What to Do About Your Pet While Traveling

Pets are members of your family.  Everyone loves them therefore everyone has an interest in keeping them safe, healthy and happy.  You either leave them behind or you take them.  Although I don’t encourage you to take your pet on vacation, some people will. Here’s some information that may help with either decision.  Be sure to contact your airline, veterinarian and even the consulate of the countries you are visiting to be sure you fully understand all requirements.  This article cannot cover them all.

Pets Left at Home

This is your family’s vacation and one of the things that needs to be sorted out well in advance is pet care.  Figure this out early as peak travel times are the same for most families and many options book early.  Here’s the basic choices you can consider when leaving your pet behind:

1)Many vets have boarding facilities for pets.   They book up and can be expensive.   Call early to find out details.  The biggest positive is that your pet is with folks who know how to take care of them in an emergency, they have good coverage and they are bonafide pet lovers.  The downside is that your pet is likely to be kept confined in a small cage and there’s lots of sick animals around.

2)You have a pet sitter come to stay at your house. This is the best option if you can find a responsible party whom you trust and who loves animals.  The positives?  Your pets keep their routine as much as possible which reduces their stress and although not cheap, paying a sitter for multiple pets can be cheaper than the per day charges for boarding more than one pet.
You need to find that responsible person whom you can trust with your home and loved pets.

3) You can bring your pet to someone else’s house.  This can work well provided you have a person who will volunteer to do it.  The upside is that is can be cheap, may be familiar surroundings and perhaps easier to find a person who will agree to it.  The downside is that it will stress your pets and they may get confused and try to escape to find home.

4) There are pet care centers that take pets for a single day or for extended periods.  If your pet is accustomed to going to doggie daycare, they may love this option.  They know the surroundings and get a lot of exercise and supervision.  The downside is they book up early and can be expensive.  Don’t wait until the last minute to book this option as responsible centers will need current vaccination records and your pet will need to be “interviewed” to be accepted.  Plan in advance!

Taking Your Pet with You

Some people may choose this option out of preference or desperation.   Please log comments on the Forum page with your experiences and tips.  There are three different ways a pet can travel on an airplane: with the owner in the passenger cabin, as accompanied (or excess) luggage in the cargo hold, or as manifest cargo (typically without the owner). Most owners initially want to take their pets in the cabin, but unfortunately because of airline restrictions on weight and size limits, as well as various government restrictions, rarely does a pet qualify to fly in the cabin.  Let’s look at each option.

 Pets in the Cabin

On flights of less than ten hours, many airlines will allow small cats or dogs to be taken with the passenger in the cabin.  They must be really small to fit under the seat in front of you.  Costs can be very reasonable, definitely cheaper than shipping your pet as cargo.  This is prohibited if going to the UK because of their strict quarantine restrictions and does not work if you are travelling from the West Coast of the United States to Europe.  Typically, an airline will only allow one pet per passenger and a maximum of two pets per cabin. The container for the pet must fit under the seat in front of you and must have a waterproof bottom and adequate ventilation. (See downloadable pdf on this page for more detailed information).

Pets as Cargo

A majority, 98%, of pets travel as what is called ‘cargo’.  The two options having pets as cargo are:

1) if you are on the same plane with the pets or 2) if they are traveling on a plane without you. An example of the second option is as when you purchase a dog from a breeder in another state of if you are bringing your pet to Europe at a different time than your family is traveling. Their travel dates are different than yours.

Having your pet travel in a pet crate in the cargo hold can be scary. Following strict airline protocol and making wise decisions can reduce your concern.  Many people think that traveling as cargo is cold, even freezing, and conditions are not pressurized.  Be sure to talk to your airline and confirm that the hold will be climate-controlled particularly if you are traveling in winter.   If an aircraft takes pets, they have a special area for pets that is temperature controlled within 10 degrees of the cabin, pressurized, and oxygenated for each pet.  It’s always best to book non-stop or direct flights. Some airlines are more pet-friendly than others and you can count on your pet traveling comfortably. For example, KLM has a special program for pets.

Here’s some info on both but absolutely contact your carrier for travel details and your destination country for what is going to happen when you arrive.

‘Crate-train’ your pets before the flight

It’s highly encouraged that you crate-train your pet before the day of the flight to minimize stress and prevent injury due to anxiety. The more time he or she can spend getting accustomed to his or her new crate, the more relaxed he or she will be on the day of the flight.  A light meal 2 hours before tendering the animal to the carrier will help to calm it and is a legal requirement in the United States.

The International Air Transport Association recommends that you do not to sedate or tranquilize pets for travel. (See downloadable pdf on this page for more detailed information).
You might want to consider leaving your pet at home if they are in the “at-risk” category for travel. Older, infirm dogs and cats can travel, as there is no age limit, but it always is best to seriously consider the amount of stress an elderly pet can endure. High-anxiety pets also pose a risk for hyperventilation and injury to themselves if they are not properly crate trained and conditioned ahead of time. Snub-nosed dogs, such as pugs and English bulldogs, are at an elevated risk for traveling because of their delicate respiratory systems, which can become impaired under high-stress situations. The length of travel and the pet’s individual personality can contribute to the amount of risk. Ultimately, it is left to the pet owner’s discretion to make an informed decision whether to fly with their pet after consulting with their veterinarian.

Know Your Destination’s Pet Policies

Before you consider taking your pet to Europe, be sure to confirm the laws of the country to want to visit.  For example, the United Kingdom has mandatory six-month quarantines; however, this usually can be avoided by doing what is known as “home quarantine.” A pet must receive a series of rabies shots, followed by a blood test, and then wait out the requisite amount of time in the origin country prior to traveling.  Travel in the EU countries all require proof of inoculations.  They need a microchip.   Not all ports of entry into a country allow pets.  This also requires ample advance planning and careful attention to the order in which the inoculations must be given. Some inoculations must have been given a minimum number of months in advance of travel.  You would be responsible for meeting all the expenses associated with the landing, transit and quarantine of your pet if requirements are not met.  In the EU, pets have their own Pet Passports.  Be sure you have adequate documentation with you.

Finally, certain countries have restrictions on the types of animals that can be imported and exported. For example, many countries have banned American Pit Bull Terriers outright because of their aggressive reputations. Switzerland does not allow animals with docked ears and tails into the country without proof that the owner of the pet is moving to Switzerland.

Conclusion:  Know Before You Go

Traveling with your pet can be complicated.  Your decision should take into consideration the best welfare of your pet, the duration of your trip and the laws of your destination countries.   Plan well in advance so you are not surprised by anything unexpected that could jeopardize your own journey or the health of your well-loved companion.