disease is believed to be transmitted primarily between humans. The handful of animal infections recorded so far are considered to be outliers. However, as a precaution, CDC now recommends that social distancing be applied to animals as well. Therefore,
— Keep your pets indoors whenever possible.
— When outdoors, limit your pets’ interactions with other animals.
— Avoid bringing your pets into contact with either humans or animals that show signs of respiratory illness.

Question: Is my pet at risk of contracting COVID-19 from wild animals?

Answer: Unknown. There is currently no evidence to suggest that the virus is present in American wildlife at all. But wild animals can carry other diseases, therefore,
— Keep your pets away from wild animals.
— Do not feed or pet wild animals.
— Do not approach roadkill or other dead/sick animals in the wild.

Question: Could my pet, though uninfected, spread COVID-19 to humans?

Answer: Highly unlikely. Some infectants can be kept for short periods of time on animal fur, but these are bacterial or fungal. Science knows of no viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, that spread in this manner. Still, many other germs can be spread this way. Therefore,
— Thoroughly wash your hands before handling pets or other animals.
— Thoroughly wash your hands after handling pets or other animals.
— Keep your pets’ living environment clean, maintaining high sanitation standards.

Question: Is it safe to adopt pets from shelters or purchase them from breeders?

Answer: Highly likely. As mentioned above, there have only been a handful of cases in which animals have tested positive to COVID-19. There is no reason to assume any individual animal carries this particular disease. Still, animal health should be a priority for any pet owner. Therefore,
— Make sure that animals you adopt/purchase have been properly vaccinated.
— If you suspect your pet’s health is in danger, contact your local veterinarian.
— Take your pets for regular check-ups, even if they’re of sound health.


In summary, the pet transportation industry is in a precarious position right now. Just like other shipping businesses worldwide, transporters are facing existential threats and unique opportunities at the same time.

But from a pet owner’s perspective, this is the time to be heard! You’ll never have more influence over how your beloved pets are treated in transport than you do now. As you navigate the logistics of traveling with pets in the post-pandemic world, we’d love to hear from you. Sound off using social media or any other channels of communication. Share your concerns and your encouragement. Let us know what works, what doesn’t, and why. The industry will be listening.

To put you at ease after all the charts, graphs, and tweets, we end with a short dos-and-don’ts section.

DO let your pets know how much they mean to you. Spoil them when you can. Watch over them like a hawk when you must. All the love you give them they’ll return tenfold.

DO NOT assume they mean as much to everybody else. Other people’s negligence might surprise you. Keep tabs on your pets, microchip them if possible. Demand professionalism from everyone involved in their transport.

DO be mindful of the moment we’re in. Both the country and the world have gone through major disruptions. Not everything will be back to normal as quickly as we’d like.

DO NOT let fear guide your decisions. Try to be as reasonable and rational as possible. Hasty decisions will benefit neither you nor your pets.

DO business with those you trust. If animal health and safety are priorities for you, only deal with companies and individuals that share those values.

Stay safe, and happy shipping!