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Q&A: Travel with pets

All you ever wanted to know about taking pets abroad

Q&A: Travel with pets
Sam Lewis with her dogs. Image: Alice Loder Photography

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If you’re not sure about taking your dog abroad on holiday, but equally aren’t sure you can leave them behind in a kennel, what can you do? We tackle some frequently asked questions

Surely there’s too much paperwork to consider when taking pets abroad?
If you’re travelling within the EU (excluding UK, Ireland and Sweden), visit your vet to acquire a pet passport, rabies vaccine (21 days before travel) and an identifiable microchip (all dogs have to be microchipped nowadays, but it’s worth checking that it’s easily scanned before travelling). Since 2012, blood tests are no longer required if you’re entering the UK from EU and listed non-EU countries, but you’ll need to make a quick stop at a vets on your return for a worming pill and anti-tick pipette costing about £30. Contact DEFRA for more details

What about ferry travel? Can pets roam free?
While pets have to remain in their owners’ cars on some services, if you choose your route carefully, they could accompany you to your cabin and enjoy walks on a special deck. Brittany Ferries has around 17 pet-friendly cabins on crossings from the UK to Bilbao or Santander. Dogs always have to be muzzled when not in the car or cabin.

Is cruising an option for travelling with a pet?
Some ships, such as Cunard’s Queen Mary, allow dogs to accompany passengers on specified cruises. Pets get a coat with a QM2 logo and enjoy a range of treats, including freshly baked biscuits at turn down and a choice of beds and blankets.

What about rail travel?
Dogs can travel on trains in the UK and in many EU countries. In Switzerland, dogs can travel by train, bus, or boat with a Day Card For Dogs pass and most Swiss restaurants will allow a well-behaved pet. Dogs aren’t allowed on Eurostar, but can remain in the car on Eurotunnel Le Shuttle (fee £18 per crossing).

Hotels are my preferred choice of accommodation, but what about larger dogs and is there a cleaning bill?
Some hotels on the continent and in the UK have a weight limit for dogs, although not all of them (from my experience) uphold it. Others won’t let you leave animals in the room alone — which means you can’t dine in the restaurant unless you request a pet sitter. Some hotels add a ‘cleaning’ bill — an extra charge of typically £20-£25 (often per dog) — while many luxury hotels provide complimentary dog beds, biscuits and dog food (typically, fresh chicken and rice) at an extra cost, but the beds are usually small and the food expensive.

What about flying?
Virgin Atlantic, Iberia and British Airways are just some of the airlines that frequently carry dogs in the hold, but as it can be a distressing experience for pets, most owners only fly to their destination if they’re going abroad for several months or more. British Airways subsidiary OpenSkies, which operates direct flights between Paris and New York, allows cats or dogs weighing less than 6kg (13.2lb) to travel alongside passengers in economy and premium economy inside the cabin.

Surely I can just take my pet to a beach whenever I want?
Many resorts in the UK and abroad don’t allow dogs on beaches during the peak summer season: typically the beginning of May to the end of September. Others allow dogs on leads or allocate a few pet-friendly sections where pooches are free to run around and play in the sand and sea.

What if I decide to leave my pet at home instead?
If you don’t want to leave them in a kennel, house swapping with other pet owners is a good option, as is paying someone to pet sit in your house. For UK breaks, local pet sitters can enable you to have the odd day or night off to experience something cultural.

Published in the September 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)