21 tips for travelling with pets

dog and a cat in a car leaning out the window

Taking your dog or cat on a little trip? As long as you’ve got pet insurance in place and you’ve read these essential tips, you’re guaranteed a bon voyage! Here we give you some quick advice on transporting your pet by car, train and air. We also look at the rules and regulations of taking your pet to the EU and beyond.

Car travel

  1. Ask yourself: Do they really need to travel?
  2. Make sure pets are secured
  3. Cats and carriers
  4. Don’t sit pets in the passenger seat
  5. Don’t let dogs lean out of the car window
  6. Plan plenty of rest stops
  7. Take another human passenger along
  8. Never leave a pet alone in a car
  9. Ditch the loud music
  10. Drive sensibly and predictably

Air travel

  1. Think seriously before taking your pet on board
  2. Can your pet travel in the cabin with you?
  3. Air travel: some further questions to remember
  4. Keeping a pet comfortable in an aeroplane hold
  5. Bring your pet’s ID on flights

Train travel

  1. Pets and train travel: the essentials
  2. Preparing your pet for train travel
  3. Recognising signs of travel anxiety in your pet
  4. Choosing the right cat carrier

Travelling abroad

  1. Travelling abroad: EU countries
  2. Travelling abroad: No-EU countries

Car travel

1. Ask yourself: Do they really need to travel?

Let’s take dogs first. If you can still spend a decent amount of your time with them while you’re away, then they may benefit from coming along. On the other hand, if you’re likely to be busy most of the time, or leaving them in your holiday home while you go off on adventures, they’re probably better off staying with a friend or at the kennels. Cats, meanwhile, are self-sufficient creatures who are almost always better off left at home than being dragged off on an unfamiliar journey.

dog in a car looking out of the window

2. Make sure pets are secured

If you're travelling by car, your dog should be restrained in a suitable crate or behind a dog guard. You could be charged with driving without due care and attention if your canine is left to wander around inside the car and cause a distraction. In the event of an accident, they could injure themselves or other passengers if they’re not held safely in place.

3. Cats and carriers

Cats in cars should be kept in a carrier. Riding in a car tends to be an unpleasant experience for a cat, so we wouldn’t advise travelling with your feline friend unless you have to. If the carrier has been crash tested, it can be restrained with a seat belt and placed on a back seat. If it hasn't been crash tested, place it in the footwell of your vehicle behind the driver or passenger seat.

It should also be big enough for your pet to turn around.

4. Don’t sit pets in the passenger seat

They are far better off in the back seat. The reason for this is that, if your vehicle is involved in a crash, airbags will deploy in the two front seats to protect occupants from hitting the windscreen. This will be a key protection for you in the event of a crash but, for a much smaller animal like a dog or cat, the airbag could actually cause an injury – even if the animal is inside a carrier. Besides being upsetting for both you and your pet, that could lead to some expensive vet bills, even if your insurance for your pet policy is able to bear some of the cost.

5. Don’t let dogs lean out of the window

The picture of a blissfully happy dog leaning out of the car window, sniffing the breeze while its ears are pinned back by the wind may be an iconic image of freedom and fun. But this practice is definitely not recommended in real life. Dogs who are allowed to poke their heads out of the window could easily be hurt by flying debris, other traffic, flies, insects and more which could all result in a claim on your pet insurance.

6. Plan plenty of rest stops

Dogs will need to stop frequently (every hour or two) to stretch their legs and do whatever toileting they need. Just make sure your dog is wearing its collar and lead whenever they leave the vehicle so they can be traced if they do run off. Some pet insurance will help you cover the cost of advertising if your pet does run away.

7. Take another human passenger along

If you’re travelling with a cat or dog, the trip will be a whole lot easier – and safer – if you have a companion along for the ride, too. This is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you really don’t want to have to concentrate on both the driving, and keeping your furry friend amused. It’s better if someone else can be in the car with you, making regular checks on your pet. Secondly, whenever you do need to make a pit stop of your own – to get food or a coffee, use the toilet – you can do so secure in the knowledge that someone else is keeping an eye on your beloved cat or dog. Certain breeds are targeted by thieves so it’s best not to leave them alone where they could become easy pickings for criminals.

8. Never leave your pet alone in the car

If pets are left alone in an enclosed space like a car, heat can become a serious hazard. If the temperature outside is 29 degrees centigrade, the interior of the car can rise to a lethal 39 degrees within 10 minutes. These temperatures can be extremely dangerous for animals, possibly resulting in organ damage or even death. Learn more about the signs of heatstroke now.

9. Ditch the loud music

There are some things you can do to keep the in-car atmosphere as calm as possible for your pet. Loud music should be avoided, as both cats and dogs have sensitive hearing and anything too noisy could heighten their anxiety. However, some calming classical or ambient music, played at a low volume, could work well in covering the noise of the surrounding traffic and creating a calming space.

10. Drive sensibly and predictably

Try to keep your driving as calm and predictable as possible, avoiding any sudden braking or noisy gear changes. Keep to the speed limit, too, and don’t get distracted by your phone.

Air travel

11. Think seriously before taking your pet on board

When it comes to travelling by air, this is once again – perhaps even more so – a situation where you should ask yourself, ‘is this really the best option for my pet?’ Air travel – and in particular, confinement in an enclosed space for a prolonged period of time – can be dangerous for pets. This is especially true in the case of brachycephalic animals – those pets such as bulldogs, pugs or Persian cats that have somewhat compressed faces. Their facial structure means they’re more vulnerable than most to oxygen deprivation and heatstroke. So, once again, consider the alternatives. Your pet might well be better off with a pet sitter, being visited by a friend or neighbour, or even at a boarding kennel or cattery, than travelling in the hold of an aeroplane for even a short time. If you’re considering the kennel option, by the way, we’ve written this helpful article on how to help your dog settle in at kennels.

cat in a carrier cage next to a suitcase

12. Can your pet travel in the cabin with you?

If you have no choice but to bring your pet on a plane with you, it’s worth checking whether they can travel in the cabin, rather than suffering the confinement and confusion of being stowed away from you in the hold. Many airlines will allow cats or small dogs into the cabin, for a small fee. Call the airline as far ahead of time as possible, as they will have a limit on the numbers of animals they can take in the cabin and these places can get snapped up. If you’re travelling with a dog, the airline will want to know the size and breed. They will have their own specific guidelines on what size of pet is permitted in the cabin.

13. Further questions to remember

There are some other questions you should ask yourself before deciding to take your pet on a plane.

  • Does the airline have certain rules around pet health and immunisation? They may need to see recent vet reports or vaccination certificates.
  • Do they only accept certain types of carriers? If your pet can’t be in the cabin but must go in the hold, what will that mean, in terms of both the regulations and the conditions for your pet during the flight?

14. Keeping a pet comfortable in an aeroplane hold

If your pet has to travel in the hold, try to make the experience as stress-free as possible. Make sure you travel on the same flight, so that you can watch them being loaded and unloaded. Being placed in the hold, away from you and among other unfamiliar animals, may be stressful enough for them: don’t add an unfamiliar carrier to their anxieties. At least a month before your flight, start getting them used to being in the carrier (if they are not already). Start with small periods of time, and give them a treat or some affection when time is up. This will give the carrier some positive associations for them. If you’re travelling during the summer or winter, the hold could get either very hot or very cold. You can minimise this risk by travelling at certain times of the day when the temperature is less extreme. In the unfortunate event that your pet does suffer some ill effects from confinement in the hold, make sure that you have some pet insurance in place to help with the costs of treatment.

15. Bring your pet’s ID on flights

Make sure that you have your pet’s ID with you in case you are separated. We would suggest fixing two pieces of ID to their collar. One should have your permanent address and phone number, the other your contact details while you are away. Also make sure that you have your pet insurance details on you and that your pet is covered for travel to the country you’re visiting.

Train travel

16. Pets and train travel: the essentials

Now let’s look at travelling with your pet on a train within the UK. The good news here is that, as long as they are kept on a lead or in a carrier and don’t annoy or endanger other travellers, you are allowed to carry a maximum of two pets on most British train services.
If you need to bring more than two animals on the train, you’ll just need to check with the relevant train company. There may be a fee involved. Here is the policy of one of the major operators, Great Western, as an example.

17. Preparing your pet for train travel

Just as with transporting a pet in the hold of an aeroplane, it’s a good idea to get your pet used to the sights, sounds and smells of rail travel before the journey actually takes place – especially if you have a dog. We’d definitely recommend arriving at the station a little early, and giving your pet a bit of time to get used to the station ticket hall, followed by the ticket barriers and, finally, the platform. And, as with any new situation for your dog, reward good behaviour – such as obeying your command to ‘sit’ – with a treat or a cuddle or both!

18. Recognising signs of travel anxiety in your pet

Whatever mode of transport you’re using, be ready to recognise any signs that your pet is uncomfortable or unhappy. Dogs will show their discomfort or anxiety by panting or pacing around, lip licking, chewing their lead, whining, or tucking their tail between their legs. If you’re on a train with your dog and they start to display these behaviours, it’s best to get off at the next station. That may cause you some inconvenience, but this will be better than having an angry, anxious or frightened dog in a confined place. An anxious or angry cat will hiss, have their ears pinned back, and have a puffed-up tail. Angry pets are unpredictable pets, and could injure themselves or other people. Make sure you’ve got pet insurance in place to cover the costs of any emergency treatment that might be needed.

19. Choosing the cat carrier

The right carrier could make the difference between a calm trip and a stressful one! When it comes to a cat carrier, you should choose a model that is made of a strong material – usually plastic. This will be tougher than fabric, and more comfortable than wire mesh. It’ll also be easier to clean. Make sure that the carrier is a suitable size for your cat – tall enough to allow them to sit or stand up inside, and long enough for them to move around and lie down. Larger cats such as Maine Coons will need bigger carriers.

Travelling abroad

20. Travelling abroad: EU countries

It’s important to know the regulations for travelling abroad with your dog or cat. Essentially, the rules vary according to whether you’re travelling to a country within the European Union (EU), or a non-EU member country.

If you are travelling to an EU country, or to Northern Ireland, you will need a microchip for your pet. You may have this in place, as here in the UK it’s already a legal requirement to microchip your dog. For cats, meanwhile, microchipping is not yet a legal requirement – but it is recommended by bodies including the British Veterinary Association, as we discussed elsewhere on our blog.

Other requirements for travel to the EU or Northern Ireland include a valid rabies vaccination. This applies to cats as well as dogs, as cats are also susceptible to the disease. You can get a rabies vaccination from your vet: this will typically cost around £50, but your pet insurance policy may be able to help with the cost. Two key timings to mention here: your vet will require proof that your pet is at least 12 weeks old before administering the vaccine; and you will then have to wait 21 days after the vaccination before you can travel to the EU or Northern Ireland.

Staying with the EU and Northern Ireland, you’ll also need an animal health certificate or a valid pet passport for your destination country. Like the rabies vaccination above, you’ll need to ask your vet for an animal health certificate – and you’ll need to get this sorted in the 10 days before you travel.

In order to issue the certificate, the vet will need proof of your pet’s microchipping date and vaccination history. The certificate will then be valid, from the date of issue, for 10 days for entry into the EU or Northern Ireland, as well as four months for onward travel within the EU and/or re-entry into Britain.

family with their dog walking on a beach

21. Travelling abroad: Non-EU countries

If you’re visiting a non-EU country (apart from Northern Ireland), the rules will be slightly different. In this case, you’ll need to get hold of an export health certificate, or EHC. This is an official document that confirms that whatever you are exporting (in this case a pet) meets the health requirements of wherever you’re going. How do you go about getting an EHC? Well, you must nominate a vet – and the vet that you regularly see, and who knows your pet, will be the best choice here. The vet will be sent the EHC, and will then verify that your cat or dog meets the relevant country’s health and identification requirements.

Remember the essentials!

It goes without saying that you also need to have your pet’s essentials with you when you travel, to make sure they’re happy and comfortable:

Things like:

  • Enough food and water for the entire journey
  • Poo bags for toilet stops
  • Favourite toy to play with during breaks
  • Treats to reward good behaviour
  • Lead or harness for controlled walks in unfamiliar places
  • Dog coat or jacket if you’re going to a cold climate
  • Any medications they need
  • Evidence of your pet insurance

Protect your pet when you’re on the move

Whatever horizons you’re planning to explore with your pet, some specialist pet/dog/cat insurance will help you to make the right financial plans and to care for your furry friend at each stage of their life.

Why not get a quote for pet insurance today?

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