Travel Companions: Traveling Abroad with Pets

September 7, 2017

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Note that this article is specifically for domesticated pets (dogs, cats, and ferrets) entering the European Union. For other traveling animals and different destinations, you can check for more information.

Traveling with pets to a new country can be stressful. There is a lot to remember and you want to do everything you can to make your pet stay happy and healthy on its journey. I recently undertook this task and I have plenty of advice and knowledge to share. This post will hopfully make you and your pets adventure as smooth and stress-free as possible.

What you need to know

Each country has different requirements. The European Union countries (those part of the Schengen agreement) requires a rabies vaccination, chipped and documented from your states Import-Export Service Center. To get the step by step guide of how to legally transport pets from the United States to the EU you can check out to get detailed information.

I urge you to follow the steps exactly as they specify on their website because going out of order will make things much more complicated. I also highly recommend for you to start the process immediately. The whole documentation and doctor visits take at least month (possibly longer) from start to finish, so don’t waste any time. As for the cost, I have a small cat and spent no more than $250 on everything – vaccination, visits to the vet, legal documentation, crate, and airline check-in fee. Bigger animals probably have higher fees at the vet and with the airline.

Preparation Before Transportation

If your pet is new to the crate experience it’s important to help your pet get acquainted with the space it will be living in for the duration of the trip. Start by placing the crate in the living room or bedroom and leave its point of access open. Put food in or around it and encourage your pet’s curiosity to sniff around and remain calm around it. This will make things less difficult and stressful for you and your furry friend.

In the Cabin or in Cargo

In preparation for the trip, it’s important to ask your vet, a few important questions in regards to how and where your pet should fly. Smaller pets should fly in the cabin and larger animals must stay in the cargo bay. You have the option you put your smaller pet under the plane in the cargo, but it’s not something I would not recommend unless a large animal or under special circumstances. In order for your pet to stay in the cabin, it must be able to fit in the space below the seat in front of you. Otherwise, the pet is too large and must stay in the cargo bay for the duration of the trip. 

Pets In the Cabin

If you decide to take your pet with you in the cabin they must stay in a “softbox” that weighs less than 10 kg (including pet). This weight varies for each airline so be sure to research the correct requirements for your pet based on the airline’s needs. A softbox just means it is not a plastic crate, but a crate that is made of fabric material. This material MUST be waterproof, this is in case the animal urinates during transport.

Soft box by Petmate

Soft Box by Petmate

Container size also depends on the airline’s requirement so before you go out and buy a new crate, check what the dimensions are for your airline. It must be small enough to fit under the seat in front of yours. As with all extra carry-ons, there is a fee. Usually no more than $150 depending on weight.

Note: you will not be allowed to take your pet out of its crate during the flight. They must remain in at all times.

  • You can keep an eye on your pet and comfort them if they begin to feel unwell.
  • The cabin in pressure and temperature regulated.
  • You can keep the crate clean if your pet goes while on the plane.
  • If your pet makes a lot of noise it can cause people around you to feel uncomfortable or upset.
  • Carrying your pet on and off the plane can be tricky if you have multiple carry-on items.

What you will need for the trip if traveling in the Cabin:
  • Crate
  • Documents – pack all of your documents. Everything in you might need for your pet’s trip overseas.
  • Leash – this is optional. If you cat or dog has a wild or unsteady temper it’s best to leave them in the crate for the duration of the trip. They will probably feel more comfortable to not have to interact too much with the outside world.
  • Calming spray – this stuff is amazing. I highly recommend it.
  • Pee-pee pads – These are perfect for long flights and moments we hit a bit of turbulence they may have to go. You may also set one out the corner of the airport to them a place hang out on.
  • A few plastic gloves –  just in case they decide they have to go you want to be able to get the pee-pee pad out and toss it. No one wants to leave their pet in a smelly crate and no one wants to smell it.
  • Resealable plastic baggies – bring freezer bags in case you need to remove something smelly and don’t immediately have a place to put it.
  • Two small cups or bowls for food and water – I have seen those really great collapsible plastic travel bowls that are perfect for these kinds of adventures. I ended up just using a paper cup I found at a nearby restaurant in the airport and tossed it away what she was finished.
  • Snacks -they probably won’t be hungry but just in case pack a little something for them to snack on.
  • Cat SnacksA T-shirt or pillowcase – This is a comforting tool that your pet can smell or cuddle up with it if they are feeling a bit upset.
  • A scarf or small blanket – Even though the cabin temperature regulated it can get pretty cold in there anyway so wrapping a scarf around the crate may help keep the warmth in. It’s also a good way to cover the crate from all of the business and bring lights of an airport. If they don’t see all of the chaos they might feel more comforted in the semi-dark.
  • Earplugs – If you think you pat may make a lot of noise it’s a good idea to have earplugs with you. You may want to offer them to other people sitting near you in case your pet makes their travel experience painful.

Pets In the Cargo Bay

For pets that weigh less than 70 kg (including the container), they can be transported in the cargo bay. They must be placed in a hard shell crate. If they are staying in cargo for the duration of the trip they will need a sturdy crate that won’t break or crack if a piece of luggage falls on top of them.

There are different size requirements and prices for pets traveling a short-haul and long-haul. Check your airlines for these requirements. Prices for large pets in a long-haul flight make cost up to $250-300.

  • Your pet will be transported
  • Cargo bay is where all the luggage is stored so your pet may have a suitcase placed on top on their crate.
  • If there is turbulence the luggage my topple on top of your pet’s crate.
  • It is not pressure or temperature regulated.
  • You hope that your pet is in good hands while the airline transports them in and out of the plane.

Note: It’s important to call up to 30 hours in advance to let the airline know you will be traveling with an animal either in the cabin or cargo bay.

Awake or Sedated

Comfort Zone Cat Spray

For some pets with a more aggravated manner sedation may be a better option. It keeps them calm and easier to transport. There are some downsides to sedating your pet. Sedation tending to slow blood flow and can leave your pet prone to low body temperature. Sedation may also cause disorientation and anxiety to your pet when they wake up.

There are some downsides to sedating your pet. Sedation slows blood flow of your pet and can leave your pet prone to low body temperature. Sedation may also cause disorientation and anxiety to your pet when they wake up.

Instead of the sedation, I recommend a spray like Comfort Zone,  that more or less has the opposite effect of catnip. A few weeks before the trip, you should spray this spray around the crate and living space of your pet (just a little, animals are sensitive to smell, so a little goes a long way) just to get them used to it.

Home Sweet Home – Almost

When you arrive at your new home be sure to keep your pet in the house or apartment for at least a week. Getting your pet slowly acclimated to its new surrounding is important and takes time. Make sure to let them do whatever they are comfortable doing and don’t pressure them to move too quickly.

A California Cat Living in Tuscany

Cali Cat Living in Tuscany

I decided to bring my cat, Nambi, with me in the cabin where I could make her journey as comfortable as possible. While I don’t consider her a “travel cat” she has lived with me in Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and Richmond California. She has traveled many times with me in the car up and down the state’s coast. 

For our move to Italy, we packed everything we needed, obtained all of the documents and began our adventure together. I highly recommend the calming spray, it worked wonderfully!

Once in transit, I was amazed by Nambi’s demeanor. She was quiet, calm, and relaxed the entire way. From San Francisco to the Berlin airport where we waited for 4 hours; until we took another plane (two hours) ride to Florence, drove one hour in one car, 20 minutes by another car until we got to our new home in Montevarchi.

I can happily say that Nambi is very happy living in Tuscany and as long as she is happy so am I.

Remeber to discuss all of this with your vet and see what they suggest you do for your pet. 

Have any questions? Comment below and I will give you more details on my personal experience.

Stay stress-free and check out What’s in your Carry-On? to know what you need to pack for yourself.

    1. I absolutely love this post and need to pin this for later! I have avoided getting a pet for so long because I travel so much. But this gives me some new insight to possibly traveling with a fur companion. Thank you for the tips and this post!

      1. Do it! It was actually really fun and I have been thinking of taking her on more adventures since we did so well on this trip. Maybe stay a bit local. What kind of pet would be your travel companion?

    1. This post is very interesting, I have always wondered how you could fly with your pet. I don’t have a pet myself and honestly I have never met anyone on a flight with a pet in the cabin so I didn’t know you could bring them there. But one of the reasons I don’t want a pet is traveling.. it seems such a cruelty to put them in the cargo bay. But your cat looks beautiful and happy in Tuscany!

      1. It wasn’t until recently that I have seen small dog and cats traveling overseas. People with anxiety usually have a furry companion to help them deal with stressful situations. I agree. The cargo bay really didn’t seem like a great option to me. I guess it depends on the size of your pet and the reason for traveling. Thanks for you thoughts. 🙂

    1. I’m so happy to hear all went smoothly with your kitty. She’s adorable! Traveling abroad with a pet seems like a daunting task, and I have two cats so I’ll have to save this article when/if the day comes that I need to transport them abroad!

      1. Thank you! I love her too much to leave her behind. I was worried about her but she did so well it was actually a fun experience. Two cats might be tricky if you travel solo but it’s totally doable. Just remember that calming spray, it works wonders!

    1. There are so many pros and cons about travel and owning pets, let alone taking them with you. I would on a road trip perhaps, if my dog or feline were good in the car, but with the spate of pet deaths on airlines – never. I no longer have a pet to worry about. With as much as I’m on the road, it’s better that way.

      1. Before our trip I read a lot of articles and never heard of pets dying on planes. Since I’ve been traveling I’ve met a few furry travel companions and they handled it very well. Although, I agree it is of course easier to travel without worrying about your cat or dog back home.

    1. How wonderful to travel with your pet! I must say though- I am very nervous about putting an animal in a cargo bay. You hear stories from time to time.

      1. Yeah, unfortunately cargo is not an ideal place to keep your pet. If I had a big dog it would be difficult for me to trust his safety and well being in such a place. There needs to be a more pet friendly airline.

    1. Traveling with pets can be tricky but lots of fun. The more you travel with your cat the more she/he gets accustomed to it and even like it ! We often travel with our cat for weekends…. but Mistral is not a huge traveler as Nambi seems to be 🙂

      1. Mistral! What a cute name! I’ve been thinking of traveling more with her since our flight to Tuscany was so fun. We’ll see 🙂

    1. This is such a good post. I have never really read the ins and outs around taking a pet abroad. If I was to ever move I would LOVE to bring my two cats with me!

      1. Thank you! Just remember to start as far in advance on the documents and buy a calming spray. It really works. I’m so happy I have Nambi here with me she makes me happy when I’m feeling down, keeps me warm on rainy days, and makes laugh. So the whole thing was worth it for her to stay with me.

    1. I’ve thought about taking my dog to thailand with me, but she’s kind of old and I don’t want to stress her out!

      1. Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend bring older pets on planes. They tend to be sensitive and fragile and I fear a plane would be overwhelming for them.

      1. Thank you! There are so many factors that come into play and I believe it can be a tricky process but it can also go smoothly if you do your research and have a good veterinarian.

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