It is the time of year when many of us are looking forward to a well-earned holiday. Whether or not you take your pet depends on the destination, the species and personality of your pet and what other options you have.
If you decide not to take your four-legged family, you want to be able to relax in the knowledge that they are enjoying themselves. As well as traditional ‘boarding’ establishments many people (especially those on this site!) now consider having a pet sitter either stay with their pet in their own home, or move into a home from home with all the comforts of family life. If you put your pet into a new environment, be it a kennels, cattery or home boarder, always visit the establishment first and make sure you are happy with the service that they offer. Remember that any change can be stressful. You can help to minimise this by ensuring they keep their routine as much as possible – for example always ensure they eat the same food and have familiar objects and smells around them. For particularly anxious animals, pheromone therapy or safe and gentle anti-stress medications are now available to aid relaxation and it may be worth talking to your vet about this well in advance. Don’t forget to make sure you stock up on any regular medications, too! My personal plea is to ensure that you leave valid contact details either for yourself or for someone you are happy to act on your behalf and who is willing to take on that responsibility.
If you decide to holiday with your pet the first thing to consider is their comfort and safety whilst travelling. For overseas travel you will need to ensure you comply with the relevant legislation for the UK and your country of destination. At a very minimum this will require your pet being microchipped, vaccinated against rabies and appropriately treated for parasites as well as you and your vet completing all the necessary paperwork. If you stay in the UK I would still recommend you consider a microchip for your pet, just in case the worst happens and they get lost far from home. Collars are all too easily lost or removed. Most microchips now offer the option of adding temporary contact details while you are away. Vaccination against UK diseases and appropriate flea, tick and worm control are also important even if you don’t go too far away.
Next, consider the practicalities of travelling. If you are travelling by air there will be set guidelines to follow but the majority of our pets travel with us in the car. Are they safely secured to protect them – and you – in the event of an accident? Many people opt to use a car cage or crate. Ideally choose an option that remains enclosed should the boot open so that your animals cannot end up loose on the open road. For dogs, seat belts are an alternative but make sure they are fitted properly and try to avoid your dog travelling in the front passenger seat where they can easily become a distraction by trying to get your attention and sitting on the gear stick!
We all know not to leave our pets in a stationary car on a hot day, but a long drive can also be an ordeal if not properly planned. Have you provided adequate space and ventilation? Can you provide a secure water bowl or will you need to factor in rehydration stops as well as toilet breaks and a chance to stretch their legs? For animals who suffer travel sickness you need to ascertain whether this is a reaction to stress, in which case gradual acclimatisation to car travel for fun destinations may be all that is needed, or is your pet suffering from true motion sickness? If this is the case effective medication is now available from your vet.
Finally, what about when you reach your destination? It is easy to get carried away with the holiday spirit and spoil our pets. But, a change in diet and too much rich food can easily cause digestive upsets and even contribute to more severe diseases such as pancreatitis. Please don’t treat your pet with too many tit-bits or let them over indulge on things they find for themselves. Too much sea water will inevitably make your dog sick – as will eating sea shells, something my own dog is an example off!
When you are exploring new areas keep an eye out for dangers such as steep drops, fast flowing rivers or livestock. Your dog should be safely by your side and on a lead past these. Even the best trained dog may find the temptation of a cool swim or a good chase too much, and sadly there are those who have not lived to regret it. Still-water can also prove dangerous. Blue green algae, which can be deadly, likes warm weather and stagnant lakes and ponds. Keep an eye out for any warnings and follow local advice.
One thing we often forget when we holiday with our pets is how tired they can get. We all like to see our pets relaxing after a fun-filled day but don’t let them overdo it! If they walk 1 mile a day at home, don’t expect them to trek 10 miles up a mountain with little or no training beforehand. You may well have to factor in a visit to the vet if you do! Remember to allow time for them to rest and to sleep. If they are used to snoozing while you are busy at home then they need to recharge the batteries when they are running on overdrive on their holiday!
Whether you go away with or without your pets, or stay at home, I hope you enjoy some quality time with your four-legged family over the summer. One thing is for sure, they certainly make home a welcome place to come back to.
Written by Miss Gemma Clark BVSc, PG(Dip), MRCVS.