Boating with your pet
May 27, 2012
Q: We will be retiring soon and plan to move on to our boat full time. Of course, we will take our dog, “Salty”, with us. Salty is a 4 year old Cairn terrier who loves the boat, but we have never taken him on long trips. How do we get him used to extended stays on board?
A: There are several things to consider when traveling on the water with a pet. The first is to be sure that your pet does not get seasick. If Salty has spent time on the boat before, you should be OK, but sometimes long offshore trips can still result in motion sickness.
Before you head out across the Gulf Stream, make slow, short trips and watch for drooling or loss of appetite as early signs of seasickness. It is best to dock or anchor in a quiet harbor immediately if these signs occur, but if you cannot do this, medicate before vomiting or diarrhea begin. Common motion sickness drugs like Dramamine and meclizine (less drowsy Dramamine) can be used in dogs. Ask your veterinarian if these would be safe for your pet and for appropriate doses. He or she may recommend a newer drug, called Cerenia that is labeled for motion sickness in dogs and it works really well. Try to give these drugs two hours before travel and on an empty stomach. Gradually increase the length of your trips as your pet gets used to the motion.
For those who have never taken your pet on the boat, spend time with him while the boat is still tied at the dock. Run the engine and make the boat rock a bit. Do this several times before you take your first short cruise.
Once your pet is OK with the motion of the boat, you must consider what you are going to do when he has to relieve himself. Cats are easy because you can have a litter box on board, but dogs may require a different solution. If you cannot get ashore at least three times a day, you may need to train your dog to eliminate on the deck.Try purchasing a piece of astro-turf, place it on the bow and encourage him to use it. Sometimes placing a potted plant in the area helps. Simply hose it off afterwards. Smaller dogs can be trained to use dog litter (paper pellets instead of sand) or pee pads.You might want to practice with these at home before you go to sea.
It can get very hot on a boat, especially if one is inside the cabin. Be sure to provide lots of fresh water for your pet. He will consume more water at sea than at home. Provide plenty of shade and never leave your pet locked inside the cabin in the summer unless the AC is running. This is just like leaving a pet locked inside a hot car.
If your pet has a special bed or crate, be sure to make space for this on the boat. This helps them feel comfortable in a different environment.
You should have a way for the pet to get back on the boat if he should fall or decide to go for a swim. Nets, like small hammocks, can be hung overboard for cats. Be sure to show him or her where this is. Dogs prefer ramp type devices. I recommend that the pet always wear a life jacket when on the dock or deck of the boat. Pet life jackets have handles on the back that make it easier to pick the pet up and out of the water.
When traveling across state and country lines, you will need to have up-to-date rabies and health certificates. Be sure to contact countries where you expect to go ashore before you arrive so you will know their specific regulations. Rabies free islands are the ones you really have to watch.
Congratulations on your retirement and enjoy the boat!