“Boomer, car ride!” Those were magic words to my bearded collie, who loved nothing better than taking a car trip with the family—even the annual 12-hour trek from Connecticut to our favorite lake in Canada.

But keeping our beloved pet safe on such journeys required some advance planning.

Do you also like to take your dog or cat with you when you travel, whether by car or by plane? If so, you need to know about the mistakes that traveling pet owners often make, I heard from Heather Bair-Brake, DVM, a veterinary medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These mistakes can hurt the physical and mental health of your dog or cat…and they may cause you stress, which isn’t good for your health, either!

To save your furry friend and yourself a lot of trouble and pain, watch out for the following…

Mistake #1: Skipping the predeparture veterinary visit. Check in with your vet as soon as you know that you will be traveling with your pet. There’s a lot that needs to get done—starting with an assessment to ensure that your pet is healthy enough to travel.

You’ll need paperwork, too. “For travel within the US, your pet may require an official interstate health certificate or official certificate of veterinary inspection signed by an accredited, licensed veterinarian from the state of origin. Check with the department of agriculture at your destination to find out,” Dr. Bair-Brake said. If you are flying, be aware that airline regulations vary—so call your airline in advance to inquire about its specific requirements.

Your pet also may need shots. For instance, if your pet will be spending any time in a boarding facility, it may need a kennel cough vaccine. And if you are traveling internationally, in order to reenter the US, you must have proof of vaccination against rabies at least 30 days prior to your reentry.

Before going abroad, contact the embassy of the country to which you are traveling to ask whether there are additional regulations for that particular country. For instance, some nations require that animals coming in from other countries be quarantined for a period of time. Some require additional vaccinations and/or the paperwork that comes with vaccines. Some countries insist that pets be microchipped and/or have certain blood tests (sometimes months in advance). And some require the certificate of health to be in the language of that country and to bear an official stamp from the department of agriculture, granted within a few days of traveling. Any of these requirements could affect your decision about whether your pet should accompany you or stay home.

Mistake #2: Failing to protect your pet against deadly diseases. Tell your vet where you are planning to go and discuss how best to safeguard against diseases prevalent in that area.

One threat to be aware of is heartworm. Although this disease is found in all 50 states (and the American Heartworm Society recommends using preventive measures year-round no matter where you live), the problem is particularly common along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts from the Gulf of Mexico to New Jersey as well as along the Mississippi River and its major tributaries. If you are traveling to one of these areas, your vet may strongly urge you to safeguard your pet.

Dogs are at highest risk, but cats can contract heartworm, too. The bite of an infected mosquito transfers heartworm larvae to the animal…eventually the larvae grow into worms that lodge in the pet’s heart, lungs and blood vessels, ultimately causing death. Once an animal is infected, treatment is extensive and costly—but heartworm can easily be prevented by giving your pet monthly anti-heartworm medication.

Another worrisome ailment is Lyme disease. The same ticks that transmit Lyme to humans can transmit it to dogs and cats, resulting in severe joint pain and other problems. Hot spots of Lyme activity are mainly in the Northeast from Virginia and Pennsylvania up to Maine…plus Minnesota and Wisconsin. If you’re traveling to one of those areas, your vet may give your pet a Lyme vaccine and recommend a topical tick repellent.

Mistake #3: Giving your pet a sedative. Drugs intended to keep pets calm and quiet during car or plane rides actually can have unpredictable and even dangerous side effects. For this reason both the International Air Transport Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association recommend not giving sedatives to pets before they board a flight. Sedatives may affect an animal’s ability to breathe or keep its balance, Dr. Bair-Brake cautioned.

Better: Help your pet stay relaxed through natural means. Begin acclimating your pet to its carrier weeks in advance of your trip…feed your pet a light meal two hours before the trip…and walk your pet just before departure if possible. What if you know that your pet panics so much while traveling in a pet carrier or plane that it is liable to injure itself? Do the humane thing and leave the animal at home with a loving caregiver.

Mistake #4: Not getting your pet used to short car trips before you take it traveling. If the only time that your pet gets in a car is when it goes to the vet, it probably associates car rides with getting poked, prodded or injected. No wonder it freaks out when you try to put it in a car for a road trip or a drive to the airport. Wise move: Weeks or months before your scheduled trip, start taking your pet for short car rides to fun places, such as a park. Then your pet will learn to associate car rides with pleasure—and won’t panic when it’s time to start a real trip.

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