When my husband and I adopted our two large, slobbery Labrador retrievers (Molly and Jack), everyone told us that would be the end of our carefree travel days. Each one of them weighs 80 lbs, loves to run around, and has more chew toys than your average teething infant.
Last summer, we brought them to Madrid with us. They flew on Iberia Air, stayed with us in our apartment, and got to know the locals very well (“Que Bonitas!” the locals would say). We learned that traveling with your pets, no matter how big they are, is completely possible. All it takes is a little planning, patience, and jumping through the right hoops. With a microchip and vet certificate, we were clear to travel to most places in the world.
Here are ten tips for taking your pet overseas:
1. Plan ahead. Some countries like the UK require special tests 4 months before you arrive. The site Pet Travel lists the entry requirements by country. Even for Europe, all pets must be microchipped. The Vet Cert has to be signed by a USDA vet. The steps aren’t complicated, but waiting times can vary.
2. What’s in a breed? If you have a pug or other short-nosed breed, many airlines will not allow them due to increased difficulties they may have breathing on the plane. I’ve heard lots of folks who bring their short-nosed dogs with them overseas, though, so check with the carrier to make sure they’ll let you.
3. Check or Carry? Determine if you are going to check your pet as cargo or bring them on the flight with you. If your pet is less than 25 lbs, it’s up to you. If your pet is over 25 lbs, then they must be checked in the cargo area. If you’re checking your dog, then you need the correct sized carrier. See #6 below.
4. Call ahead. Some airlines require you to call and make a reservation for your pet; others do not. To avoid confusion, call ahead and find out their policy. You’ll also want to inquire about any temperature requirements — there are times when it’s just too hot or cold to fly with a pet in cargo.
5. Calculate total cost. In our case, the cheapest flight at $2000 roundtrip charged a whopping $1600 in fees for our dogs (Total: $3200). A more expensive flight at $2500 roundtrip was with an airline that only charged $200 for the dogs (Total: $2700). Note: Go non-stop if you can.
6. Make sure Fido Fits. When buying a pet carrier, we brought our dogs with us into PetSmart and had them test out sizes. Your pet should be able to stand up, turn around and lay down comfortably. Note: The carrier label should say “Airline Approved”.
7. Get your shots. For most of Europe, you just need to have a USDA certified vet fill out a form stating your pet has had the appropriate rabies shots. In many places, you also need up-to-date rabies vaccines at least 30 days before departure.
8. Forget sleeping pills. While you may want to pass out with some Ambien on the flight over, don’t do your pet the same favor. Any type of tranquillizer is discouraged, as they can make it difficult for your pet to breathe in the pressurized cabin. Instead, our vet suggested Benedryl, and the dogs slept like babies (check with your vet first before you buy though!).
9. Food and Drink. Don’t forget to tape food and a water bowl to the top of your carrier if you are checking your pet into cargo. You’ll want to label these as such, in case you get separated from your dogs in an emergency and they need to feed them.
10. THIS SIDE UP. Be sure to label your carrier with lots of warnings and your contact information in case you get separated. We taped big stickers with our dogs’ names on each cage, so the people handling them would remember these are friendly puppies… not just another piece of luggage.
Once you get your pets to your destination, you’ll be amazed at what a great ice breaker they can be. Walking around Madrid with our dogs provided to be an entry to people’s lives we wouldn’t otherwise have had. And instead of spending 3 months waiting for us to come home, Molly and Jack got to eat tapas, wrestle Spanish dogs, and walk around Retiro Park on Sunday afternoons. When we left, they were just as sad as us to leave!
Christine Gilbert loves her dogs. She loves animals in general. She’s currently perfecting her Spanish in Central America. You can read her travels on her blog, Almost Fearless.