Finding the Best Pet for Your Family

Photo Credit: Pexels

Article by Jessica Brody

A Google search for “finding the right pet” yields over 8 million results in 0.52 seconds. We’ve boiled it down to a few key considerations when you’re ready to adopt a scaled, finned, or four-footed critter.

  • Pick a pet that fits your lifestyle.
  • Decide what you want from a pet and how much time you can devote.
  • Evaluate how much you can budget for monthly and annual pet care.
  • Determine if your housing arrangement allows pets.
  • Consider an animal’s lifespan. Some live much longer (or shorter) than others.
  • Assess your space. Some dogs require lots of room to run.

Preparing your home

As adoption day nears, set up your home to provide a safe, welcoming environment. Before the big day, you should do a few things, depending on the type of animal you’re bringing home.

Think about how you’ll transport your pet home. Use a kennel or box for cats and smaller dogs; large dogs could use a dog seat belt. Carry smaller animals such as rodents or reptiles in a container, too. Some people find the perfect pet online and have the animal shipped from another state.

Establish the new pet rules with everyone before the pet comes home. Determine who’s responsible for cleaning litter boxes, feeding, bedding changes, playtime, grooming and exercise. Decide whether the new dog (or cat) may sleep on the bed or hang out on the furniture.

Get supplies. You’ll need food and water bowls, food, toys and possibly a bed, litter box, leash/harness, collar, ID tags and more. Here are suggestions for cat supplies and dog needs. If you’re getting a dog, investing in an electric dog door (permanent or temporary) might prove useful, as it gives your new pooch a way to safely and securely move in and out of the house while you’re away. You’ll need tools and pet-friendly cleaning supplies as well because pets often shed and leave messes in their wake. Search online for the best type of vacuum for your space and lifestyle. Some vacuums work better on pet hair, with bagged models being particularly beneficial for those who suffer from allergies.

Bonding with your new pet

Regardless of your new family member’s species, it takes time to bond with your pet. While it might be love at first sight, cultivating that animal-human bond often can take a little time and patience. To help ease the transition, try these suggestions.

Give your new family member time to adjust. As adopted critters begin to feel loved and safe and gradually adapt to the home’s rhythms, routines, and expectations, you’ll see their personalities emerge.

Conduct canine due diligence. Introduce your home’s routine from day one. Don’t assume that a previous owner socialized your dog. Dogs thrive on routine, and when they know what’s expected of them, they’ll adjust faster. Enroll your new puppy in obedience training, which offers a myriad of benefits including facilitating the bond between both of you.

Cats benefit from socialization, too. If you hope to have a friendly, social cat, create an environment that makes him feel safe, which may include giving him a spot where he can be alone. A cat’s natural inclination is to hide, so just play along. Talk to him, play with him, get down on his level, but don’t overwhelm him with attention.

Be patient! All critters need time to adjust to their surroundings and new family. If it’s possible to take time off from work to help facilitate the transition, do so. The more time you can spend with your new family member to teach her the routines and give love and attention, the quicker you’ll bond.

As author Bruce Cameron says, “When we adopt a dog or any pet, we know it is going to end with us having to say goodbye, but we still do it. And we do it for a very good reason: They bring so much joy and optimism and happiness. They attack every moment of every day with that attitude.”

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Beyond the Plane: Other Pet Travel Tips for the Holiday Season

Photo by DaPuglet

Along with people, more pets will travel during the holiday season than any other time of year. This year, it may be especially important to leave a little extra time to navigate through the airport. While TSA will continue to operate during the government shutdown, TSA agents may be a little less accommodating than usual since they’ll be working without getting a paycheck until the shutdown is over. Even still, the pet travel policies and procedures aren’t really substantively different during the holidays. It’s just a little busier than usual.

More than flying with a pet, however, the holidays also bring their own season-specific challenges for pet travel. Thus, we wanted to offer some pet travel tips for the holiday season.

Pets in Other People’s Home

Other family members may have pets of their own. And while you and the family member may swear that each pet is a sweetheart and loves other animals, there’s no way to know for sure how two unfamiliar pets will react to one another. Yes, chances are everything will be fine, and the two animals may be best friends by the end of the holiday, but it’s still a good idea to have a backup plan to separate the animals in a worst-case scenario.

Pets at Holiday Parties

Certain holiday decorations can be a red flag. Christmas trees and candles that can be tipped over. Light strings with cords that can be chewed through. Tinsel and other decorations that can mimic food. More to this point, one of the most common things at holiday parties is sweets and chocolate. Even many random food items—onions, grapes, turkey skin—can be mildly toxic or deadly dangerous for dogs. Also, pets can simply get overstressed. Shortly after being introduced to a new environment, a crush of people come over filling this new environment and overwhelming the pet with stimulus.

Schedule a Visit with the Vet

If your pet is sick, things that wouldn’t ordinarily stress your pet out may do so and cause them to act in unusual, potentially aggressive ways. Moreover, when pets (and cats especially) are first showing signs of illness, they may attempt to hide their distress from you. In this early stage, a vet may be able to detect these subtle signs even when pet owners can’t. They may catch a problem just in time before you make a big mistake by traveling with a sick pet. They may also be able to recommend pet meds for less serious conditions that will, nevertheless, help with the demands of traveling.

Leaving Pets at Home

Finally, not everybody takes the beloved pets with them when traveling for the holidays. Whether it’s a self-reliant cat or whether you have a dog-sitter, leaving pets at home is understandably one of the most common solutions for pets during the holidays. As much as they may miss you and you may miss them, it’s often the best, least stressful option.

That said, there are certain things you’re going to want to look at around the house before leaving town. Is the trash can secure? Is there a waterproof sheet lining you can put over the mattress? As with other people’s homes, do you have your own holiday decorations that are troublesome to leave unattended for extended periods of time? Are there toys that will help keep your pet entertained while you’re gone, especially ones that emit light, noise, or movement?

Preparing for holiday travel is chaotic. And yet, once you get to the airport and to your destination, one of the first things you’re going to start worrying about is your pets. Ideally, we recommend going around and looking at the house through the lens of trying to temporarily pet-proof your home. This way, you’ll have fewer messes for your pet-sitter or for yourself when you get home.

No matter how, where, or with whom you’re traveling, Dogs on Planes would like to wish you safe travels and a happy holiday!

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How to Approach Other People’s Pets in Airports

Just because you don’t have your own pet in tow at the airport doesn’t make you any less of an animal-lover. When you see an adorable little face poke its head out from a soft-sided carrier, it’s natural to want to pet and squeeze the little thing until it pops. It’s called a cute aggression, and it’s something you want to be mindful of…especially in public places and especially at the airport.

Technically, it’s airport policy that pets stay in their carriers at all times, except when going through airport security or visiting a pet relief area. But this rule doesn’t apply to service animals, and it’s not like pets who are sitting calmly and quietly on their owner’s laps are a top concern for airport security. The letter of the law and the spirit of the law are two different things, so that it’s a fairly common sight to see animals outside of their carriers at the airport.

So, again, how do you manage cute aggressions and avoid accidentally overstepping your bounds and causing a scene? The best thing is to know the policies and why they exist. Service animals and emotional support animals may be trained to only respond to commands given by their owner. Approaching these animals in a sudden or seemingly aggressive manner may confuse the animal and/or set it on edge. At the very least, it may distract the animal from performing its other trained duties. At the same time, service animals are typically trained to be friendly with other people—once given the okay signal from their owners.


Tips for Approaching Other People’s Pets

There’s one simple rule to follow above all others. Identify the animal’s owner and talk to them first. Rather than launch right into asking if it’s okay to pet the animal, strike up a general conversation first. “Your dog is so cute, what’s its name, is it a pet or service animal, what kind of dog is it, how old is it?” This is good advice in general for approaching other people’s pets, but like we said earlier, it’s especially important in a highly regulated public place like the airport. Often, you can pass some of the time waiting in the airport by getting to know a new animal friend and a new person.

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Best U.S. Airports for Pet Travel: What Makes an Airport Pet-Friendly?

As part of their travel advice, Upgraded Points recently issued their ranking for the most pet-friendly airports in the U.S. Along with the rankings itself, the study was interesting for the method and criteria it used to evaluate the airports: 5 points awarded for indoor pet relief areas, 4.5 points for outdoor relief areas and other amenities, and half a point for boarding facilities and pet care programs. So, we wanted to present the Upgraded Points rankings, but we also wanted to explore what these rankings and their criteria can teach us about making the experience of flying with a pet easier.


The Most Pet-Friendly Airports in the U.S.

1. John F. Kennedy International Airport: 10 points
2. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport: 9.5 points
3. Sky Harbor International Airport: 9 points
4. Los Angeles International Airport: 8.5 points
5. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport: 8.25 points
6. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport: 7.75 points
7. Reno-Tahoe International Airport: 7.5 points
8. Dallas Love Field Airport: 7.25 points
9. Denver International Airport: 7 points
10. Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport: 6.75 points

We could quibble with some of the entries near the bottom of this list, and how to properly rate the available pet amenities based on the size of the airport and the number of passengers that pass through its terminals each year. But for the most part, we agree with the airports and rankings on this list. Nevertheless, there are a couple things about this list that are potentially misleading. At the very least, we thought could provide more details and context to help our audience understand what to look for with pet travel and airport amenities.


JFK and the Ark: The Gold Standard for Pet-Friendly Airports

First, while we’re glad JFK Airport tops the list, the point system doesn’t really capture how far ahead of everybody else they truly are. Airport pet travel is often a balance between visiting modest outdoor dog parks outside of the security area and oversized closets that serve as indoor pet relief inside airport security areas. But JFK’s combination of The Ark (state-of-the-art pet care facility) and the T5 “Wooftop” Terrace (4,000 sq ft. garden patio) has set a new standard for both cargo-based pet care services and post-security pet relief that rivals some of the best dog parks out there. Yes, Atlanta has a lot of relatively nice pet relief areas, but so does Sky Harbor in Phoenix. More than a half-point edge, JFK is playing in a whole other league.

Photo Credit: Paul Rivera for Gensler


Amenities vs Access to Pet Relief Areas

Any point rankings system will naturally have to simplify some of the nuance that comes with pet relief areas and other airport amenities. Passengers and their pet travel companions will have different priorities for various pet amenities. Depending on how far your dog likes to roam and how well-trained it is for voice command will likely determine whether you’d prefer a smaller fully-fenced pet relief area or a larger open grassy area outside the airport terminal. In fact, our own pet amenity travel preferences can change from one trip to the next. If we don’t have a lot of extra time before our flight but we want to let our pup out one last time before getting on the plane, then we’re hoping to find even a basic pet relief area on our concourse. If there’s a long flight delay, we’re more interested in a nicer, cleaner pet relief area—even if it means walking over to the next concourse.

Of course, you can’t always get what you want. The takeaway at the end of the day is to know your pet, know your itinerary, know your airline policies, and know your airport policies so that you’re ready to make your pet as comfortable as possible, while also staying flexible for unexpected travel disruptions.


What about Airport Cargo Facilities?

As central as pet relief areas are, they’re not the only airport-based pet travel resource. Boarding and pet care programs are easy to take for granted until there’s a major flight delay in a connecting airport and you need help with your pet. But these types of pet care services are also a big part of pet cargo travel, and this is perhaps are biggest gripe with this list. It gives short-thrift to medium-and-large-sized dogs that travel in the cargo hold of the plane.

The access and quality of pet care service programs—both in the terminals and in the cargo facilities—is worth a lot more than half a point. What’s more, this skewed point-value system reinforces the misconception that reliable pet travel can be determined by what you see at the airport, when often it’s neglect and a failure to follow protocols behind the scenes that cause the biggest problems.


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How to Redo Kennel Training for a Traumatized Pet

We recently reported on a story about a woman whose dog was lost by American Airlines for a day in which the pet was locked inside its travel carrier for 24 hours. The dog was hungry, thirsty, and clearly stressed out, but in the days following this traumatic event, the pet continued to show a natural fear of the carrier. Unfortunately, this type of story isn’t that uncommon. Whether it happened while flying on a plane, sitting in a cargo facility, or even just at home, many animals will show a natural fear of their travel carrier. Rather than accepting that the pet will never be the same again, often times, the solution is to simply redo the kennel training with the traumatized pet.


  1. Get rid of the old carrier. This may not be necessary in every case, but if your pet continues to show considerable fear over the carrier, we recommend getting rid of it. In fact, we recommend doing it in front of the pet so they know it’s gone and isn’t coming back.


  1. Give the pet a transition period. Don’t bring a new kennel into the home right away. Ideally, you’ll have a yard, safe room in the house, or a dog-sitter that can look after the dog and the house if you’re working during the day. You likely don’t need to wait so long that the dog loses all memory of what it’s like to be in a kennel. A week or two should hopefully be sufficient so that the pet is no longer so overwhelmed that it won’t even approach the new carrier.


  1. Introduce a new crate. Don’t rush it, especially at first, but leave the door open and let the pet know that it’s there to explore. Be ready with a treat if the pet decides to go into the kennel carrier right away. If not, give the pet a day or two and then try to entice them into the kennel with a treat and verbal encouragement.


  1. Let the pet set the pace. Reward and let the pet explore the kennel at least a few times before trying to close and lock the door. Even then, you should stay close by at first, keep these initial kenneling efforts to shorter periods, and continue to give your pet treats each step of the way. Give close watch to your pet’s reactions and overall demeanor in deciding how fast to accelerate the kennel training. Eventually, you should be able to return to your normal kenneling schedule and/or be able to travel with your pet in its new carrier.


  1. New treats for old tricks. If your initial efforts don’t succeed, you can wait a little while and then try again with a slightly different strategy. Look for new kinds of treats that your pet may like and which can be used exclusively for kennel training. If there’s a viable option, move the carrier or kennel to a different location in the house. The point is to try to reset the environment and associations the pet has with being in its travel carrier or home kennel.


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Understanding the Two Main Types of Pet Travel Insurance

Pet travel insurance is typically available either as part of an animal transportation service or as a component of regular pet insurance. You don’t really need to worry about the first type of travel insurance because it’s usually a commercial insurance policy that’s purchased by the animal shipping company. Still with us? Good. Sowhat is pet insurance, and does it cover travel? Pet insurance is a billion-dollar industry that’s like health insurance for your pet. It’s available with varying levels of coverage and your pet at least can still get denied coverage for pre-existing conditions. There are more than a couple options out there. You’re not the only one who’s interested in getting their vet bills covered, and there are more than a couple options out there. So, let’s unpack some of the details about these policies, so you can feel confident when making choices for your pet and household budget.


When is Pet Travel Insurance Offered?

Pet travel insurance is offered by animal transportation services who do not automatically cover any unexpected costs that may arise out of delays or problems with your pet’s travel itinerary. Due to the high potential for abuse and fraud, insurance is not typically available for pet owners traveling with their pets. Let’s say that you chose an itinerary that has your pet connecting through Dallas in April. The odds were supposed to be good that the temperatures would be moderate, but an early heat wave collided with your pet’s travel schedule and now the pet and travel concierge have to spend an extra night in Dallas. Aside from the inconvenience of the delay, pet travel insurance will ensure that you’re covered for any extra pet care and travel costs that may result.


How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?

Pet insurance will cost in the neighborhood of several hundred dollars a year to a few thousand dollars a year. How much your insurance premium will cost depends on the type of plan, the age and breed of the animal, and the location of your permanent residence. Just like regular health insurance, you can find policies with considerably different deductibles and policy inclusions/exclusions.


Will My Pet Insurance Cover Pet Travel?

There are two basic types of pet insurance plans: Simple and comprehensive plans. Because simple pet insurance plans only cover a finite list of injuries and illnesses, there is a greater potential for a travel mishap to fall outside the scope of the policy. With a comprehensive plan, the pet itself is covered, though you still ask about any fine print, especially exclusions that may apply while traveling away from home. Pre-existing conditions is another common pet insurance exclusion with an immediate parallel to health insurance plans. You may not be able to get a pet insured for a condition that was diagnosed before the policy was purchased.


Is Pet Insurance Worth it?

It really just depends. Statistically, on average, dollar for dollar, pet insurance doesn’t pay for itself, but it can come close and, more importantly, it eliminates the worry of unexpected vet bills and the impossible choice of, say, falling behind on the mortgage or car payment or extending the life of a beloved member of the household. A financial advisor might tell you to put that insurance premium into an interest-bearing account that can be set aside for pet health needs and then reabsorbed into your general savings if the pet is blessed with generally good health over the years. On the other hand, few people have the discipline to start a savings account just for their pet.


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