Planning for the holiday with your pet

Whether travelling by plane or car, your pet’s comfort, safety and health must be considered. Here are some important information to keep them safe.

Pets travelling by air

Be informed Compare services between the domestic airlines before booking. The care of your pet – from check-in time until you pick him up at the destination airport – is paramount. Some airlines offer air-conditioned transport for pets to the plane and immediate loading so pets aren’t left on the tarmac waiting to be loaded.

Booking a ticket Your pet’s booking will be done separately from yours. Different airlines have different procedures, so check with your carrier. If you want your pet to fly on the same flight as you, book at least 48 hours in advance.

Crates The pet’s crate must be International Air Transport Association (IATA) compliant. The pet should be able to stand up comfortably and turn around in the crate. Add ‘pee pads’ or newspaper. Some airlines do allow a soft blanket and toy. Crates must have a fixed water container but no food is allowed.

At the airport Know where to drop off your pet – this will probably be at the airline’s dedicated pet area or at the airport’s cargo section. Query your pet’s check-in time – it is usually about two hours prior to departure. Take your pet’s veterinary card with you to the airport.

On the plane The pet is placed in a climate-controlled, pressurised cargo compartment that is safe for animals. Staff are trained to handle animals and your pet’s carrier is handled with care at all times. Ground staff at the destination airport are on hand to unload pet carriers as soon as it is safe to do so.

Collecting your pet Collect your pet at a dedicated pet area or the cargo section. Make sure you know where this is at the destination airport.

What to pack

For the car A pet carrier or seat-belt harness, a 2ℓ water container, a leash, a few treats, a first aid kit, a roll of paper towel, some plastic bags, your pet’s vet card, prescribed medication, if you are stopping over – one meal, for cats – a litter tray with litter and plastic bags to dispose of faeces.

For the trip Water and food bowls, two leashes, blankets and a bed, food, toys, treats, any regular prescribed medication.

In the event of an accident

People travelling with pets need to take a few precautions, especially if they are travelling long distances. One of the most important things owners should do is to microchip their pets. In this way, if the animal runs away during the journey, he can easily be traced.

Microchipping is also useful if the owner is involved in a crash and is unable to speak to attending emergency personnel. Generally, if a pet is in a car that is involved in a crash, and the owner is unable to communicate, the pet is either taken to the nearest SPCA or fetched by their staff, who will check if the animal is microchipped. If the owner is able to communicate, he or she should contact a family member or friend to come and collect the pet, if possible.

Emergency personnel say instances of pets in cars involved in crashes are rare, but when they do occur, they try to accommodate the pet as quickly as possible. It is our understanding that if a pet is injured in a crash, SPCA personnel will take the animal to a vet to be treated. However, should this occur, authorisations for procedures and liabilities for costs are not something we are able to comment on.

Plans in place

Once you have your pet-friendly accommodation booked, schedule a trip to the vet to make sure your animals are healthy for travel. Rabies vaccines must be up to date when travelling within South Africa. If your pet isn’t microchipped, have this done. Your pet should also have a secure collar with an identification tag.

Check your pet’s carrier or seat-belt harness for wear and tear. Replace if needed. Order additional food if you plan to take it with you. Unless advised by a vet, don’t make changes to your pet’s diet in the weeks leading up to the trip.

Your pet’s veterinary card must accompany your pet while travelling, so put this in a safe place where you won’t forget it. If you don’t already have one, pack a pet first aid kit. About a week before departure, bath your pet and apply any required tick and flea treatments.


Trouble-shooting the trip

“My dog loves to ride on my lap while I drive. Should I let him?”

The front seats in a vehicle are never safe for pets. If your airbag deploys, your pet can be seriously injured. Having your pet on your lap can also be a distraction for the driver. Pets should not be allowed to wander around the vehicle unrestricted. There are two options for safe travel: a travel crate, suitable for small dog breeds and cats, and a seat-belt harness for medium to large dogs. Travel crates can be secured on the seat of the vehicle using pet crate straps, or placed behind the passenger seat. If you use a seat-belt harness, choose the correct size for your dog.

“My dog often vomits in the car. How can I prevent this?”

Both dogs and cats may vomit in the car. This may be caused by motion sickness or it may be an emotional issue. Your pet may give some warning before he vomits – he may lick his lips, yawn, drool or whine.

See your vet for a full examination. He or she will consider your pet’s travel history before determining the cause of the vomiting. Motion sickness is more common in younger animals as balance structures within the ear are not yet fully developed. Some pets outgrow it, others don’t. If your vet suspects an emotional or anxiety problem, you will be advised to contact an accredited animal behaviourist to address it.

Anti-nausea medication can be prescribed for motion sickness. Use it exactly as your vet has directed. Don’t give your pet a large meal just before you leave. Where possible, offer a meal about two to three hours before travel. Unless your dog is very anxious in the car, most vets will advise against sedation, but will prescribe a calming remedy to relax your pet.

“How often should we stop and should I offer my dog a meal at the rest stop?”

The Automobile Association (AA) recommends rest stops every two hours or 200km for drivers. This should be fine for your pet, but take your cue from the animal. If your dog seems restless, he may need a potty break. Always put his lead on before you open the car door. Offer a little water and a treat or two, but don’t offer a full meal. Never leave pets unattended in a hot car – not even for a few minutes!

“I’m travelling with my cat for the first time; the potty stops aren’t as easy as with dogs. How should I handle these?”

You need to take her litter tray with you in the car. Larger cat carriers can accommodate a bed, non-spill travel water bowl and small litter tray, but this will also be dependent on the space available in the vehicle. If your cat isn’t used to a big carrier, get her accustomed to it at home first.

If you are using a separate tray, at the travel stop, make sure the car doors, windows and sunroof are properly closed. An anxious cat may bolt at the first opportunity. If there isn’t water in her crate, put down a bowl on the seat or floor of the car.

With the doors closed, let her out of the carrier and allow her to use the litter tray and have water. Unless your cat is trained to walk on a harness, do not allow her out of the car.

“How can I settle my dog down when we reach our holiday destination?”

Put his lead on before you get out of the car and let him have a bathroom break before heading indoors. Immediately offer him some water. Check the accommodation for safety. Check for open sliding doors and open windows, especially on second or subsequent floors. Once you know the place is safe, let him off lead to explore.

Once your dog settles down, offer him something to eat. Later, you may want to venture out for a walk. If you are feeling very tired after the drive, postpone this to the following day. Never let your pet off lead in any dog park or open area unless he is properly trained and will return to you on command.

“Our accommodation is pet-friendly, but there are some activities we want to do that don’t allow dogs. What can we do?”

If your dog is used to spending some time away from you during the day, he should be comfortable in the apartment for a few hours. Give him a few days to settle in the new place before you leave him. Call reception and request no cleaning service for that day – a maid could inadvertently let your pet out. As an extra precaution, paste a sign on the door of the chalet requesting ‘do not disturb’ or ‘do not enter’. Some resorts do not allow pets unattended in the chalets. In this case, contact a boarding kennel that offers daycare facilities and leave your dog there.


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