Many small pet owners are planning summer trips, and retailers should let these owners know that some small pets do, in fact, like to travel.
As summer approaches, many people start planning vacations, and small animal owners are no exception. If an owner will be gone more than just a couple days, they will need to decide how to care for their small pets during their absence. While many people hire a pet sitter or ask friends or family to look after their animals, another option is to take their pets along with them. Many small animals travel quite well.
The factors to take into account when deciding whether to bring a small pet along include the vacation destination, the method of travel, the time of year and the personality of the pet. An animal that enjoys getting out of the house and meeting new people will probably enjoy a vacation. However, an animal that is nervous and easily disturbed by strangers and changes in routine will probably be more comfortable being left at home. An exception would be an animal that is so strongly bonded to its owner that it would be distressed if it were left behind. In general, most rats love to travel, while most rabbits would rather stay home. It is probably best for tiny pets like mice and hamsters to stay at home.
There are several pieces of equipment needed when traveling with small pets. Most everyday cages are too large to take traveling, but a carrier is usually too small for an animal to live in for one or two weeks, so the pet will require a travel cage. A travel cage should be at least twice as long as the animal’s body to allow comfortable movement. It should be furnished with a nest box, or some other place in which the pet can hide and feel safe. It’s also good to have a blanket to put over the cage for warmth, shade or privacy. The travel cage must be chew-proof, as an animal finding itself in a strange place may try to chew out of its cage.
Because a travel cage is smaller than the usual cage, provisions must be made for exercise. Most small pets are quite active and need a way to expend their energy. For those who use an exercise wheel, one in the cage will give them the opportunity to work out. A collapsible playpen can also be valuable when traveling. Some playpens come with a plastic tarp bottom, which will protect the floor of a hotel room. A playpen can even be set up in a park or at the beach to give pets a new and fun experience.
Many animals can suffer digestive upsets with a change in diet, so it is recommended that owners bring along enough food for the trip. It is also a good idea to bring a supply of water and clean bedding for the cage. An insulated bag or ice chest suitable for carrying fresh fruits and vegetables may be a good idea. Smaller food dishes and water bottles may also be needed. The best type of water bottle for travel is one with a lever that the pet must push to release the water; other types will drip when jiggled.
A harness and leash are recommended for safety when traveling with a small pet. Larger pets such as rabbits and ferrets should wear an identification collar at all times. Smaller pets, such as rats, generally won’t tolerate wearing a collar or harness when unsupervised. No matter the size of the pet, the harness and leash should be put on any time it is taken out of its travel cage. Instruct owners to be sure the harness and leash is on the pet securely before opening the door of a vehicle, hotel room, etc. Following this rule is the best way to prevent the tragedy of a lost pet.
Many small pet owners are not aware that their pets can accompany them on trips. Retailers might want to prepare an information sheet for customers listing products needed for travel with small pets. This handout can also include helpful tips that can be gathered from books or the Internet.
Consider running specials on travel accessories in the spring and summer. One idea is creating a travel package that includes all the special items needed to take a small pet on vacation. Another idea for marketing travel-related products is to give out discount coupons for these products when customers purchase small animal food or bedding.
Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and has worked in the animal field since 1982. She’s the author of the book Rats!, the booklet Rat Health Care and, her most recent book, The Complete Guide to Rat Training: Tricks and Games for Rat Fun and Fitness.