Top tips for taking your cat and dog on holiday
Taking your dog, cat or even rabbit on holiday means they don’t miss you, you don’t miss them and perhaps best of all you don’t have to pay for boarding, which significantly adds to the cost of your holiday. If you’ve boarded your pet in the past, you’re not alone: in 2016, Australian pet owners spent $520 million on boarding and minding services.
You’re also not alone if you prefer to take your pet on holiday. According to Animal Medicines Australia, each year 19 per cent of the country’s 4.7 million dogs and 2 per cent of the 3.8 million cats holiday with their owners. That’s a lot of lucky pooches and moggies!
Dr Bryn Lynar of Sydney’s Pittwater Animal Hospital has helped us compile a list of handy travel tips and ‘destination dangers’ that will help you and your pet travel safely together.
Before you leave home
Organise pet-friendly accommodation
“First of all, you need to ensure your destination is pet friendly,” advises Dr Lynar. “Whether you plan to rent or stay with friends or family, check that the premises has a comfortable and safe environment, such as an enclosed garden and shaded outdoor area.”
There are many websites offering pet-friendly accommodation at motels, bed and breakfasts, and holiday rental homes throughout Australia including Stayz, Holidaying With Dogs and HomeAway. Before booking a property, check that it meets your pet’s requirements and read any conditions relating to their stay such as picking up their mess and not allowing dogs inside or on furniture and beds. Breaches of conditions may incur a fine to pay for damage or cleaning.
Vaccinate for your holiday location and stops along the way
“Before you travel, check that your pet’s vaccinations are up-to-date for heartworm, ticks, fleas, distemper, hepatitis, Kennel Cough and Parvovirus, which is more common in regional areas than cities,” advises Dr Lynar. “If you’re travelling to Tasmania, your dog is required to be treated for hydatid tapeworm, otherwise they will be denied entry.”
Heartworm, a parasitic species spread by mosquitos, can be fatal for dogs and is prevalent throughout Australia. “If you plan to travel for an extended period, a heart worm injection which lasts for a year rather than a monthly treatment is a more convenient and effective option,” she says.
Dr Lynar also recommends taking your cat or dog’s vaccination certificate with you so that you can place them in a kennel if an unexpected situation arises, like your car breaks down in a town without pet-friendly accommodation.
Microchip and register your pet
According to Dr Lynar, it’s not uncommon for dogs to get lost while on holidays. “Take a photo of your dog to show the local vet, pound and neighbours if they wander off and, if you haven’t already done so, microchip and register them with the Central Animal Records, which is an Australia-wide register.” If your pet is already registered, check that your details are current and include a mobile number so you can be contacted while away, or provide a friend’s number if you are likely to be out of mobile range.
“It’s also a good idea to have your vet test the microchip to ensure it’s still working as moisture can sometimes cause them to rust and rot or surgery can accidentally damage or remove them,” says Dr Lynar.
Make travel arrangements
Pets can suffer anxiety or discomfort on any mode of transport. If you plan to travel to your holiday destination by car and your pet is already happy on short car trips then chances are they will cope well with a longer journey.
If you will be flying to your destination, you will need to book your pet on your flight as freight with either Qantas or Virgin Australia. Pets are considered ‘freight’ as they travel within crates or carriers within the plane’s temperature and pressure-controlled cargo hold, with the exception of Service Dogs that travel in the passenger cabin.
You can organise your pet’s airline travel or hire a specialist pet travel company such as Jetpets, Dogtrainers or OzPets, which offer a complete door-to-door service. Jetpets also offers vet checks prior to travel and provides a transit lounge for pets so they can relax and stretch their four legs before their flight. (Here’s more information about Jetpets’ services.)
Australia’s major airlines have strict rules relating to the transportation of pets to help ensure a safe, comfortable trip for them and their staff. Pets that don’t meet their conditions include those that are unwell, aggressive, pregnant, have respiratory problems or belong to a breed renowned for destructive behaviour, such as the American Pit Bull Terrier. Puppies and kittens under eight weeks’ old are also not allowed to fly due to the risk of dehydration.
Your crate or carrier needs to meet each airline’s guidelines, which are focused on making your pet’s trip safe and comfortable. You can hire or buy an airline-approved carrier from pet travel services companies or source your own. Before you do however, check with Virgin Australia and Qantas’ carrier requirements.
Travel tips for first-time furry jetsetters
For first-time furry jetsetters, Jetpets recommends familiarising them with their carrier before flying by placing it in your home with their bedding and favourite toy inside and the door open so they can wander in and out at will. They also suggest giving your pet a treat or a meal when inside to further reinforce their positive experience of being in a carrier. If your dog or cat is accustomed to travelling in a carrier, some pet air travel services companies like Jetpets organise for your carrier to be collected on the day you travel from the freight terminal and returned at the freight terminal of your destination airport.
What to take
Holiday accommodation may be 5-star or come with a stunning ocean view but from a pet’s perspective, it’s unfamiliar setting can cause anxiety and affect their ability to relax and settle.
“Dogs and cats are comforted by the familiar smells of home so take their bed, food and water bowls and favourite toys to help them settle quicker when you arrive,” says Dr Lynar. “If this doesn’t resolve your pet’s anxiety, there are medications and synthetic pheromone products that your vet can recommend such as Adaptil DAP or Dog Appeasing Pheromone and Feliway for cats which can calm them and ease their discomfort.”
And don’t forget their medications and other lifestyle essentials such as lead, ball, scratching post and kitty litter tray so you and your pets have an enjoyable holiday.
On the road comfort, health and safety
Keep them safe…
When travelling in the car, your dog or cat needs to be secured with a seat belt either fed through their harness or their carrier or cage. “Don’t put your pets in the front passenger seat as the airbag can cause significant injuries when deployed,” advises Dr Lynar.
Stopping on the side of the road during your trip comes with the risk of you and your pet being hit by traffic. “To keep your dog safe, don’t open the car doors or let them out of the car until you have attached their lead to their collar. And always unload them on the passenger side, as far away from the road as possible,” she explains.
Most cats travel in a crate or carrier in cars for their own and others safety. “You can put a small kitty litter into the carrier and if you would like to take your cat out at rest stops, I recommend fitting a harness and lead onto them and taking them to a quiet grassy area. Don’t be surprised if your cat doesn’t ‘do their business’ as many feel uncomfortable or stressed in unfamiliar locations.”
Also, never leave your pet in the car while parked, even with the windows down, as heat can quickly intensify, which can lead to life-threatening heat stress and dehydration.
… and cool
Maintain a flow of air in the car, including air conditioning on warm and hot days, to ensure you pet doesn’t get heat stressed. “Signs your dog is suffering heat stress include panting continuously with their mouth wide open, often accompanied by a ‘strider’ which is a high-pitched wheezing sound, agitation and drooling. If your dog’s gums turn a brick red colour and lose their elasticity, staying ‘tented’ when pinched between your fingertips, take them immediately to the vet,” advises Dr Lynar.
… and hydrated
During your trip Dr Lynar also recommends stopping every three to four hours or as needed to give your pet an opportunity to relieve themselves, have a drink and stretch their legs. “Don’t forget to take lots of water and their water bowl. Many older dogs drink more often than younger ones so you may need to schedule a few extra drink breaks.” (Target has a great range of collapsible travel cups and water bowls.)
… and if they suffer motion sickness
“If your pet suffers motion sickness, ask your vet about medications such as Cerenia, a long lasting once-a-day treatment, and antihistamines to give them before you start your journey,” says Dr Lynar. “While pheromones can help your cat or dog with anxiety while travelling, some pet owners find the Thundershirt, which is like a vest and applies a constant, gentle pressure on their torso, can also make cats and dogs feel less anxious and stressed in the car and while settling in to an unfamiliar holiday accommodation,” says Dr Lynar.
At your holiday destination
“There are some ‘destination dangers’ as I call them to watch out for,” says Dr Lynar.
If your pet isn’t already on a tick prevention medication, find out before you depart whether your destination and the stops along the way are tick-prone areas. “It’s easy for pet owners who live inland where ticks are rare to overlook tick prevention when planning a coastal holiday,” she says.
Other destination dangers include fish hooks and toxic fish. “Puffer fish for example are poisonous to dogs and cats and, like fish hooks, can be easily found and eaten by your pet without you noticing,” she explains. “If you have fish hooks, keep them out of reach and remove any residue bait to reduce their appeal. If your pet swallows a hook or shows any signs of poisoning including difficulty breathing, vomiting and loss of consciousness, take them immediately to the local vet.”
Another destination danger is snakes. “Check your holiday accommodation’s garden for snakes and keep your dog on a lead when out walking to stop them approaching snakes and running off and getting lost,” advises Dr Lynar.
And lastly, to reduce the chances of your dog wandering off and getting lost, check that your holiday accommodation’s garden is secure and keep them on the lead when out and about, particularly on bush walks. Some dogs that don’t usually wander off at home can be tempted to ‘go bush’ by new and enticing smells of the local wildlife – or fish and chip shop!
If you’re unable to take your dog or cat on holiday…
An affordable alternative to boarding your cat or dog in a kennel or cattery is Sitter Guide, an Australian-owned Airbnb-style pet minding service that links pet owners with insured sitters. There’s no joining fee and you can search their national online network for a local sitter who can either look after your pet in your home or theirs. In addition to dogs and cats, Sitter Guide has minders that care for rabbits, rodents, ferrets, reptiles, fish, birds, horses and ponies and offer extras such as grooming, walking and pick-up and drop-off.