Taking Your Pet on Holiday

Part 1:  Traveling abroad with your cat or dog

Whilst some people prefer to leave their dogs and cats at home whilst they holiday, others like to take them along. It is mainly dogs that accompany owners on holiday, but there are a few cats that travel in caravans or to owners’ second homes. Planning is essential if you are going to take your pet on holiday with you, especially if you are leaving the British Isles.

Pet passports
The regulations on pet passports are well understood now by vets and owners who travel with their pets regularly from the UK.

Current pet passport synopsis:

  • Get your pet microchipped
  • Get your pet rabies vaccinated (must be over 12 weeks of age)
  • Have your pet’s blood sampled for rabies antibodies about 4 weeks after vaccination. The date of the blood sample is important, because if there are sufficient rabies antibodies 6 months from this date, your pet can return to the UK.
  • 48 hours to 24 hours before your return to the UK, you need to have your pet treated for ticks and tapeworms by a vet in the country where you are on holiday.

These regulations are being relaxed on 1st January 2012 to come more into line with the rest of Europe. A press release from DEFRA states:

‘All pets will still need to be vaccinated against rabies. Pets from the EU and listed non-EU countries such as the USA and Australia will no longer need a blood test and will only have to wait 21 days before they travel. Pets from unlisted non-EU countries such as India, Brazil and South Africa will be able to enter the UK if they meet certain strict criteria to ensure they are protected against rabies, including a blood test and a three-month wait before they enter the UK.’

There will no longer be a need for tick treatments 24 to 48 hours before returning to the UK, but the requirement for tapeworm treatment is still under consideration. These regulations apply to European Union countries and territories and qualifying European Union countries and territories. Elements of this initiative have not yet been finalised so owners are advised to monitor the DEFRA website or contact their own vet for the latest information.

If you are traveling within the British Isles (including the UK, the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man), your pet does not need a passport.

There are a number of pieces of good advice for owners traveling with pets irrespective of where you are holidaying.


One of the worst nightmares for people on holiday must be if their pet gets lost. Ideally your pet will be microchipped and you will have kept the database holding your pet’s microchip number and your personal details updated. It is important that there are mobile telephone numbers and possibly e-mail addresses where you can be contacted even when you are on holiday. Many people forget to update their personal information on their pet’s database.

Collars with tags are good because they provide an immediate form of identification, but again, put mobile telephone numbers on it that you will have with you while on holiday.

Containment Systems

Unfamiliar environments and insecure property boundaries on holiday increase the chances of pets straying and becoming lost. Tethering dogs can be a solution but any tethering system has risks and pets need to be carefully monitored. Dogs can become entangled, must have access to shade and water, cannot escape other intruding animals, and can receive neck injuries if a tether is attached to a collar.

Another solution is to use light-weight stock fencing and posts, but there is a risk of entanglement and all but small dogs could jump it or barge through it. For owners whose dogs are familiar with containment systems based on electronic collars, these are a good solution. Either wireless or boundary wire versions can be used, but it is essential to use plenty of flags to mark the boundary because the dog will have no familiar reference points. Owners need to be aware that in some countries the use of containment systems using electronic collars is illegal so they need to check before travelling. See the PetSafe® range of containment systems for wireless and boundary wire fence options.

Seat belts

Ideally your dog would travel in a cage or crate built into your car. If your dog is loose in the car, consider getting a harness and seat belt attachment to restrain him. It makes travel much safer and means that you can relax when the windows are open.

Travel anxiety

Some dogs become particularly anxious when they travel and these dogs will benefit from de-sensitisation therapy. Some anxious dogs respond very well to ‘Thundershirts’, but care should be taken to avoid over-heating on warm journeys. That said, anxious dogs are more likely to suffer heatstroke so precautions should be taken to manage anxiety.


It is important to have a source of water that cannot be spilt during travel; anti-spill bowls are very useful. It is also important to take fresh water with you on walks in warm weather so that your dog can remain hydrated and pant effectively to keep cool. There are some very good water bottles available that come with built-in drinking bowls for dogs on walks and while on holiday.


If you are in environments where it is warmer than your dog is used to, you must take measures to keep your dog cool. Air conditioning systems in cars or buildings can be very effective but even humble fans can provide relief. Taking an electric fan on holiday can improve both you and your pet’s well-being. I don’t think it’s a good idea for a dog to wear a saddle-style bag in warm weather, even if the dog is carrying its own water, because it is likely to cause heatstroke.

  • Don’t exercise your dog in the heat of the day
  • If your dog is panting stop exercise and find shade
  • Groom your dog to remove excess coat, or clip the coat being careful to not cut too short and expose skin
  • Don’t leave your dog in a car even if the windows have grills on them
  • Make sure that your dog always has access to clean water

Some manufactures are producing clothing which they claim helps keep dog’s cool. I think these claims still require independent substantiation. However, some skin cover may help prevent sunburn in dogs including:

  • Hairless dogs
  • White coated dogs
  • Freshly shaven dogs
  • Short haired dogs

Tick treatments

If you are out and about enjoying the countryside in summer you and your pet are at an increased risk of picking up ticks. Ticks, especially outside the British Isles, can infect your pet with some exotic diseases, so it is best to apply tick repellent treatments to your pet a few days before going on holiday. Often owners are only concerned about tick treatments as part of the procedure to re-enter the UK from abroad. However it is important to prevent tick bites during the holiday too.


These are found around the Mediterranean and are particularly active at dusk and dawn. They carry an infection called Leishmaniasis that can be transmitted to dogs. Leishmaniasis can cause nasty skin lesions that look like persistent sores in both dogs and humans.  If you are holidaying near the Mediterranean, keep dogs inside at dusk and dawn and use a Sandfly repellent collar called a Scalibor Protectorband.   Do not use human insect repellents on pets as they can be poisonous to them, particularly when licked off and ingested.


If your dog is on long term medication, ensure you take it with you and that you have a sufficient amount for the duration of the holiday. Precautions should be taken to ensure that any medication is stored correctly and securely, particularly in warm environments where medicines can degrade easily.

First Aid Kits

It is prudent to take a basic first aid kit with you that could be used for both animals and humans. The minimum contents of a first aid kit should be:

  • Disinfectants
  • Bandages
  • Eye wash
  • Gauze
  • Cotton buds
  • Vaseline as a barrier for sores and grazes
  • A good tick remover such as the ‘Tick Key’
  • Instant cold packs or compresses for acute bruising or to cool dogs off when pushed into the armpits or groin
  • Super glue to close bleeding wounds by sticking hair from each side of the wound together.

It is also a great idea to inform your vet of your travel itinerary and have a list of vets close to the route of your journey and destination. If you are traveling back to the UK from abroad you must have your pet’s passport and you must have made an appointment with a vet for a tick and tapeworm treatment 48hr to 24hr before your embarkation time back to the UK. It is a good idea to take a few photocopies of your pet’s passport before you travel.

Winter holidays

It is worth mentioning potential problems with holidays in cold places too. Dogs that are not used to cold environments are at increased risk of frost bite and snow blindness. Good quality, grippy dog boots such as the ‘Ruff Wear GRIP Trex’ may help protect against frost bite and dog sunglasses such as ‘Doggles’ may help protect against snow blindness.


  • Inform your vet of your holiday plans with your pet and seek their advice before travel
  • The Pet Passport scheme is changing on 1st January 2012
  • Microchip your pet and update your contact details on any databases
  • Get your dog a harness and seatbelt if you do not have a car crate
  • Take precautions to manage travel anxiety
  • Groom your dog and protect against heatstroke
  • Consider how you will contain your dog in unfamiliar surroundings
  • Treat for ticks just before you go away
  • Take your pet’s medication and a first aid kit


(Last accessed on 25.07.2011)

David Chamberlain BVetMed., MRCVS.
Veterinary Consultant to PetSafe®

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