Top tips for travelling with your emotional support animal

Are you getting ready for a road trip or thinking about boarding a plane with your emotional support animal, aka ESA?

You may have an emotional support animal to help get you through travel. In turn, it is your job to help your ESA have the safest and most comfortable trip possible as well. A bit of planning and preparation will make it the best trip possible for both of you.

They help you and you help them

Whatever your mode of travel, it can be an overwhelming experience for animals too. Their usual routines for eating, drinking, and toileting will be different. They are also likely to experience noises and sights they are not used to.

With that in mind, here are a few tips for traveling with your ESA. We’ll look at the most common ways people travel – by plane or car and dogs and cats as the most appropriate types of emotional support animals.

Familiarize and desensitize

In the weeks before you travel, familiarize your emotional support animal with what they are going to travel in and how they are going to travel. This includes any pet carrier or crate you are going to use, along with harnesses and leashes. Animals often associate their pet-carrier with a trip to the vet or feeling sick. You can help turn that around with some toys, treats, to associate the carrier with a positive experience in their home environment.

Gradually expose your ESA to the same sounds they may hear while you are traveling. Sit in the car with them with your engine running or play sounds of what an aircraft landing or take off sounds like. This will help to desensitize them to any potentially frightening and unfamiliar sounds.

Get a vet check

Take your ESA for a vet check to confirm they are in good health to travel, especially if you are planning on a flight. Ask your vet for any suggestions that will help your animal to have a safe and comfy trip. Remember to ask your vet for any documentation you may such as health checks and evidence of vaccinations.

Pack some supplies

There are a few basic supplies to have handy when you travel with an animal.

Food and water: Usually it is better for an animal to travel on an empty stomach or only eat lightly beforehand. This is in case they become nauseous or need to go to the toilet. But do pack some of their usual food, some treats, and water to keep them hydrated. Unexpected delays can happen when you are traveling, and a few treats along the way can help reward them for doing well.

Comfort items: Bring along some form of support for your ESA. This may be a favourite blanket, toy, or an item of your clothing in their carrier that has your familiar scent.

Clean-up gear: Carry some paper towels or wet-wipes, latex gloves and poop bags to clean-up and dispose of any toilet accidents. Also, pack one or two spare waterproof liners for the bottom of their carriers in case you need to replace it in transit.

Identification: Make sure your ESA is wearing identification with their name, your name, and your mobile phone number. Label any carriers or harnesses with the same identification. Carry a copy of your current ESA letter with you as you travel.

Traveling by plane with an ESA

Under the Air Carrier Access Act you can take an emotional support animal, at no extra cost, with you while travelling. If you wish to fly with your ESA, make sure you do a little prep first:

Airline check: Double-check your intended airline’s policy on emotional support animals (see the Delta pet policy). Not all airlines accept animals, and/or they may have a ban on some breeds and species. Airlines can require a minimum of 48-hours advance notice. They may also require specific types of pet carriers, and supporting documentation.

Documentation: Check your ESA letter for flying is current, and you have any other documentation needed by the airline. This may include evidence of health checks, vaccinations, training. You may also need to complete a statement to say you will take responsibility for your ESA during the flight.

Before flight and in-flight: Before you board, give ESA a chance to toilet. Encourage them to exercise or play before you board as well, as this can help them relax and/or sleep during the flight. Be considerate of other passengers who may not be as animal-friendly as you are. Take care of your pets needs during the travel, and give them a little bit of love and attention.

Travelling by car with an ESA

Planning a road trip can be an exciting time. If your emotional support animal is coming with you, there are a few steps to take:

Restraints and carriers: Dog’s may love to stick their head out of the window, and a cat may look cute sitting on the back dash, but this isn’t a safe way to travel! In a moving car, a small animal becomes a projectile if you need to stop suddenly. Secure them safely in your vehicle in pet-safe carriers and harnesses just as you take care of your own seatbelt.
Fresh air and ventilation: Make sure your ESA has fresh air and ventilation at all times. Never leave an animal unattended in a car with the windows up. The interior of vehicles heat up very quickly to temperatures small animals cannot survive.

Plan your pit stops: Do a little research on pet-friendly places to stop and eat or sleep before you go. Food and accommodation providers are not obligated to allow emotional support animals on their premises. If you are travelling with a dog, allow time for them to stretch their legs from time to time and have regular toilet stops.

Getting ready to travel

Taking the time to plan and prepare for traveling with your ESA is bound to pay off tenfold in the long run. Think about how you are going to travel and what you will need for the duration of the trip.

Make sure you have an appropriate carrier and/or harnesses, and you plan for your ESA needs for food, water, and toilet breaks. Get any documentation needed for your pet to travel ahead of time, and keep our ESA letter current so you have it as and when needed. Then, have a fantastic trip!

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