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What to do with your pet when you go away?

Today, people are travelling more than ever before, for both work and for play1. And pet owners are no exception to this trend. This is not surprising if you take into account the parallel phenomenon that the number of people with pets has also grown worldwide. Today, in Europe, 28% of households own a dog, and 23% a cat2. Central Europe & Balkan countries have the highest proportion with dogs. A more uniform pattern emerges for cat ownership. If you have a feline or canine family member, it is likely that one of the most important, heartfelt decisions you will make about the wellbeing of your beloved pet is how to care for him when you go away. As a pet owner, it is only natural to feel concerned about how to best meet your pet’s vital needs, along with ensuring that he gets enough affection and attention, while you are gone. If you are taking holiday and travelling may even consider the option of taking your pet with you. The good news is that today travelling and being a pet owner are by no means incompatible. There are a growing number of flexible, pet-centred solutions, tailored to meet the wide-ranging needs of pets whose families need to be away for anywhere from a day, to a weekend or several weeks. At the same time, thanks to the increase in pet-friendly hotels and travel services, more and more people are choosing to go away with their pets. Whether you decide to leave your buddy at home or to take him along, it is well worth taking the time to prepare your pet and you for your trip. Even if you have no immediate travel plans, now might be the ideal time to start investigating care options in case you should have to travel unexpectedly. This will avoid the upset of having to find someone to care for your pet at the last minute and under pressure.

If truth be told, both travelling with your pet and leaving him behind in the care of someone else, can be potentially stressful experiences. After all, being separated from your beloved pet is likely to be an emotional experience for both of you. However, if you take the time to choose and prepare for a care option that is the right fit for your feline or canine’s specific needs, you will greatly improve his wellbeing and happiness while you are away. Additionally, this will give you greater peace of mind, reducing the chances of communicating any stress you may feel about being separated. If, on the other hand, you decide to travel with your companion, it is important to keep in mind that simply getting to and from a new place along with being in a new setting may be challenging for him. You can ensure your pet’s safety and greatly improve his comfort while travelling by following some essential practical recommendations.

Taking care of your pet when you are away


Travelling with your pet

The number of people who choose to travel with their pet is on the rise. “37% of pet owners take their animals on the road, up from 19% about 10 years ago, according to a survey by the American Pet Products Association”3. There are several reasons for this. To start, the role of pets has changed. Today, a majority of people sees their pets as a family member and an integral part of their lives4. Many pet owners want to enjoy their vacation fun with their beloved companion. To answer this lifestyle change, the travel industry has responded by offering more pet-friendly accommodation and travel options (Link to the articles MM20/20BIS). In Europe, most of the national train lines now allow people to travel with their pets, either for free or with a reduced fare paying ticket. Even in the US, where the national train company Amtrak has long resisted pet travel, the rules are changing to accommodate pet owners who want to travel with their canine or feline companion. For instance, in France, 66% of pet owners consider that it is easier to travel with your pet today than thirty years ago5. Many restaurants now offer outdoor seating for people who want to enjoy a meal with their pets too. However, while it is clearly much easier today to go on holiday with your pet, it is worth considering that this may not necessarily be what is best for his needs.

Pet travel: how dogs and cats react ?

While it is difficult to generalize when it comes to pets, generally speaking cats tend to be territorial and attached to their environment. For many cats, especially indoor ones, a change in environment is a considerable source of stress as is being transported in a carrier or travelling in a car or train. On the other hand, social interaction tends to be more important for dogs, who often find it easier to adapt to a new environment as long as they are with their owner. Nevertheless, keep in mind that every animal is an individual with his own personality and personal history. There are some dogs who may find it very upsetting to leave their home or to be in a car or train, while some cats may feel comfortable with this. Before envisaging any long trip with your pet, ask yourself how well your pet does when he is in less familiar or new territory (i.e. at the vet, at a friend’s house, around other animals, or outside-in the case of an indoor cat). It might be a good idea to do some short trial runs in the car or in public transportation, as well as testing outa change in environment. Observe your pet closely: if he or she appears distraught or stressed after several trial runs, it is probably better for his wellbeing to leave him at home under the proper care. If on the other hand, you feel that your pet is able to travel comfortably and will not be overwhelmed by a change in his or her environment, there are a number of important things to think about and prepare before the trip.

How to travel with your pet safely, comfortably and legally

  • First thing: make sure your pet has all the proper vaccinations, no matter where you go and how you get there.
  • If you have not already done so, have your pet microchipped by a vet. Microchipping is required to travel in the EU and in many other countries.
  • Ensure your pet is wearing a safe collar with a tag including your contact information.
  • Keep in mind that to travel within the EU or from the EU to other countries, your pet must be at least three months old.
  • Ensure that your pet has his or her “pet passport” in keeping with EU regulations. The pet passport must be issued by a certified vet (not all vets are certified to do so). This document lists all treatments and vaccines your pet has had, as well as his or her microchip number.
  • Make sure your pet has an up-to-date rabies vaccination. Keep in mind that this vaccination is only considered valid 21 days after the first injection.
  • Check the specific pet travel regulations of any country you are planning to visit. For instance, the UK, Ireland and Finland both require that your dog be treated for the parasite, Echinococcus, or tapeworm.
  • If you are planning to travel by train or by airline, we recommend that you always check the policies of specific companies on pet travel, as part of preparing for your trip. For instance, some major airlines allow smaller pets to travel in the cabin, while other airlines require pets to travel in the hold. Sometimes, dogs are asked to wear a muzzle too (e.g. in a train or a bus) – it is important to double check the legislation in the country you are planning to travel.
  • Always travel with a medical kit for your pet. Ask your vet what to put in it.
  • Make sure he has enough fresh, clean water and food to last throughout the journey.

If you are travelling by car, keep in mind the following considerations:

  • You should not embark on a long car trip without first getting your pet used to being in the car. Take your cat or dog out for a number of short rides, to help your pet get used to the new sounds and sensations. It is also a good way to see how your pet feels in the car. If after several tries your pet still does not seem happy in the car it is probably best to forgo taking a long car trip together.
  • Be sure to bring along his water and food bowl. Make frequent rest stops to allow your pet to drink. If you are travelling with your dog, make sure to factor in time for frequent walks on the lead.
  • Ensure that your pet has a comfortable, safe carrier or crate. Take along any objects that are comforting to your pet (i.e. a special toy or blanket) and make sure that the carrier is securely fastened in the car. If your dog is not in a crate, make sure he is attached with a harness to a seatbelt and never let him stick his head out of the window.
  • Never leave your pet alone in a parked vehicle. Even if the windows are slightly open, the inside of the car can heat up extremely fast and endanger your pet. The inside of a car can also get extremely cold in winter when the engine is turned off.

If you follow the above mentioned safety recommendations, your pet’s and your own travel experience will be much more enjoyable and you will keep him safe.

Choosing to leave my pet at home when I go away: making the best decision for my pet’s needs

Sometimes travelling with your pet is simply not possible, for example when you need to be away for work. But even if you are going on holiday and it is feasible to bring your pet along, this may not be the best option for his comfort. Cats in particular are often extremely attached to their environment and do not do well with change. It may be unduly stressful for your feline to have to leave her home. While overall dogs tend to adjust better than cats to a new living arrangement, some dogs may become anxious when away from home. Senior dogs or young puppies also may find it stressful, over-stimulating or tiring to travel. In addition, while you may think your dog or cat would adapt well to a new place, perhaps the trip getting there (for instance in the hold of a plane, if you are travelling abroad) is potentially upsetting.

While it may be difficult for you to envisage leaving him behind, especially if you have never done so, sometimes this is ultimately what is best for your pet’s overall wellbeing.

Leaving your pet is an emotional experience for both you and him. This is only natural especially if like many pet owners today you consider your pet to be a veritable member of your family. You share an intense bond and you are your pet’s primary source of love and care. You may worry that your pet will feel abandoned by you if you leave, or that he will not get the proper attention. However, it is important to keep in mind that being separated from your pet, while an emotional moment, does not have to be an upsetting or negative experience for either of you. To make your time away a positive experience for both of you there are two main things to consider. First, you need to ensure that the full range of your pet’s needs are met while you are away including respecting his relationship to his environment, feeding regimen, activity requirements, and particular need for social interaction and affection. If you satisfy all of his needs while you are away, your pet should be comfortable and able to handle any anxiety that he may feel at the moment of your departure. Secondly, we recommend youth gradually prepare your pet for being separated from you, to give him time to get used to your not being there. If you respect these two conditions, your pet should be happy even though you are not there, and you will feel much more at ease leaving him. You may even find that in your absence, your dog was very happy to play with someone else, for ultimately dogs are very adaptable if given proper care and affection.

Some degree of separation anxiety is normal for most pets and their owners, but with preparation and proper care, this is something that can be managed.

Pet sitting: the flexible, reliable pet minding option

Thankfully, today there are many flexible pet-sitting options to keep your pet healthy and happy when you can’t be there. Whether you are gone all day for work and feel that your pet needs someone during the day to play with or take him out for a walk, or you plan to be gone for several days or weeks at a time, there is a solution for every situation. One of the first steps to a positive separation experience is choosing the right pet-sitting option for your pet’s own needs. While many people choose to leave their pet in the care of a trusted friend or family member, this is not always possible or necessarily the best option. Your best friend or in-laws may want to be helpful but this does not mean that they know how to effectively care for a pet or that they really have the time to do so. You also may feel uncomfortable giving a friend or family member, highly specific, demanding care instructions, especially if you feel they are doing you a favour. In this case, professional in-home pet sitting or boarding your pet with a pet-sitting host family are a good, reliable solution, provided you choose a certified pet-sitting organization that only works with trained pet-sitters. In-home pet sitting is when a pet-sitter comes into your home to care for your pet from several times a day to even staying at your home overnight. This option is often preferable for cats or dogs who, given their particular personality or for health reasons, are more comfortable at home. If on the other hand, you feel your pet is able to leave his own familiar environment, you may prefer to leave him with a pet-sitting host family specifically selected to match your pet’s individual needs. In this way, he will have a maximum amount of social interaction while enjoying a loving, family setting. A reliable pet-sitting organization will help you choose a pet-sitter or host family that best matches your pet’s personality and normal environment. Hence, if your pet loves children, you may select a host family with kids. If on the other hand, he needs lots of peace and quiet, perhaps a retired couple host family would be a better option. If your canine has very high activity requirements, you will want to choose an in-home sitter or host family that is used to and enjoys intense physical play and long walks. If you have an outdoor cat but do not want to leave him at home unsupervised, you might want to choose a host family with an enclosed garden or catio.

How to choose the right pet-sitter

Once you have chosen the most suitable pet-sitting option for your dog or cat and selected a qualified, experienced pet-sitter or host family, it is time to organize the first encounter with your companion. Observe how your potential sitter engages with your pet: does he seem at ease and friendly? If you have a dog, why not take a walk with your pet-sitter and your pet to see how he manages outside?. Paying for this service, even while you are still around, is worth the opportunity it will give you to observe how your pet and your potential sitter interact. Don’t be afraid to ask very detailed questions about your potential sitter’s experience and what he or she would do in certain situations. If you have chosen the host family option, do take the time to visit the home and meet all members of the family. Above all, trust your own instinct. If you have any doubts about your pet-sitter’s behaviour or credentials or the setting in which your pet will be staying, it is probably better to find someone else with whom you and your pet feel truly comfortable. This is why it is important to leave enough time before your trip to choose a pet-sitter whom you really trust.

How to prepare for a pet sitter

The day before your departure it is a good idea to plan a last visit to your host family with your pet or to have the petsitter come to your home a last time in your presence. This is the opportunity to run through all of your care instructions a last time and make sure that you have not forgotten to provide any important details about your pet. In addition, it will give your pet more time to get used to the person who will be caring for his needs while you are gone.

Practical things to do before your petsitter takes over

  • Make sure that your pet is microchipped and up-to-date with all vaccinations before leaving him in someone else’s care.
  • Buy an automatic food and water dispenser. In case your pet-sitter should have an emergency situation and not be able to get in to feed your pet, he will be able to drink and eat on his own until a new petsitter is found.
  • Check your house, flat or garden for any potentially harmful objects and remove them.
  • Introduce your pet-sitter to your neighbours so they know someone will be coming and going from your home.
  • Stock your home with plenty of pet food and his favourite treats. Replace any toys or equipment that you have been meaning to remove but did not get around to doing.

Essential information to provide your pet-sitter

  • Practical details about food (quantities, number of meals per day and hours), authorized snacks, how often bowls should be cleaned, etc.
  • Information about where and how long your pet is used to sleeping (and where he is not allowed to sleep), any comfort toys he needs,
  • Where all equipment and supplies are kept and how they work (lead, harness, collar, brush, bowl, litter, enough food to last while you are away, favourite toys, carrier case, anti-flea and anti-tick treatment, etc.)
  • Detailed instructions regarding your pet’s activity requirements: how often and how long he should be taken out (with or without a lead), both short and long outings and favourite familiar, safe routes
  • Information about your pet’s favourite games and toys
  • Grooming information
  • Updated medical information including his identification papers and health and vaccination records, along with the telephone numbers of your vet and health insurance forms
  • Detailed instructions regarding any medicine that your pet needs to take along with re-fill prescriptions
  • Last but most important: highly detailed contact information so your sitter can reach you easily
  • What to do in case of an emergency and the name and telephone number of a trusted person to contact if you can’t be reached

Remember that you are the best judge of whether your pet will do better coming away with you or being left in the care of a reliable, loving person or host family. If you have any doubts you may also ask your vet for advice. If you take the time to prepare either of these options well ahead of time, you will ensure that your pet is happy, healthy and safe, whatever the setting and solution you choose.




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