Tips for travelling with pets this holiday season

Expert advice for making trips with your furry friend safer and better for both of you.

Expert advice for making trips with your furry friend safer and better for both of you

Portrait Of French Bulldog Dog With His Owner In Christmas Costume At Home
(Credit: Getty Images)

As the bustle of another holiday season approaches, many pet owners are planning trips to visit family and friends with their animals in tow. Whether you and your furry pals are seasoned or novice travelling companions, a little planning can help them have a safer and more comfortable journey.

Here are some expert tips to help you embark on a winter trek that's an enjoyable experience for all.

Preparing your pet for the journey

If you're wondering whether it's a good idea to travel with animals, Kathy Duncan, director of national programs at Humane Canada, encourages people to start taking pets on trips when they're young, and to continue doing so as they get older. "It can be tough for them to be away from home, and if you're not doing it regularly, then they get more stressed," she said. "We routinely hear from veterinarians about the challenges they have with cats coming into the clinic because folks typically don't travel with cats. Trying to put your cat in a carrier if you haven't practiced that in advance can be challenging for both you and the cat."

According to Duncan, pet owners must understand how animals react in different situations. "Depending on the type of travel you're intending to do, some animals don't react well," she said. "They get motion sickness in the car." She suggests finding out how your animal reacts to travel before you decide to drive somewhere far away.

If this is your first time travelling with an animal, Duncan recommends practicing before the trip by doing simple exercises such as getting them in and out of a kennel in your car, going on short drives with the pet inside the kennel or even walking them through the airport, if it's permitted. Each time you practice, she said, reward your pet with treats or praise so it's a positive encounter.

Karen Overall, a professor of behaviour medicine at Atlantic Veterinary College, said it's also important to make sure your pet is comfortable being cared for in new surroundings. "They must be able to go into a hotel room, and to even be showered in an unfamiliar shower," she said. 

If a pet displays extreme stress or discomfort in new situations, Overall said anti-anxiety medication from a veterinarian is an option. She urges pet owners to try any medication prescribed by a vet before a trip, so you know there are no adverse effects. 

Another way to ensure your pet is calm during a trip is to pack familiar items to surround them with along the way and when you reach your destination, said Overall. This could include throwing a favourite chew toy or blanket into their crate or wearing a t-shirt for a couple of days before you leave and putting that into their carrier, so they are comforted by your scent. Overall calls these "safety signals."

Gear for your pet's safety

Once you've started practicing with your pet and feel confident they're able to travel, the next step is to find the proper gear to guarantee their safety on the trip.

Some modes of transportation, such as airplanes or ships, can require pet owners to use specific crates, carriers or other tools for an animal. In a scenario where you have the freedom to choose, such as a trip in your car, Duncan believes a rigid kennel, a seatbelt and a harness are key items. "You would not want to utilize a crate that is soft-sided or that could be collapsed, because they're less structurally sound in the event that you're in an accident," she said. 

Another item Duncan said pet owners should carry is an emergency kit for their animals that includes any regular medications.

Overall also emphasizes the need for a harness and said it's possible to find ones small enough to fit kittens or other tiny animals. She insists a harness can even help you to include extra identifiers in case your pet becomes lost. "In their crate goes a slip of paper or a laminate that has your name, your cell phone number, the animal's name and anything else that's important," she said. "Around their necks or on their harnesses goes the same information."

For those travelling with exotic pets, Duncan said it's vital to make sure you'll have no trouble accessing the type of food they require. She recommends checking beforehand that the destination is adequately set up to house the pet for the entire duration of your stay. 

Important considerations on your journey

You've practiced, packed all the necessary gear and now the time has come to head on an adventure with your pet. According to Rory O'Neill, an animal behaviourist and founder of the Rocky Mountain Animal Rescue, if you're travelling with a dog, it's a good idea to go for a walk or run together before leaving them in a crate for a few hours. 

While the trip is underway, Overall tells pet owners it's important to recognize when to take animals on a bathroom break or for a short walk, and to provide them with snacks. "I try not to make dogs go more than three or so hours," she said. "Simply because they're not moving around that much, and I think it's probably good for all of us to get out of the car and walk around."  

When travelling with a cat, Overall believes a blanket draped over their carrier will result in a better experience. "When cats are stressed, they hide," she said. "You could leave one tiny corner open so that the cat can monitor, but a dark spot for them is going to be a safe spot."

Settling into new surroundings

Before you arrive with your pet to celebrate the holidays, there's one critical step left to ensure an animal is safe, comfortable and happy in a new place. You need to communicate with family and friends, so they understand what your pet is like, and how to manage any of their special needs.

"This is the time for full disclosure," said Overall. She encourages pet owners to explain any problems or preferences an animal has, how those have been handled so far and what the expectations are for people sharing the new space. 

"That discussion has to be open and honest with needs," said Overall. "That's the time for your cousin to say, 'But the baby is terrified of dogs.'" 

Some animals might benefit from having their own private space, and Overall recommends bringing a pair of earmuffs with a special treat. "They're in another room, and they're like, 'Life is good,'" she said. "They have their own party."

Jacqueline Martinz is a freelance writer in Toronto. She loves exploring the city and staying active with her dog, Oliver. 


Jacqueline Martinz is a Toronto-based writer. Her writing is often focused on issues impacting education, politics, philanthropy and animal welfare. When she isn’t writing, Jacqueline loves exploring the city and staying active with her dog, Oliver. Connect with Jacqueline through her website,

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