How Old is Too Old for Your Pet to Travel With You?

Published: 5/4/2021
Taking trips are fun! And whether traveling by plane, car or RV, having your favorite furbaby along for the ride makes the experience even better! But if you have an older pet, you may be wondering if they can handle the journey.

Can a dog or cat be too old to travel? Are there special considerations when planning a trip with your elderly pet? And are there things you can do to make the experience better for your furry pal?

In this article, we’ll answer these questions and more to help you decide if your older dog or cat is able to travel with you on your next adventure. 

Is My Pet Too Old To Travel?

Can a pet be too old to travel? They absolutely can be, but deciding what age is too old for the journey can be difficult. There is no standard age that denotes a dog or cat being too old, as it depends on several factors.

For one, animals age differently. Cats are considered seniors when they reach 10 years old. For a dog, it depends on their size, as large and giant dogs can be considered seniors around 7 to 8 years of age, medium sized dogs around age 10, and small dogs at age 11. There’s a lot of variability in this general guideline, as genetic components of each breed can also play a factor in aging, and not all dogs of the same breed or size will age the same.

You’ll actually need to consider the medical issues of your aging dog or cat. Some animals can lose their sight or hearing, gain weight, develop painful joint issues such as arthritis, or have problems with holding their bladder or bowels. Older animals can also develop heart or breathing problems, diabetes, or mobility issues. These medical conditions can severely limit your dog or cat in what they can do, and are a much better indicator of whether or not your pet can handle a trip.

And don’t furget about your dog or cat’s temperament. Do they accept new situations with ease, or do they get anxious and confused? Or are they experiencing cognitive dysfunction syndrome, or dementia in pets, which can make any environmental change traumatic.

You see, it’s really more about your pet’s particular situation, not just their age, that will tell you if they are able to travel with you, or if they’d be better off staying at home. Let’s take a look at the rigors of traveling to see if your dog or cat is up for the ride. 

What to Consider When Traveling

One of the first things you’ll need to consider when planning a trip is how you’ll get there. Whether flying or driving, each way has its own set of challenges for you and your older pet.

Traveling by Plane

  • Most airlines prohibit animals that are sick or have certain medical conditions.
  • Many airlines discourage the use of sedatives, which can make the journey especially tough for those with cognitive dysfunction syndrome.
  • Flying can expose your pet to extreme temperatures, and altitude changes which can be dangerous for snub-nosed dogs and cats, and older pets with breathing problems.
  • Pets in a cargo hold may be stuck in a soiled carrier for the duration of the flight, or may be unable to receive their medications.
  • Only some airlines allow small dogs and cats to be in the cabin with you.

Traveling by Car or RV

  • An aching senior pet may be uncomfortable in a moving vehicle, and car seats and safety belts may make their pain worse.
  • Altered sleep, potty, and meal schedules could lead to missed medications, or accidents in the car that can make a trip in a confined space smelly and anxious for everyone.
  • Pets experiencing cognitive dysfunction syndrome can be vocally disruptive, causing distress to the driver and other passengers.   
  • Older animals with mobility issues can have a hard time getting in and out of the car, or even the hotel and other destinations.

You’ll need to take all the issues your dog or cat is currently experiencing and decide what is the best way to travel for their needs. Often, traveling by car or RV is the better route, as you have much more control over the daily routine and their comfort level, and can immediately deal with situations as they occur.

But if your dog or cat cannot handle being in a carrier for long hours, can’t take sedatives to relieve anxiousness, or needs round the clock medical care, they may very well be too old for the trip. In these cases, it may be better to leave your dog or cat at home with a reliable pet sitter or boarder where they will be comfortable and safe.

Tips for Traveling With an Elderly Pet

Whether you are moving, or cannot leave your pet with a sitter, there are times you’ll need to take your pet with you, regardless of their condition. In addition to the basic steps you’ll need to take for plane and car travel, you can help make the journey easier for your aging bud with these tips.

  • Be prepared to fly. Prepare your pet’s crate with layers of absorbent materials underneath their regular blanket to absorb accidents. Book direct flights and in-cabin tickets for pets, and aim for mid-day flights during mild temperatures.
  • Practice car comfort and safety. Keep your elderly pet comfortable with soft, padded bedding, and familiar toys and smells. Cats should always be in a carrier while driving, with a harness and leash on when let out. Dogs should either be crated, in a dog car seat, or have a seatbelt or harness on. You may need to experiment to find one that works for your dog’s needs.
  • Give your pet a step up. Have a portable set of stairs or ramp for mobility issues. This can help your furry pal more easily get in and out of the car, a hotel, or on a bed to snuggle with you.
  • Schedule meals around travel. Unless your pet needs food with scheduled medications, try to avoid meals the night before or the morning of beginning a trip, or feed a lighter meal to prevent vomiting. Always continue giving water, however, especially in elderly animals.
  • Be flexible on road trips. It’s hard to know when a pet needs a break from the car, but instead of planning out your stops, play it by ear and take a break when your dog or cat needs it.
  • Be ready for an emergency. Pack a dog first aid kit, along with extra clean-up supplies, pee pads, disposable litter boxes, medical supplies, and medications for anxiousness and nausea. Look up vets along the journey and at your destination so you know where to go if your elderly pet needs assistance.

Taking a pause for your cat or dog’s needs is easy, and absolutely worth their happiness and your peace of mind. If a trip just isn’t in the cards for your favorite furry friend, a compassionate and experienced pet sitter or boarder can keep them safe until you return. Bon Voyage!

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