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Any pet parent that has taken their buddy along on a journey knows how stressful this can be. And then there’s the guilt trip of leaving them behind. But pun aside – if a holiday is coming up and you’re currently facing this dilemma, today’s article will help.

Whenever pet owners are undecided about travelling with pets, we ask them the following questions:

  • Is this the first time they’ll be travelling with you?
  • Is your pet older?
  • Do they get easily stressed?
  • Do they have a health condition?

The more you’ve answered ‘yes’ to these questions, the more we would encourage you to leave your pet at home. And while dogs can be quite adaptable when it comes to changing scenes, we think most cats are better off staying put. In these cases, the best option is for a trusted person (such as a relative or a sitter) to look after them.

On the other hand, if your pet is a seasoned traveller who is in good shape and enjoys venturing out, you’ll love to have them join in on the fun. Here are some tips to help you get started.

Before the trip

The first thing you’ll need is a suitable carrier (or a crate, for bigger animals). Once you’ve got this, place it on the floor at home with as many days in advance as possible so your pet can familiarise with it. If you give them treats when they’re inside, you’ll help create a positive association with the carrier.

The second thing is ensuring you can be contacted should your pet escape their carrier or get lost during the trip. For this, you’ll need to make sure they’re microchipped (a legal requirement for dogs) and, ideally, also wearing a collar and tag.

Walking and feeding a couple of hours before setting off will also help them feel more relaxed. We all know that travelling with a full tummy is not the best idea! Lastly, don’t forget to pack a basic kit with food (you can buy smaller packs for the occasion), bowls, medication and something that has a familiar smell, like a blanket or toy.

Travelling by car

If the only time your pet has been in the car was to visit the vet, you may want to change this. For example, by going on short trips with them to your local park or while running errands. These ‘practice trips’, especially if accompanied by treats, will help reinforce the idea that travelling in the car is fun and not scary.

On the day of your departure, if having a second person to go in the car with you is an option, then this would be ideal. That way, you can keep your eyes on the road while the other person focuses on keeping your furry friend calm. But if travelling on your own is the only option, there are natural calming products you can use to help your pet feel less tense. Some of the safest and most reliable options are Adaptil (for dogs) and Feliway (for cats). Both products contain pheromones which, when released, replicate the natural, appeasing hormones that help animals feel calmer. For pets that become very anxious or for added support, we suggest combining pheromone treatment with Zylkene, a natural supplement that can be mixed with food and is suitable for both short-term and long-term use. Begin administration 1-2 days prior to travel.

Pets should travel in the back of the car and inside a carrier that has been secured to the seat. The last thing you want is a carrier that is sliding around and making your pet more anxious! If you’re going on a long trip, take frequent breaks so they can stretch their legs and do their business.

Lastly, never leave your cat or dog alone inside a parked car. This is dangerous for various reasons: from theft to heat-induced stress.

Travelling by train

The majority of train operating companies we’ve researched in the UK and Europe allow passengers to take up to two small pets, free of charge (a small pet weighing 6kg or less). They’ll need to travel in a carrier on your lap or at your feet.

Larger pets are usually also allowed on board, but you may need to pay a small fee (although guide dogs travel for free). Your pet may also need to travel on a leash and wear a muzzle.

Only registered guide or assistance dogs are allowed on Eurostar trains, with owners needing to arrange bookings and documentation ahead of their journey.

Travelling by plane

This deserves an article of its own! But our main message is this: unless necessary, consider all other alternatives before embarking on a flight with your pet. Even though some airlines allow a cat or small dog inside the cabin, companies have different policies for things like types of carriers allowed or the number of animals that can travel together in the cabin, which can make the process of selecting an operator complicated.

Large pets will need to travel in the hold: a traumatising experience for many due to noise, poor ventilation, temperature changes and, sometimes, rough handling of their crates. It’s easy to see why flying with your pet isn’t the most appealing option! However, it’s still generally considered safe, so if you have no choice, we would recommend you do some extensive research on the subject and check individual airline rules.