5 things you need to know if you’re travelling with your pet over the holidays

By Guest Writer Liz Hadfield

Whether or not you’re among those appalled at how early that delicious egg nog is appearing on grocery shelves, it does remind us of two inescapable points. First, it’s already too late to start your Christmas shopping early (there goes that resolution), and secondly, the holidays, like winter, are coming.

Gilly. Yes, named after the Kristen Wiig character on Saturday Night Live.

For those of us not lucky enough to live in the same house as all of our relatives, the holidays usually require some form of travel. You may be considering when to go, how long to stay and most of all, who goes? The family dog (or cat) is just that, family. You include them in your Christmas card photo, some of us (cough cough) may even have a stocking for them. The question is do you and can you bring Fifi or Sprocket with you (and I apologize if those are your kid’s names)?

If you are travelling out of the country then I will refer you to the good people at Canadian Border Services. But if you are travelling within our chillier side of the border and thinking about adding some extra paws to your holiday celebrations, here are 5 things to consider:

Pets on planes and trains

Get ready for some separation anxiety – and your pet will probably miss you too. Unless they are a guide dog, no pets are allowed with you on the passenger cars on Via Rail. Instead, all other furry friends will be shown to the baggage car. Yes, the baggage car is heated and yes Via requires a ‘rigid cage large enough for them to stand in. And it’ll cost you between $15 and $50 for Max or Princess to ride the rails with you.

Sammy. Sleeping. Photo courtesy: Dayna Rousseau

Thinking about flying? Then your options may be limited depending on the size of your pet. After Dec 15th, no animals are permitted in the baggage hold on either WestJet or Air Canada until mid-January due to the increased amount of travel. However, if Foofoo is small enough to fit in a soft-sided carrier that they can comfortably stand up in, and can fit under the seat in front of you – you’re in luck! Both airlines (as well Porter Airlines) continue to allow you to have your pet with you in the passenger cabin, even over the holidays. Always call ahead to double check though, as there may be restrictions on how many pets are permitted per flight.

Road trip tips

Few things compare to the joy on a pooch’s face with its head out the car window, ears flying, lapping up the fresh air. Except, perhaps, the frozen expression on his owner’s face because it’s minus 20 and half of the carefully wrapped gifts have been torn open.

Hitting the highway is high on many holiday to-do lists, but if you’re inviting Mr. Snugglepaws with you, it’s best to do some prep work first. If your dog or cat is used to travelling in a car, and especially if they enjoy it, you’re off to a great start. If they don’t have much experience with it though, make sure to take them out on short (and then increasingly longer) rides leading up to the holidays. That way they can get used to it.

Ty and Lucy. Photo courtesy: April Walker
Ty and Lucy. Photo courtesy: April Walker

Depending on the length of your trip, prepare to stop every two hours to let them out (put a leash on first!) to stretch their legs, drink some water and go to the bathroom. Consider bringing a litter box for the cat. When it comes to the music, watch the volume as you turn up your holiday favourites. Your woofer doesn’t need the subwoofer, trust me. And lastly, be mindful of the temperature in the car. Keep it fairly steady as you would at home. And if you leave your pet in the car in frigid weather, I will personally come and break your window.

Pet friendly hotels

Lucky you, your road trip requires an overnight stay! Fear not, intrepid traveller. There are hotels, motels and inns to your rescue and more than you would think! If you already have a place in mind, call first to ask about their pet policy. Otherwise, check out websites such as petswelcome.com or petfriendly.ca to find places along your route. It’s likely that your pet-friendly room will be on the ground floor with an outside access.

Make the overnight stay as comfortable for your pet as you can. Bring a blanket or towel with the comforting smell of home, their favourite toys (squeakerless please, for your neighbour’s sake). Keep them off the furniture and if anything is damaged, let the front desk know immediately. There is usually a small extra cost (~$15) for booking a pet-friendly room. If your dog is in the habit of barking all night, then perhaps bring an extra jar of peanut butter.

Introducing your pet

You made it! The hard part is over! Oh wait, no it’s not at all. But like the road trip, the more you prepare, the easier it will be. Know ahead of time whether there will be another pet at the home you’re going to. Consider whether they’ve met before, their personalities, current vaccinations and if you are there long enough to safely introduce them to each other.

Remember, dogs rely on their nose more than anything else. Before allowing any visual contact (which should be done in a safely enclosed area that is not the home), you should familiarize them with each other’s scent. Perhaps switch their toys and take turns to walk around the home on their own. This way, they will feel like they have already effectively ‘met’ and will have a much smoother greeting when they do at last see each other (at a dog park, off-leash is the best to avoid posturing or aggression).

Winnie meets Lacey. Photo courtesy: Allyson Jackson
Winnie meets Lacey. Photo courtesy: Allyson Jackson

When introducing your dog to new people, it’s a good idea to do it during walk time. A well-exercised dog is a better behaved dog. Have Nana and Grampy join you for a nice walk when you arrive. After a while, hand over the leash to them, and let them continue the walk, forming a bond with the dog on their own. When it comes time to enter the house, you’ve already given him two more scents that are familiar (if still new). Pack your patience, especially when they’ve eaten the cookies left out for Santa three times in a row.

Don’t forget the basics!

You may be on vacation, but your pet shouldn’t be. They still need regular exercise and normal meal times. And they do not need to indulge on egg nog and candy. If you’re treating them with a taste of turkey, make sure there are no bones. Be aware of any potential threats from Christmas decorations, either lit candles or poinsettias (toxic if ingested), hanging wires or extension cords. Avoid boxes of chocolates being left out, including ones wrapped under the tree. While we’re under there, do not let them drink the water out of the Christmas tree stand.

What may be a loud and happy time for you may be overwhelming to ol’ Sammy, so make sure there’s a quiet place they can escape to if it all gets too much.

Earl. In his happy place. Photo courtesy: Pam Vandermeer
Earl. In his happy place. Photo courtesy: Pam Vandermeer

This list may seem a bit daunting, and leave you thinking twice about bringing Captain Furrybottom to your holiday celebrations. These may not be the right options for your pet and they may be more comfortable boarding at a familiar kennel while you’re away. But, as the holidays grow closer and the wrapping paper rolls grow thinner, know that with a little planning and preparation, your furry friend can join you, and add that little extra joy to your family-filled festivities.

About Liz

Liz Hadfield is an East Coaster who has learned to rush around in Ontario. She’s spent ten wonderful years working in television before switching industries, but has always kept a pen close to hand in case a story suddenly needs to be written. An avid reader, moderately tattooed, and always ready to make a list, Liz is now three years into the dog scene and has met all kinds of pet parents with many different challenges. One thing remains the same though – she will always laugh at the dog in the stroller.


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