June 29, 2013 8:04:39 AM
JACKSON -- Whether families head to the local park or an out-of-town destination, veterinarians advise them this summer to take steps to ensure pets stay safe and healthy as they travel.
Dr. Joey Burt, assistant clinical professor and director of the Animal Health Center at Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, said before setting out on any trip, pet owners should make sure their pets are comfortable with riding in an automobile. Burt suggested taking pets on short trips to gauge their tolerance.
"Not all pets are good travelers," Burt said. "Medical conditions, age and temperament can affect whether an animal will be a good travel companion. If the pet is not comfortable traveling, owners should consider boarding or pet sitting services."
Pets that ride well in a vehicle should be restrained for their safety and the safety of the driver and other motorists. Unrestrained pets can jump out of open windows or distract the driver, and a frightened or injured pet might run away after an accident, Burt said.
"Carriers are best for cats, and appropriately-sized kennels are best for dogs," he said. "Another option for restraining dogs is the special harnesses that attach to the vehicle's seat belts."
Owners should introduce both restraints slowly by taking short trips at first. Dogs should be taught to sit while wearing the harness so they don't get tangled in the seat belt. Kennels should be large enough for the dog to stand, turn around and lie down comfortably.
Vacationers should map their route, planning food and rest stops so pets are never left in a vehicle. The interior air temperature of a vehicle can rise to 99 degrees in as little as 10 minutes when the outside temperature is 80 degrees, according to an independent study published in Pediatrics, the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. With warmer outside temperatures, interior vehicle temperatures rise more quickly.
"Dogs don't sweat to regulate their body temperature like humans. They cool themselves by panting and drinking water," said Dr. Glenn Thomas, veterinarian at Tupelo Small Animal Hospital. "If the air temperature is too warm and they don't have access to water, they can't cool themselves down. That leads to heatstroke and sometimes death."
Pets need to get out of the car every two to three hours to relieve themselves and drink cool, clean water, Thomas said. However, travelers should be aware that their pets could be exposed to viruses and parasites at rest areas that are frequented by other pets or wild animals.
"Most viruses will not be viable for long if it is hot and dry, but in wet areas, leptospirosis is a concern," Thomas said. "Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that is making a comeback in our region and can be contracted by humans from their pets. Pet owners should use good judgment about which rest areas their pets use."
It is recommended that pets also should have a form of permanent, current identification.
"Microchips are the best form of identification," Burt said. "The pet can't lose it. To get more detailed information about all types of travel with pets, visit the American Veterinary Medical Association's website atavma.org/public/petcare. Then click on "Traveling with your pet" under "Out and about" in the center of the page.