Top 10 Considerations for Travel with a Small Dog
“It’s difficult / a challenge / hard to travel with a dog.”
Ack! No, it’s not! In our opinion, it is no more difficult to travel with a dog than with kids. But you don’t see every post on travelling with children start with a caveat about how challenging it is.
As you can tell, this issue is a little pet peeve of ours. That kind of statement puts the reader in the wrong frame of mind from the start. And it’s simply not true. In our experience, with a little knowledge, leg work, and some patience, it is not that difficult to plan ahead and travel with a four-legged tourist. There are basically only 10 things you’ll need to sort out.
1) Is There a Quarantine?
The one thing you will not be able to work around will be quarantine laws. Sadly, although vaccines for rabies and other diseases have proven over time to be effective and blood titre tests can prove the amount of vaccine in a dog’s blood stream, some countries (mostly islands) that have eradicated the diseases have yet to amend their laws. We want to see the entire world, but we consider a quarantine not as a limitation, but as an opportunity to keep our list of places to visit manageable. We just focus where canines are welcome to enter—and that’s a lot of places.
2) What is the Dog Culture?
While some countries are advanced in their protection of animal rights, others are less so. Make sure you are not bringing your dog into a dangerous situation. In addition, some countries will simply not allow your dog to visit, no matter what. Sometimes it’s for ecological reasons (a delicate eco balance); sometimes it’s from fear of a disease that has been eradicated (rabies: see Point 1); and sometimes, it’s because specific breeds have been banned. I’ve written at length on how it’s not always a dog-friendly world out there.
Dog culture applies to sites and events, not just countries. If you want to visit any special attractions while you are on your trip, check ahead to verify their pet policies. It will make planning your trip easier.
3) What About Vaccines and Papers?
Many countries require paperwork with your veterinarian’s signature and your animal inspection agency’s “stamp of approval” in order to guarantee your pet’s entry. Make sure you look into this carefully. It’s an extra step, but the level of difficulty is less challenging than a human going to get some malaria pills from a travel doctor and obtaining a visa from an embassy.
Proof of rabies vaccination will always be one of the requirements. All vaccines are also time sensitive, requiring that your pet receive them a specific number of days prior to entry. Make sure you give yourself enough time.
If you can’t find information on the web about what vaccines are needed, call that country’s closest embassy or reach out to your country’s animal import–export office (e.g., USDA, CFIA). If you are visiting multiple countries, ensure you look into all of them.
Note: Never assume that because you entered a country from one border that you can re-enter it from another. (For example, you may enter Montenegro from Croatia with just the EU form that includes the rabies vaccine but you can’t re-enter Croatia from Montenegro without the added blood titre test.) Plans for border-hopping day trips are worth further investigation.
Vaccinations and preventative measures to consider include:
- Bordetella, just in case you have to board your dog unexpectedly if, for example, you should become ill.
- Lyme vaccination if you plan to travel in wooded areas where there’s a high incidence of the disease.
- Prevention of ticks, heartworm, and tapeworm.
- The blood test to measure vaccination levels (blood titre test). Please note that in North America there is only ONE lab that is internationally recognized. Make sure your vet sends the blood sample to that lab.
4) Methods of Transportation?
Air: If going very long distances, this is the best way to get where you are going. Taking to the skies does come with some rules. The most common is that when your dog is travelling in-cabin (possible when the dog + carrier is less than 20 pounds), it will need to remain in its carrier for the entire flight. The carrier must be under the seat in front of you for take-off and landing. Visit airline websites directly and for each trip so as not to get caught by a change in the rules. If you need to fly your pet in cargo, then we recommend you reach out to The Tropical Dog. They do it all the time and will be able to help you out with tips and tricks!
One thing you can count on will be the pet fee and the maximum number of pets allowed in cabin per flight (ranges from 2–5). Make sure your dog has been registered with the airline, get an email confirmation, and bring the confirmation with you for proof.
Water: Unless you plan on sailing your own vessel or renting a boat on one of Europe’s canals, sadly, the waterways are not pet-friendly. With the exception of service animals, no major cruise ships allow dogs in-cabin with people.
Cunard’s transatlantic QE2 allows small dogs in the ship’s kennels. The dog must be fairly small as the kennels are only 33×33×29 inches. The kennel has visiting hours three times per day, its own deck, and full-time staffing.
For most ferry crossings, pets must remain in the vehicle on the car deck or in a kennel.
Land: Road trips remain the best way to travel with dogs. Cars, campers, motorcycles, and even bicycles can be fun adventures. Chances are, your dog has ridden in a vehicle for trips to the vet, the park, the groomer, and more. Remember that some dogs experience anxiety when riding in cars and/or get motion sickness, so this may not be the right choice for every pet.
Plan to stop every 3–5 hours (more or less, depending on your dog’s needs) to allow your dog to relieve itself, drink water, and stretch its legs. Make a list of several veterinary hospitals that are easily accessible from your route, preferably within one hour’s drive from any given point.
Purchase a dog safety seat or carrier. Ensure your pet cannot roam around the vehicle or put its face out the window, as much as they love it. This is dangerous. Consider purchasing a pet safety belt. These belts ensure that should an accident occur, your pet is not thrown from the vehicle or into other passengers. In some places, this is now a law as binding as a child seat.
As for trains, in Europe most will allow you to bring your pet. If it’s allocated seating (like the TGV in France), confirm your pet’s presence on-site, prior to boarding. For sleeper trains, you need to advise the train service at the time of booking AND 48 hours prior to your travel that you have your pet with you and you may need to have the entire sleeper to yourself ($$$).
For buses, the odds are against you. With the exception of some European countries, almost all the buses we have tried will not permit a pet on board.
Note: Remember that if you are crossing a land border, you will need the paperwork (Point 3).
5) Pet-Friendly Lodgings?
For anything over 3 nights, we favour pet-friendly vacation rentals because every hotel has its own rules, and these rules can vary drastically. If you are staying at a hotel, make sure that you review the hotel requirements for pet owners before you book your stay. Pet owners that break the rules are often subject to fines, so find out what the rules are ahead of time and get it in writing.
Confirm that the hotel’s website information is up-to-date and that pets are indeed welcome. Hotels often change ownership, management, and rules, but do not always update their websites to reflect these changes.
Call ahead and find out if where you are staying defines “pet-friendly” the same way you do and always get it in writing. Same goes for camp grounds and B&Bs.
6) What to Pack?
There is a fine line between taking what you need and taking too much or too little. It’s always best to pack light. Even if your dog is spoiled at home, it’s a good policy to go back to basics on a trip. We’ve created a packing list to help you stay on course. Two words: Packing Cubes! (banner photo)
7) What About Pet Insurance?
Although to date we have yet to find such a thing as international travel insurance for dogs on the go, it is a good idea to get as much coverage as you can with any pet insurance policy you choose to use. And make sure you have an emergency fund. We have a Visa card whose sole purpose is to be “maxed out” if need be for emergency vet care while we travel. We never use it otherwise; in fact it’s inside a block of ice in our freezer the rest of the time! Visa is the most recognized card around the world and, in particular, in Europe.
In many cases, pet insurance bought in your home country will cover your continent. For example, if you are covered in Canada, the odds are good that your insurance will cover you in the United States and maybe even in Mexico. In some cases, a small, on- time fee is required if your day-to-day coverage does not cover travel. Call ahead, and while you are at it, make sure you know what is covered and what is not.
8) What About Finding Their Way Home?
Keep your dog’s collar and dog tags on whenever you are driving. There’s always a chance—no matter how well behaved your dog may be—that your dog will get out of the car and away from you.
Some countries require a microchip as a prerequisite for entry (e.g., the Caribbean). There are different chips out there so make sure you let your vet know you will be travelling. The most widely accepted is the 15-digit ISO microchip.
Note: It’s often a forgotten step, but the microchip is of no use if it has not been registered anywhere.
Make sure your dog is wearing a current ID tag with the dog’s name and your contact information at all times. Get an ID tag that takes paper inserts so you can update your dog’s tag with your local apartment rental or hotel phone number. When on the road, your tag for home will be of less value. (An emerging trend you may want to check out is a registered tag system that allows you to update the information online whenever you want, but you must remember to update the information! Blanket has a pretty neat, simple system.)
9) A Space of their Own!
Your dog will travel more comfortably and safely while in a carrier. Even if you don’t often use one at home, it’s a good idea to bring a carrier along while you travel. It will act as a safe escape if your dog gets stressed during the trip. There may also be times when it is necessary to confine your dog. In fact, an airline-approved carrier is required if you plan to fly.
For owners of toy size dogs, collapsible play pens are a perfect solution for containing your pet if you must leave them alone in the hotel room. Get them used to it prior to your travels. These are also great if you are going to a conference, the beach, or the park.
10) What About the Weather?
Many dogs are sensitive to weather extremes. You need to be prepared to keep your dog comfortable. If you expect very cold temperatures, be sure to keep a sweater, coat, or even snow suit and boots for added warmth and a blanket for the carrier or car.
If it’s going to be very hot, consider a cooling vest. And never leave a pet in a hot car or a room without ventilation, and make sure you have a good travel water dish.
Many dogs have pink skin that is visible by just ruffling the fur. Remember that this exposed skin may sunburn. Consider getting a “rash guard” with UV protection for your dog.
Note: Most sunscreens are poisonous to dogs if ingested.
So, now that you’re equipped with the top 10 considerations for travel with a small dog and feel confident about each point, get going! Go ahead … bring your pet with you on vacation and don’t forget your camera!
Note: Post originally published in 2011. Heavily re-worked and updated.