Overseas Travel with Pets

At this time of year, a lot of people are holidaying or at least thinking of holidays … and there’s an age-old question: should you take your pet on holiday with you? Many of us choose a pet-friendly holiday if we’re travelling within the UK and pets are welcome in many more places nowadays. Once upon a time, the pet-friendly options of cottages, caravans or hotels could be a bit, well, shabby looking – but now you don’t have to downgrade your accommodation just because you’re taking your furry friend on your trip.

However, if you’re travelling further afield – to Europe, Ireland, Northern Ireland or anywhere else in the world – there’s a lot more to think about and travelling with your pet is a bigger undertaking.

For a start, you need to consider where you’re going and where you’re staying. Will the weather be suitable for your pet or are they likely to be hot and uncomfortable for the duration of the break? If you’re travelling to warmer climes in search of the sun, it’s unlikely that your pet will enjoy this as much as you will. You have to be very careful that they won’t be at risk of heatstroke and planning your day around keeping them out of the sun may well curtail your usual holiday activities. Most holiday accommodation won’t allow you to leave your pet there unattended, so you won’t be able to pop out and leave them in the comfort of an air-conditioned room – and they’re likely to find being left alone in a strange place stressful anyway. If you’re travelling abroad, it’s often better for the sake of everyone’s comfort and enjoyment to leave your pet at home, either with a friend, relative or pet sitter or in boarding.

If you’re going overseas on holiday for a longer period of time, caravanning around Ireland or Europe for example, staying in your own ‘home from home’ accommodation or visiting family or friends at their home, then you may be more inclined to take your pet with you on your trip. As long as you know there’s somewhere they can be safe, cool and happy then there’s no reason why they can’t join you on your trip … but that leaves you with the small matter of getting them there!

Since Brexit, things have changed with regards to travelling outside of the UK with pets. From January 2021, any pet passports issued in Great Britain are invalid for travel to an EU country or Northern Ireland. To take dogs, cats or ferrets to EU countries or NI, you now need an Animal Health Certificate (AHC). Your pet will need a new AHC for each trip to the EU or NI, and this needs to be issued no more than 10 days before travel (it is then valid for up to 4 months of onward travel and your return journey). You can get your pet’s AHC from any authorised vet – they are required to check your animal’s health and certify that they have received certain vaccinations and treatments before travel. Although requirements can vary slightly for different countries, for the most part, within the EU and NI, these include microchipping, a rabies vaccination (if a booster is due this needs to be given at least 21 days before travel) and tapeworm treatment (for some countries – given no less than 24 hours and no more than 5 days before arrival at your destination). They AHC also includes your pet’s details and owner’s details. So, there’s quite a lot to consider and you need to be organised to make sure you get the timing right! Pets need to be over 15 weeks old before they can travel into and out of the UK (this includes the 12 weeks until they’re old enough for their vaccinations and the 21 days for the vaccinations to become effective). You can also only travel with a maximum of 5 pets unless you have proof that they’re taking part (and are in active training for) a sporting event, show or competition.

Whilst these rules and regulations may sound complex on the face of it, they are simply in place for the animal’s protection. Having these strict rules can help prevent the spread of disease and also prevent pets (including young puppies and kittens) from being stolen or illegally trafficked across borders. Basically, you have to prove that your pet is healthy, vaccinated, treated for parasites, and is travelling with their bona fide owners. Sounds pretty sensible to me.

Once you’ve got all the paperwork in place, there’s the small matter of transportation … so, what’s the best way to get your pet off this island on which we live? Hmm…

Well, most budget airlines are out, for a start. With the exception of assistance dogs, very few airlines flying out of the UK allow you to take dogs, cats or ferrets on board, especially in the cabin. The airlines that do include Lufthansa, KLM and TUI, but there are strict stipulations here – dogs and cats must be under 8kg and in a waterproof carrier in order to travel in the cabin with you, otherwise they have to travel in the baggage compartment. According to TUI’s website, each passenger with a pet must have a seat by the window and people with pets cannot sit in adjacent seats, even if they’re from the same family. The rules (and costs) vary for each airline so it’s really important to check these out thoroughly before planning your trip. Again, carefully consider how your pet will cope with the journey, especially if they’re going to be separated from you. Some pets will be more stressed by this experience than others but they will definitely have lots of strange noises and sensations to contend with.

Ferries are another option for travelling to the EU, Ireland or Northern Ireland. Most ferry companies allow pets to travel (with the correct certification) but they may need to be allocated a specific ‘pet cabin’ and these can book up early, so again make sure you’re organised well in advance. Eurostar does not allow pets (other than assistance dogs) on board their trains, however you can take pets in your own car on the Eurotunnel which can be a great option as it keeps them with you in a familiar environment throughout the journey.

Again, only you can make the call on how well your pet will cope with travelling – some animals are quite adventurous and are happy with new environments, people and places. They’ll enjoy the experience and you’ll enjoy the chance to share your travels with your furry friend. Others, however, are of a naturally more nervous disposition and would find the unfamiliar situation and experiences too traumatic to enjoy. Vets can only check their health and their suitability to travel from this perspective – the rest of it’s down to your personal judgement.

I wouldn’t want to put anyone off travelling with their pets but I would ask you to seriously consider your pet, your destination, and the type of holiday that you’re going to have. If you plan it well, if your pet is of the temperament to enjoy it, and if you keep their welfare at the forefront of your mind, you could have the adventures of a lifetime together.