Retailers can offer products and advice that will make it possible for customers to travel comfortably and safely with their small pets.
Many people travel for the holidays to visit family or take a winter vacation. If they will be gone more than just a couple days, they must decide how to care for their pets during their absence. Many people hire a pet sitter or ask friends or family to look after their animals, but many small animals travel quite well, so they might consider taking their pets along with them. Pet specialty retailers are perfectly suited to help customers ensure safe—and comfortable—travels for their pets.
The factors to take into account when deciding to bring along small pets include the destination, the method of travel, the time of year, and most importantly, the personality of the pet. An animal that enjoys getting out of the house and meeting new people would probably enjoy a trip. However, an animal that is nervous and easily disturbed by strangers and changes in routine would probably be more comfortable left at home. An exception would be an animal that is so strongly bonded to its owner that it would be distressed if left behind.
In general, most rats love to travel, while most rabbits would rather stay home. Guinea pigs and ferrets can also enjoy visiting a new place. It is probably best for tiny pets such as 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, 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, and it should be furnished with a nest box, or some other place where the pet can hide and feel safe. It is also good to have a blanket to put over the cage for warmth, shade or privacy. A travel cage must be chew-proof, as an animal finding itself in a strange place may be more likely to try to chew out of its cage.
Because a travel cage is smaller than the usual cage, provisions must be made for exercise if the trip will last more than just a few days. Most small pets are quite active and need a way to expend their energy. For those that use an exercise wheel, which includes all the small rodents, chinchillas and hedgehogs, a wheel in the travel cage will help give them the opportunity to work out. A collapsible playpen can also be valuable when traveling. Some playpens come with a plastic tarp bottom that 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, 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. It will also be necessary to bring along clean bedding for the cage. An extra small cage can become soiled in a hurry. A tote bag will be helpful for taking along food, water and bedding. In fact, an insulated bag or ice chest suitable for carrying fresh fruits and vegetables may be necessary. 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 water when jiggled.
A harness and leash are recommended for safety when traveling with some small pets. Larger pets such as rabbits and ferrets should wear a collar with ID at all times when traveling. 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 a customer information sheet listing products needed for travel with small pets. This handout can also include helpful tips that can be gathered from books or the Internet. For instance, when traveling by car during hot weather, pet owners should always bring an insulated container of ice to keep pets cool in case the car or air conditioner breaks down.
Coupons for travel products can be included in a starter kit for small animals. This works especially well for two reasons. Customers are unlikely to buy these extra products right away because most will think they’ve already spent enough money. Plus, it might be best for new owners to wait until their pet is fully grown to buy items such as a travel cage or a harness and leash. Including coupons in the kit will remind the customer to come back and buy the products in the future, and at the same time let them know that small pets can accompany them on trips.
Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and has worked in the animal field since 1982. She is 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.