Traveling over the holidays? Check out our head-to-tail advice on what to do with your pet while you're gone.

By Caren Oppenheim

Leaving Your Pet at Home

For many families, the holiday season is a whirlwind of travel. But what about your pet? Ideally, animals should stay where they're most comfortable, says Louise Murray, DVM, author of Vet Confidential: An Insider's Guide to Protecting Your Pet's Health (Random House) and Director of Medicine at the ASPCA. Unless you plan on being away for several weeks, it's best to leave your cat or dog behind.

Animals, especially cats, are creatures of habit and don't adjust well to unfamiliar environments or conditions. "A cat who is stressed about being in a new place might stop eating," says Murray. Consider hiring a pet sitter — prices start at $15 a day — to check on your animal while you're gone. Cats should be looked in on at least once a day and dogs should be walked three times a day and fed twice. Some pet sitters will even stay at your house and provide overnight care, and may offer to pick up mail and water plants.

To find a qualified pet sitter, ask your veterinarian for recommendations, says Murray. See if any of the office's licensed vet technicians — who have extensive healthcare knowledge and a guaranteed love of pets — offer sitting services. Just like a job interview, ask candidates about their experience and always get references, says Terry Chance, marketing director of Pet Sitters International. Most important, invite a potential sitter over for a meet-and-greet so you can see how she interacts with your pet.

If you're uncomfortable having a stranger in your house, look for a reputable pet-care facility. (Facilities start at $25 a day; is a good resource.) Visit the site to make sure it's clean, spacious, and safe. Ask if it's equipped with first-aid kits and fire extinguishers and look for gates or fences around open areas where pets play. If your animal is old or has health problems, look into alternative options such as boarding him at a veterinarian's office. "It may not be as fun as a traditional kennel with other pets around," says Murray, "but for some animals, it makes more sense. And at least you know your pet will be watched carefully."

Traveling with Your Pets

Can't bear a trip without your pet? Try these tips:

Traveling by car:

  • Take short practice drives with your pet beforehand.
  • Bring your pet's bed so he feels secure.
  • Never leave your pet alone. Even when you're pumping gas, bring him outside on a leash.
  • Invest in a pet carrier or animal seat belt, which will help avoid injuries.

Traveling by plane:

  • The minimum age for pets is eight weeks.
  • Research your airline's pet policies, including check-in time, boarding fees (from $75), and height and weight restrictions.
  • Size permitting, bring your animal on board in a carrier and stow under the seat.

No matter how you're getting there:

  • Bring plenty of water and your pet's favorite food. Changing brands, flavors, or consistencies can cause digestive problems.
  • Have an extra supply of your pet's medicines.
  • Keep a copy of your pet's most recent medical records with you, especially if he is old or ill.

Got a pesky pooch? A moody mutt? Celebrity pet expert and Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan can help! Send your animal-behavior question — along with a photo of your dog — to We might feature your story in an upcoming issue.

Originally published in the December 2008 issue of Family Circle magazine.