Are we there yet? Travel tips for pet owners!

An increasing number of hotels, resorts and businesses are now accepting dogs – and occasionally other species - and so more and more of us are taking our pets away with us when we go on holiday.

Whether it is a “staycation”, a quick hop to Europe, or somewhere even further away, it is important to make sure that your pet is properly cared for as you travel!

Much of the advice below is for dogs and dog owners, but in many cases, the advice is still relevant for other companion and small animals.

Planning – be prepared

When you are planning a trip with your pet it is important to check that they are prepared for the trip, so, your first stop should be to the vet. Here your vet will establish if they are well enough for the trip and, depending upon where you are visiting, give your pet the appropriate checks and vaccinations and will advise you of any other requirements for your destination.

If your trip involves a long car journey, it is sensible to acclimatise your pet to the vehicle first, particularly if they are unfamiliar with travelling by car. Try taking them on a few short journeys so they feel at ease with the experience. During this process, you can try using treats as positive reinforcement.

These journeys will also help to get them used to being restrained while you travel. This can be done using a travel crate, via a pet harness or pet car seats, for example. It is important that your pet does not roam freely around the vehicle while you travel because they may distract you and cause an accident, or, if you have to make a sudden maneuver, for example, your pet may become injured.

In order to make the experience more pleasurable for your pet, it is wise to include their favourite blanket or bed in the car so they are calmed by the familiar scent. You could also use a calming product such as Adaptil for dogs, or Feliway for cats, which mimic the pheromone produced by a nursing cat and dog mothers to promote the bond between them and their young.

Motion sickness

Beatrice_dei_BoulegattiWith these short journeys, you will also be able to discover if your pet suffers from motion sickness and either rectify the situation or prepare yourself with the appropriate medication.

Signs of motion sickness

Motion sickness is shown in a number of ways including

  • Inactivity
  • Pacing
  • Restlessness
  • Yawning or panting
  • Whining
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting (even on an empty stomach)
  • Fear of cars

A reported 1 in 6 dogs suffer from motion sickness, and it is more common in puppies than dogs. As it is with humans, younger animals tend to suffer because their balance structures in their inner ear have not fully developed. When disturbed by unfamiliar movements these structures can induce feelings of sickness; however, there are steps you can take to make the journey more pleasurable for you and your pet.

Firstly, it could just be that they are unfamiliar with the experience, so repeated trips may eliminate symptoms. If this does not work try one or more of the following;

  • If you are using a canine seatbelt, strap your dog in face forward– by facing forward they will experience fewer disorienting visual cues
  • Disable the passenger airbags or seat your dog as far away from them as possible – if they are deployed they could seriously injure your pet.
  • Consider using a size appropriate travel crate instead – they are usually safer than other methods of restraint. Unlike other methods, they allow for some movement so should your pet feel uncomfortable they can reposition themselves safely. Your pet will, therefore, feel less anxious and less likely to feel as sick.
  • Lower windows a few inches in order to equalise the air pressure inside and out, and to cool the car down – warm, stuffy environments can increase the feeling of sickness.
    Don’t let your dog hang their head out of the window unless they are wearing protective eyewear because the sudden rush of air and foreign objects may damage their eyes.
  • Limit their food and water intake prior to travel – most animals are less likely to feel sick if their stomachs are empty or close to empty
  • Make stops every few hours – this will give them (and you!) time for bathroom breaks, to exercise and for fresh water. To prevent gulping and overindulging in water, which might cause stomach problems such as bloat, try giving your dog small amounts of water at a time. Alternatively, you could try giving them ice cubes to lick instead, this will hydrate your pet but will be much easier on their stomach.
    NEVER leave them in the car by themselves – cars can heat up to dangerous levels very quickly - see our summer safety article for details
  • Find a toy that they enjoy which can be used exclusively for car journeys – distraction, even in the form of another person can help to alleviate the symptoms
  • Change cars - If you have access to a bigger car this will give you and your dog more room and may avoid unpleasant associations with other cars which may contribute to their feelings of stress and sickness.

If all else fails you can always speak to your veterinarian about motion sickness medication for your pet – assuming all other possible causes have been excluded. However, evidence suggests that most car-sickness in pets tends to be due to stress and anxiety, so in addition to the above, your vet may well suggest that time and other forms of behavioural training are the best remedies. So don’t despair, successful car travel is usually possible with a little patience.

Paperwork - Legal and medical matters etc

AdobeStock_83097557It is likely that you will be writing a list of things to do for yourself so it is wise to do the same for your pet, it can be so easy to forget something.

Therefore, if your pet takes any medication, has a specific toy or type of food that they just can’t live without, it is best to be prepared, it will make the trip that much easier on your pet, as well as you!

In case of emergency, you should also consider bringing details of your vet and any medical conditions your pet may have.

Establishments from 5-star hotels to self -catering accommodation are starting to provide pet owners with pet essentials such as beds and bedding, food and even pet sitting services for when you feel like going out without your pet. However, while they may be welcoming to animals, in general, there are often requirements or restrictions you must observe.

For example, some establishments require documented evidence of vaccinations, while others require evidence of breed and size prior to arrival – some companies restrict breeds and animals above a certain size - so do check before you arrive at your destination just in case you are later disappointed!

We have already covered the Pet Travel Scheme in our Your Pet and The Law article so if you are going to Europe – or even further – you should remind yourself of the pet travel laws and what is required before you travel. You should also familiarise yourself with the local laws regarding handling your pet in your destination too. For example, should you and your pet become separated, would you know where to go to seek assistance?

Travel tips for flying

The time when travelling with an animal meant a lengthy stay in quarantine is largely over, and so holidays abroad with our pets are now much less complicated.

However, despite its ease, if you chose to fly your pet to your final destination you should first consider whether it is absolutely necessary to have your pet with you. Some experts suggest that it is cruel to make your pet travel this way, however, if it is unavoidable or you feel confident that your pet would be able to cope with the experience, you should first speak with your veterinarian.

The vet will have expert knowledge of your pet, and their health, and so will know whether they would be a suitable candidate for air travel. Your vet should also be able to advise you on pet-friendly travel companies and other relevant suppliers.

You must book your pet’s journey using an approved travel company. Fees will for your pet’s travel are often high and will usually depend upon the animal, size and length of the journey. Some airlines operate their own cargo service – pets can only travel as cargo in and out of the UK due to current legislation – and you are restricted to what size and type of carrier you use. You might even be obliged to purchase a crate or container from them.

If you are flying on beyond the UK, you will find that smaller dog breeds, cats and rabbits (as well as other small pets) may be allowed in the cabin. Guide and Assistance dogs, however, are usually allowed in the cabin.

Airline Restrictions

There are many restrictions to consider when travelling by air; including the airport, you wish to travel to, the temperature, the date and time of travel, and the airline you wish to travel with, other restrictions include;

  • Brachycephalic breeds of dogs and cats such as a Pekingese, Chow Chow, and Persians have short nasal passages so may be vulnerable to oxygen deprivation and heat stroke in cargo holds so are often restricted from travel by airlines.
  • Airlines do not allow, and will not accept, animals that have been sedated. Sedatives can be affected by differences in air pressure, and so their heightened effect may harm your pet. The hold is usually kept dark and relatively warm, so pets tend to sleep once they have acclimatised. Non-sedative calmers can be used.
  • Some airlines restrict what can be put in the crate with your pet – in case of choking or injury - so it is unlikely that your pet will be allowed their favourite toy. As a result, you should consider giving your pet time with their new carrier before the flight. This will help your pet feel less stress because they will be familiar with the carrier, it should also smell more of home too.
  • Airlines will restrict pets depending upon their age and health. Thus, pets below about 12 weeks and very senior or weak pets, and pregnant animals are likely to be prevented from travelling.

So whether you and your pet are roughing it in a tent or planning to enjoy the finer things in life at a hotel don’t forget to research, research, research! It would be a shame to arrive at your destination only to be sent packing because you haven’t got the right documentation or even because you have forgotten to mention the dog completely!

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