Traveling With Your Senior Dog

For many people, a vacation simply isn’t a vacation without their best pal. If this is you, take a few simple steps to make your trip safe and enjoyable. Just because your dog is older doesn’t mean that you can’t take him with you.

To make the most of any experience, it’s important to be prepared. The simple steps listed here can save you aggravation, time, money, or even heartache when traveling together.

  • Get a health checkup for your dog within ten days before a trip, and ask your vet to provide a certificate stating that your dog is in good health and up-to-date on vaccines. Take the record with you, especially if you are crossing state lines.
  • Make sure that your dog is on a flea/tick preventive.
  • Make sure that your dog has proper identification tags in addition to any microchipping or tattooing.
  • Bring your pet’s favorite dog food, bedding, leashes, toys, medication, bowls, crate, bottles of water, pooper scooper or plastic bag, and extra food and water.

Car Travel

The safest way for your old dog to travel is in a secured crate or seat belted in the back seat. (Dogs in the front seat are at risk of being killed if the airbag is deployed.) You can even purchase a seat belt made especially for dogs. If your dog is not secured in the car, he could climb into your lap while you are driving, or if you stop suddenly, he could be injured.

Although dogs love to travel with their noses hanging out the window to catch the scents on the breeze, don’t allow your pet to do this. All kinds of dirt and debris can come flying along and catch your dog in the eye—pieces of asphalt, bits of wood, rocks, you name it. A shard of glass can blind him. And of course, never leave your dog unattended in the car.

If your dog is prone to motion sickness and you have no medication for him, try ginger snaps. They work amazingly well to help an upset tummy. If the motion sickness is due to nervousness, consider purchasing a product that contains pheromones. Just spray it in his crate or on the back seat to help calm him down.

Airplane Travel

Older dogs are quite able to handle flying if they are healthy. The only really safe place for your pet is in the cabin with you, but if your dog is too big to fit under the seat in his carrier, you are usually out of luck. If you have no choice other than to transport your dog in the cargo hold, the ASPCA recommends that you follow the air travel guidelines provided on their website:

Some airlines suggest that dogs who are more than seven and a half years of age receive an extensive health screening, including kidney and liver screens, or possibly an electrocardiogram, before flying.

It is not a good idea to give your dog tranquilizers before an airplane trip because they can interfere with breathing and temperature regulation at high altitudes.

Senior-Friendly Accommodations

Before you take off into wild, wonderful vacationland, make sure that you have pet-friendly accommodations lined up. Look online to find extensive lists of hotels, motels, cabins, condos, resorts, bed and breakfasts, beaches, RV parks, and campgrounds that will welcome your well-behaved senior. Some of the best sites include www.dogfriendly. com,, and

If Your Senior Can’t Join You

It is not always possible, or even desirable, to bring your dog along on your travels. Senior dogs especially may prefer to remain behind. Some older dogs find traveling scary and stressful, especially if they are feeble or disabled. And while you may enjoy visiting your Aunt Enid’s Rottweiler, don’t assume that your ancient toy Poodle will find it an equally pleasant experience. For some dogs, this means a pet sitter or a kennel. For other dogs, whose owner is at work, this means a day care facility. Let’s look at these options.

Pet Sitters

For most dogs and people, a pet sitter offers tremendous advantages. You will not have to worry about transporting your dog to an unfamiliar kennel. Even more important, your older dog will not be exposed to strange dogs and whatever contagious diseases they may be carrying. Your dog will have his regular bed, food, and even routine. Equally nice for you is the fact that most pet sitters will pick up your mail, water your plants, and even straighten up for you. And simply having someone there on occasion can be a crime deterrent.

But how to choose? Check with your veterinarian, who can probably recommend someone. The best pet sitter will offer a service contract with specified fees and will have a vet on call for emergency services. Before you sign anything, ask the sitter to come by your home, and evaluate her interaction with your dog. Your dog’s response to her will tell you quite a bit.


Sometimes a pet sitter is not an option. In this case, a good boarding kennel attuned to a senior’s needs may be your best choice. Get recommendations from your friends or vet, and visit the facility before committing. Be sure to book ahead. Most kennels are swamped all the time. Here are some indications that the kennel you’re considering is a good one:

  • It’s licensed and inspected . Ask for proof. Good kennels are accredited by the American Boarding Kennel Association (ABKA).
  • It’s clean . Check out the walls, floors, and food bowls. Food should be kept in airtight, pest-proof containers.
  • It’s reasonably quiet . Although a kennel will never be as quiet as a library, you don’t want your dog subjected to 24 hours of nonstop barking either. He may become stressed with the noise—or he may pick up the habit himself.
  • It’s spacious . Some kennels provide individual runs for each dog, while others bring dogs into a common area for play. (This is good for socialization but can pose health risks.) Discuss how the kennel plans to ensure your dog’s safe exercise. If you don’t want your dog associating with others, make that clear.
  • It’s climate controlled . This is not a luxury but a necessity for an old dog who has more difficulty regulating his body temperature than a young dog has.
  • It’s well ventilated . Your dog requires fresh, clean air. A well-ventilated kennel keeps the air from stagnating.
  • It has a vet on call . Many kennels employ veterinary technicians on staff. All staff should be trained in CPR and basic first-aid techniques.
  • It has both indoor and outdoor runs . Dogs enjoy fresh air, but when it rains or is bitterly cold, your senior deserves to get his exercise indoors, in climate-controlled comfort.
  • It’s secure . If your dog is an escape artist, let the kennel manager know in advance.
  • It’s safe . The kennel should be equipped with fire alarms, sprinkler systems, and double doors.
  • It provides good bedding . Most kennels will allow you to bring your dog’s own bed for him if you’d like.
  • It separates the animals . Good kennels do not allow nose-to-nose contact between animals, both for fear of spreading disease and to prevent barrier fighting. Does the kennel have adequate quarantine facilities? This is an important consideration if a boarded dog should develop symptoms of a contagious disease.
  • It has Sunday hours . Many boarding kennels are closed on Sunday, and pets are unavailable for pickup. Sunday, of course, is the very day when most people want to pick up their pets.

Many kennels offer grooming services, special playtimes, private rooms, obedience classes, swimming, and other activities for your dog, usually at an extra fee. Some kennels will allow you to board two of your dogs together. Be sure to inquire.

Day Care

Doggy day care is a kind of boarding facility for dogs whose owners are at work. Dogs are social creatures who do much better when they have human and (usually) canine company. But most people have to work for long hours a day. For many, the answer lies in doggy day care. Day care can be especially important if your senior dog is on a medication that may need to be given several times a day.

You have a lot of choices when it comes to canine day care. Some places offer nothing more than rudimentary runs and water, while others are state-of-the-art. Many include basic obedience classes, grooming services, and even canine “spas.” Climate-controlled play areas, wading pools, and doggy gyms are commonplace. A few even have “petcams” on at all times so that you can observe your dog from afar (and make sure that he is getting everything he deserves).

Good day care facilities also expect your dog to be up to date on his vaccinations (especially bordetella) and on a regular flea/tick preventive. You may be asked to fill out a questionnaire about your dog’s temperament, level of training, and preferences. He also may be evaluated before being accepted into a day care program.

Before signing up, you should be looking around and doing some evaluating on your own. Many of the same criteria apply here as those relating to kennels. Visit the day care facility before you enroll your dog. It should obviously be clean, nice smelling, and well cared for. It also should be safe. Safety measures may include double doors or other “decompression zones” to keep dogs from escaping. Most good day cares have a connection with a nearby vet in case an emergency happens. Good day care centers put dogs of similar size together and separate overly boisterous animals. Regulations should be written down for your perusal.

Take time to meet with and interview the staff, and ask specifically what the staff—dog ratio is. (It shouldn’t be more than one staff person per ten dogs.) Ask the staff what its procedure is when introducing new dogs, and if they have special provisions for seniors who may be more interested in a quiet nap than a playgroup session. Observe staff members’ interactions with the dogs as well. They should be attentive, friendly, and knowledgeable about their charges. Good day care facilities willingly provide references.

Senior Tales


Jean remembers, “I went on vacation when Mellie was well into her 13 th year. I left her at home with a pet sitter she knew and loved who spent the night with her and came in to check on her several times a day. The night I returned from vacation, I let myself in the front door and found Mellie in her favorite spot in the family room. When she saw me, she went nuts and showed more energy than she had in quite some time. She did my heart good greeting me with so much enthusiasm.

“It was obvious from her welcome home dance that she missed me almost as much as I missed her. However, being the independent girl that she was, after greeting me and getting some extra love and treats, Mellie went back to bed in her favorite spot downstairs. Normally she would have come upstairs to get in bed with me sometime during the night so that she could get her good morning snuggles first thing in the morning.

“I woke up the next morning and realized that Mellie hadn’t joined me, so I immediately ran downstairs thinking that something must be wrong with my old girl. The only thing wrong was that Mellie had forgotten I was home! She was just hanging out downstairs. I called her name, she turned around and saw me, and then she proceeded to perform the exact same, very enthusiastic welcome home dance she did the night before. Her senior moment certainly made my morning!


Gwen relates, “Sadie has always loved attention and she is a sweetheart, so she became a therapy dog. She gets all the attention that she loves and deserves from the senior home we visit. We mostly go to the skilled nursing ward, where the residents have difficulty getting around or are bedridden. They love Sadie there, and she gets so excited when we go through the security gate. She’ll start barking and continue until I can get her leash on and take her out of the car. Then, when we get inside, her tail wags excitedly and she goes to each room to let the residents love on her and feed her treats.”


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