Traveling with pets is ridiculously stressful, especially during the holidays when everyone seems to kick up a few notches of crazy, and airports resemble a herd of confused gazelles, except a lot less graceful. But for most of us, our pets are part of the family, so traveling with them is essential, even if it’s not easy to do. I travel with my dog Oscar (@OscardelaRamos) quite a bit, actually, so much so that I’ve pretty much mastered every trick there is for traveling with pets. But it took me a few pet travel fails to learn the things I know now, so it’s definitely good to know a few helpful tips.
Aside from being a regular traveler, I actually have a few years of experience as a veterinary technician (my 9-5 job before quitting to travel the world), which has helped me in a few situations I’ve encountered while traveling with my dog during the Holidays. Some of my experiences have just been typical travel stressors, but some have been near-detrimental accidents that occurred simply because I was visiting family for the holidays.
So here’s every tip I know for traveling with pets during the holidays, from flying with them on the plane, to keeping them safe during holiday festivities!
Some airlines allow you to add your pet to your ticket online (typically $100-$150 each way), but some require you to do it when you arrive at the airport. Either way, make sure you look up the airline’s pet policy, so you can see what they require as far as weight restrictions, carrier requirements, and advance notifications. If you’re trying to choose an airline based on the lowest fee, you can see every airline’s pet policy on BringFido, including the cost. Also keep in mind that most airports and airlines will require you to keep your dog in its carrier, unless it’s a service or emotional support dog, so be sure to pack a blanket, toys, and treats to keep them comfortable under in their little dog-cave.
Speaking of under the seat, don’t forget to note that your dog will count as your carry-on on most flights. That means you’ll probably have to check your luggage, but that’s a better option anyway so that you don’t have too much to carry. If you can get a window seat, I’ve found that those are the best option for flying with a dog, because that way there’s not constant commotion going on like there would be on the aisle.
Even if you have the best behaved dog in the world (AKA Oscar), there are still a few unavoidable stress factors that are inevitable to avoid when traveling with pets. I’m not just talking about stress for you, I’m talking about stress for your pet too! For instance, you know how babies cry when their ears pop on the plane? Dogs’ ears pop as well, and like babies, they have absolutely no idea what in the heck is going on. There’s also a good chance they’ll get over-excited, or even a little scared to be around so many people, so to keep your pet as calm as possible, I’d suggest getting some all natural anti-stress doggy treats, that use chamomile as a calming agent.
You can get “calming chews” at most pet stores, they usually have a few different options so it’s up to you to decide which ones you like best. I just went to PetsMart(you can order online too) and got the cheapest ones that were on sale called “21st Century Essential Pet – Pet-EZE Dog Calming Chews”, which smell really bad but they really do work.
You might also want to bring a blanket or jacket to put over their carrier under the seat, so that they feel more comfortable in a dark, quiet place. To prepare for your own stress of traveling with a pet, get to the airport early so you can take your time, politely ask your seat neighbors if they like dogs (some people get seriously pissed when you have one!), then order a big glass of wine and try to relax.
Last year I spent Christmas Eve and morning in the Emergency Animal Hospital. Why? Because I didn’t think to ask my aunt about the behavioral history of the husky they had just adopted, who was present at her annual holiday party. Long story short, everything was fine and dandy until someone dropped a bone, and both dogs went for it, resulting in my 7 pound Pomeranian getting yanked around like a chew toy by a full grown husky. Although now I know not to invite Oscar to that party, I would suggest to anyone planning on bringing their pup to a party or family’s house, to make sure they ask about any new pets, or neighborhood pets that may be of concern.
I also wish I would have been prepared for that lovely little vet bill I got, but I didn’t realize that pet insurance had become a legitimate thing since I stopped working as a vet tech 5 years ago. I have seen my fair share of “surprise” vet bills, and worse, seen how painful and stressful it is for pet owners who may not be able to afford it. That’s why I’d highly recommend looking into getting it, especially during the holidays when accidents are bound to happen.
If you have no idea what pet insurance is, does, or how to even get it (like I did), there’s a few websites like Pet Insurance U that do a pretty good job at explaining it, and comparing all of the different companies that offer it. I again just chose the cheapest option but essentially if I would have had the pet insurance on a regular basis like I do now, I would have gotten reimbursed for the $2000 vet bill I had to pay on Christmas day. Fail.
People food, that is. Although I’m extremely guilty of always giving my dog pieces of my food, I’m also an idiot who knows that it’s probably going to end up making him sick. Even if you are the type of person who is really good at never feeding your dog table scraps, there’s bound to be that one family member or guest who gives in to that cute begging face, so make sure they know not to in advance. If it does happen, hopefully all you’ll get stuck with is some gross liquid poop to clean up, but I’ve seen quite a few times when dogs have gotten dangerously sick from the change in diet.
Unfortunately, if you bring your dog to the vet because it has vomiting or diarrhea, it’s going to be a pretty hefty vet bill as well. I’m not saying don’t bring your dog in to get help, but to prepare for sickness by trying to avoid feeding them people food, or again, investing in some sort of pet insurance plan, so that you don’t have to worry about how much the vet bill will be. Oh, and another time when you should not give them even their dog food is while you’re on the plane. Feeding them 30,000 feet in the air can be bad for their stomachs, plus you really don’t want to make your dog hold their poop in for the duration of a flight!
Squirrels, other dogs, and annoying kids are all really easy things for dogs to chase after, and if it happens to be in an area that’s not your own home, it could lead to your dog accidentally getting lost.
Hopefully your dog has a tag on its collar, with the appropriate contact information in case he does get lost, and if not, they’re really cheap and fast to make at any local pet store. Bonus points if you have your pet microchipped (you get it at the vet), and correctly enrolled in a safety program in case its collar were to fall off.
For me, my biggest concern isn’t having my dog run away…it’s having him sit down and not move or make a peep if he happens to walk too far away from me without his leash. I’ve literally lost him several times (usually just in the house) because he’ll randomly follow someone, then realize he doesn’t see me, get scared, and not move until I literally go find him and carry him back.
Bonus Tip: Qualifying for an Emotional Support Dog
To me, dogs are emotional support animals by default since they make their owners happier all the time. But, if you have any sort of psychological disorder, you really might be able to get your dog certified as an emotional support animal, all you need is a note from your psychologist or psychiatrist and you can register them online. Back when I got hit by a car on a motorcycle and had constant post-trauma stress, I was able to qualify Oscar as an emotional support dog…but mostly wanted it so that I didn’t have to pay for his flights, and so that he could come with me to restaurants.