The holidays can be stressful, especially if you’re traveling—yet alone with a furry friend by your side! Having a solid plan can make this time more enjoyable for you both.
In this article, we’ll go over all there is to know about holiday travel with pets—from the best ways to travel, to where to stay, to what to do once you’re there!
Table of Contents:
See a Veterinarian Before you Leave
The very first thing on your list should be to see a veterinarian. This is doubly important if you’re traveling far from home or your pet will be around other animals.
Ask your vet what they recommend when it comes to vaccines and health testing. Here are some things to consider or ask about during your appointment:
- A basic health check. If your pet hasn’t been in for a health check in six months to a year, your vet might want to run bloodwork and look them over to ensure they’re fit to travel.
- Is your pet up-to-date on all of their vaccines? If not, they could either catch or spread illness—especially if they’re in a new area with diseases less common back home, or spending a lot of time with relatives’ pets.
- Are they on parasite prevention (if they’ll be outdoors during your travels)? This is especially important for dogs, but also think about your pets who don’t usually spend time outdoors.
Sometimes we like to have some extra fun with our pets on vacation, like setting up an outdoor pen for small animals if it’s going to be warm where you’re staying or bringing your cat outdoors on a harness. However, it’s easy to forget little things like parasite preventative—and you’ll definitely regret it later if they catch fleas or other parasites!
Of course, never allow any pet outdoors unsupervised or uncontained. This is risky enough at home, but can be even more disastrous if, say, you let your cat roam in another state!
- Do you need any medications refilled so that they last the entirety of your trip? Most vets will be fine with refilling a prescription early if you’d usually be filling it while you’re away.
- Does your pet get anxious or car sick, and can anything help to alleviate that? It’s worth asking about precautions you can take, and whether your vet recommends medication to help your pet travel with as little stress as possible.
- Is your pet microchipped? If the worst happens and your pet runs away while you’re far from home, it’s vital that they have identification on them. Collars can break away, but a microchip ensures you can prove your pet is yours, and makes certain you’re called if they’re brought into a shelter.
Remember that veterinarians might be booked around the holidays. Make sure to set up your appointment ahead of time so that your pet will definitely be seen.
Related article: How To Keep A Dog Calm At The Vet
Make a Packing List
To make your packing list, start by writing down the things you and your pet use as you go about your day.
Making breakfast? Write out how many meals you’ll need during your trip, as well as any supplements or medications your pet gets during mealtime.
Kitty using the litterbox? Write down litterbox, cat litter, litter scoop, trash bags.
Continue as you take your dog for a walk, play with your cat, or top up your bunny’s hay. If you have small caged animals, like guinea pigs, that you’ll need to bring with you, be sure to include their cage and supplies.
Do this for a couple of days to ensure you’ve gotten all of the essentials. Then, continue by thinking of what you’ll need in the car. This might include:
- Carrier with ID tags—include your name, address, and phone number
- Car seat or seatbelt for your dog
- Car barrier to prevent dogs from climbing into the front seat or distracting the driver
Related article: Best Car Seat Covers For Dogs
Then, add emergency items to your list.
Emergency items might include:
- Extra food
- First-aid kit
- Veterinary records
- A collar or harness and ID tags (for cats and dogs, but never for small pets!)
- A photo of your pet for ID purposes if they get lost
- Phone numbers of veterinarians on the way and at your destination, including emergency clinics
Lastly, pack some comfort items to remind your pet of home. These should smell like you or your pet, and might include bedding, worn clothing, or toys.
Check out our list of dog road trip essentials for a more detailed list of things to pack when travelling with a pup.
Try to Avoid Flights
Airplanes are typically very stressful for pets, as they don’t know what’s happening. This is especially true if they aren’t used to travel.
While cars can also be stressful, they typically don’t involve crowds of people or the sensation of their ears popping as a plane leaves the ground.
Your pet is also more likely to have been in a car before—and if not, it’s easy to desensitize them to it before leaving, as I explain in our article about travelling with cats in the car.
If you do Fly, Bring your Pet In-Cabin
There are two ways to fly with pets. Flying with your pet in-cabin means your pet stays with you, usually in a carrier beneath the seat. You can keep an eye on them the whole time.
Most small pets can fly in-cabin, but larger pets like dogs won’t be able.
In-cargo means that your pet is kept away from you in another part of the plane. This area is supposed to be temperature controlled, with staff to feed and water them as-needed.
However, this is very stressful on most animals. If your pet is in poor health to begin with, including dogs with a short snout (otherwise known as brachycephalic), it’s dangerous for them to fly.
Things also don’t always go according to plan, which you might know if you’ve seen the horror stories of pets dying on planes. Even without neglect on the airline’s part, which sometimes happens, consider that your pet won’t be monitored closely during this high-stress time.
Find Pet-Friendly Accommodations
The next challenge you’re likely to find is staying somewhere that accepts your pets. Keep in mind that even pet-friendly hotels will have limits on how long you can leave your pet alone, especially if they’re loud or otherwise disruptive while you’re away.
Places to stay with your pets might include:
- Pet-friendly hotels
- The house of a friend or family member
The best option, if it’s available to you, is usually to stay with friends or family. This is likely the cheapest and also the most comfortable for your pet, as it won’t mean being left alone while you visit with people and celebrate the holiday.
No matter where you stay, ensure you’re a considerate guest! Pick up after your pets and don’t allow them to destroy walls, carpets, or furniture.
Keep them quiet when possible, and don’t allow them to get into scuffles with any other pets in the area.
I suggest bringing some cleaning supplies with you, such as poop bags and disinfecting wipes.
If you’re lucky enough to have family or friends willing to let your pet stay in their home, consider bringing an extra gift along to thank them for their kindness!
Prepare for Misbehavior
In an unfamiliar place, your pet might forget some of their manners and training. Travel can be incredibly stressful because animals thrive on routine.
Prepare for your dog to get extra excited and try to jump on guests, your cat to potentially pee outside of the litterbox due to stress, etc. Your pet might behave like a perfect angel—but it’s best to expect that they won’t and plan for what may happen.
One way to prepare for misbehavior is to focus on keeping stress levels low and training your pet as well as possible. Training is a lifelong pursuit, of course, but some extra training before you leave can go a long way.
For instance, you can slowly introduce the concept of being in a car or work extra on that “leave it” command so that your dog doesn’t get into the Christmas cookies.
Also, have management strategies in place. Keep your dog on a leash when meeting new people and bring them outdoors often to prevent potty accidents. Bring cleaning supplies with you in case messes do happen.
Don’t stress too much about your pet’s behavior, but plan for what you can to keep them, yourself, and your guests as happy as possible!
Stick to a Routine
Lastly, keep your pet’s routine as similar as you can to your schedule at home. This will reduce their stress, as they can still anticipate what will happen throughout the day. Change can be very scary!
Meals, walks, playtime, and sleep should be kept as similar as possible to your time at home. That’s not to say you can’t do fun things like spend a day out exploring with your dog, but keep in mind that too much novelty can add to their stress.
Keeping your pet’s accommodations similar can help as well. This might mean bringing your dog’s crate, using the same litter and box as you do at home for your cat or rabbit, or setting up your guinea pigs’ cage as you would at home.