Pets and holidays

Having a pet is a responsibility not unlike having a child and just like when you have kids, there is no reason why you cannot go on your well earned holiday. Careful consideration and planning will see you on your way to a stress and worry free break.

Ideally, the planning for a major holiday takes place months in advance. This is the best time to decide what will happen to your pets while you are away, particularly if you decide to board them at a kennel or cattery in the summer months as there is no guarantee you will find a vacancy there at short notice. You really don’t want to be stressing about your furry friends when pre-holiday excitement is in full swing!

Just what are your options?
The individual needs of your pet must to be taken into account. A large dog generally needs more exercise, a pet that has no other animal company needs more human contact, a young kitten or puppy needs a LOT of attention and care. Taking a weeks’ holiday when your pet is only a few weeks old is not advisable unless you can arrange constant care. You might also miss out on some precious bonding time! If your pet is on medication or a special diet, he will need extra attention. Does your pet have any behavioural issues that affect their daily routine? Perhaps they can not be left alone for long periods or get bored easily.

So, with your pets needs in mind you can now look at your options. Having a neighbour come in to feed and walk your pets is one of the most common solutions however, it would not be suitable for everyone. There is very little human contact and no supervision. You may feel you cannot trust them to look after your pets special needs if he has any. Giving someone a key to your home is not something everyone is comfortable with. In a nutshell this is a good option if your pets are well adjusted and have no really special needs.

If you DO decide to go with this option, there are certain things you can do to make your absence less stressing for your pet. First and foremost you need someone you trust with your home and to look after your pets well. Knowing they are in good hands will be less stress for you and much better for your furries as well. Leave a plentiful variety of toys – the better the variety, the less boredom there will be. Remember that they will need toys they can play with on their own and with other pets (if you have any). There is no point in leaving a handheld tug rope that requires a human on one end! There are lots of toys that inspire the feline and canine imagination, pounce toys usually serve you and your pet very well. A pounce toy is something your pet likes to hide in wait for and ‘hunt,’ the kind of toy this is varies from pet to pet. It could be a jingly ball, a squeaky toy, a raggedy doll or even a sweet wrapper.

As your pets’ human, you will know what toys your pet enjoys.

Most pets chew. You want to prevent Princess from chewing on the upholstery so it is highly advisable that you leave some chew things like rawhide, nylabone, the squeaky toy they like to chew to name but a few examples. From your pets point of view, your home is bound to be smothered in your scent, which is a very good thing however, if you leave your pets in a part of the house where you rarely spend time you might want to think about leaving a little scent. Nothing untoward! A sweater you have worn recently could be left on a chair or near their bed. An owners scent can be very comforting and can ease anxiety.

You may not want you pets to have access to your bedroom or the dining room while you are away. This is fair enough, and a good idea if your pet is a bit messy in these rooms. Yet it has to be said that you should consider the amount of space you will let them have. An animal of any kind does not do well if they are locked in a dark and/or small room; apart from anything else it is unfair to confine them so. It has been shown to have a damaging psychological affect. A very workable solution is to cordon off the upper floor and keep certain doors locked by key (some pooches and even cats can open unlocked doors, the little Houdini’s!). Then remove or hide any breakables in the rooms where they will spend their time.

Litter trays will need cleaning and dogs will need walking for both exercise and urinating. It is essential that the dog is let out to do his business at least twice a day, they do not have magical bladders they can hold for 24 hours. A house trained dog will not like peeing in the house any more than you would like him to but if left with no option it will lead to an embarrassing situation for everyone. And so, you must be absolutely clear on the needs and rules with the person who will call around. Leave a list of instructions. If your friend is happy to spend 20 minutes playing with your pets each evening this would be excellent. It is no substitute to a full on play session but it really helps.

Leave a bag of your pets favourite treats with their temporary carer. Do not leave them in the same room as your pet or you can be sure they will not last. A few treats each evening will help your pets trust their carer and if your pet associates these treats with ‘good things’ it may help ease any fears of loss they are experiencing.

Back to the list of instructions. What should it include? Feeding information including any special dietary needs, medication information, notes about your pets behaviour (for example, Princess loves to have her belly rubbed – or she does not like to be approached by strangers), house rules such as ‘rooms they are not allowed in,’ anything they should be aware of when walking your dog (does he try to chase other dogs?), and the telephone number of your veterinary practice for emergencies.

You should encourage your friend to stick to a routine as much as is possible for them. Walking and feeding at certain times each day. Pets have an uncanny sense for time! And it seems they do appreciate some sort of routine. If it is possible to follow similar feeding times that they are used to, all the better. Finally, don’t forget to thank your friend with a nice Duty Free bottle!

Perhaps you have a relative or good friend who would happily mind your house and pets while you are away. In return for looking after everything, they get to stay in your house for the week/fortnight you aren’t there. This is much better than having a friend or neighbour call round, especially if your relative does not work full time. This means there is more company and supervision for your pets and they get to stay at home.

Kennels and catteries are a widely available option and if you can afford it is often a better option for your pet if they have special needs or are the only pet in your household. Not all kennels and catteries are the same, some will not take in a pet with particular needs. They do not all follow the same high standards. Sourcing a kennel or cattery you are happy with should be treated in the same way as finding a vet, clinic or nursing home. A friends recommendation is by far the best source to find a reputable and reliable kennel. But what if there is no such verbal offering? Researching has never been easier with the Internet at your fingertips. Check out the animal forums available and get some ideas from fellow pet owners. No matter how good you hear a kennel is it makes sense to go and see it before you go away; is it everything you thought? Are you happy with the facilities and their schedules? Will they look after your pets needs? Apart from making sure your pet will be cared for, it eases your own mind.

Lying on a sun lounger in Portugal is not the time you want to suddenly think “I’m worried Princess isn’t being fed enough, she’s a hungry wagon…” There are a few things you may consider doing if you go for kennelling:

1. Check what food the kennel/cattery uses; are you happy with this? It may be a brand your pet has refused to eat in the past.
2. Bring some of your pets own toys.
3. If Princess has a favourite blanket, don’t forget to bring that with you to the kennel and make sure the staff are aware that is belongs to you.
4. Your pet would benefit from having an old shirt which you have worn, with him at the kennel. Animals in kennels can suffer from anxiety and your scent will help calm them, especially if you will be away for more than a few days.
5. Kennelling fees start at 10 euros and cattery charges start at 6 euros per day. Charges vary from kennel to kennel and the size of your dog can affect the price. Some kennels will charge less if you supply your pets food. This is a great deal if you want to make sure your pet receives a specific food.
6. OAP’s and people on Social Welfare can sometimes get these services at a reduced price. However this is entirely at the kennels’ discretion, the only way to find out is to ask.

Please note that kennels and catteries only take in pets who are up to date on their vaccinations, a reputable kennel/cattery will ask to see a vet certificate as proof of this. If you leave your pet at a kennel or cattery that does not insist upon up to date vaccinations, the animals in their care could be at risk of contracting kennel cough, parvo and other canine/feline illnesses.

Very similar to kennelling, is pet sitting. This is a fairly recent innovation and has been picked up by us Irish in recent years. There are two types of pet sitter; in your own home or in their home. Either option is completely workable as you are paying for a service, the pet sitters aim is to look after your pet and their needs. Pet sitters are usually BIG animal lovers and thoroughly enjoy their job. We all know that a person who loves their job generally does it very well. Just as with kennels, you would be advised to do a little research before choosing a sitter, ask them for references and see what their past customers have to say.

Find out what their plans are, will your pet have other canine/feline company? Where will they sleep (if you decided upon a sitter who looks after your pet in their own home). What and how often will he be fed and walked? Pet sitting is not just for cats and dogs, there are sitters out there for small animals of the hamster, rabbit and guinea pig persuasion as well! We will look at small animals later.

Pet sitting costs vary depending on what type of sitting is chosen, the size of your dog and whether or not you supply the food. Costs for dogs start at 12.50 per night.

Small animals are often best looked after in their own home. Rabbits and guinea pigs have their own hutches and runs, thus having a neighbour or friend call to feed and water them each day is really the easiest option. A common mistake is assuming that that is all they need. Small animals do need company and attention. They are much easier to care for than a large dog or a cat but that is not to say they have no needs. If you are going to be away for more than a few days, your small pets will need some human company. Hamsters, gerbils and other kinds of rodents have usually got easy-to-transport cages, so finding a friend who knows how to look after them is your best bet.

Perhaps you don’t know anybody who knows how to, or who has time to look after your ‘smallies’ – and no one has a particular desire to learn how to either. Well the happy news is that there are some pet sitters who look after small animals. And from just two euros per day for hamsters or six euros for a pair of guinea pigs, you can be sure your little ones will be well looked after at what I have to say is a bargain price.

Would you like to take Princess on holiday with you? If you are holidaying in Ireland, there are many hotels, holiday homes and B&B’s that allow pets. Holiday accommodation that allow pets are places which allow your pet in your room. Be wary of places that advertise as being ‘pet friendly,’ some masquerade as being ‘pet friendly’ when in fact, they ask you to leave your pet in the car overnight or tied up outside; neither of which are suitable. A simple phone call before booking will clear this up.

Taking your pet with you is a great family holiday (pets are family members for many!), walks, hikes, treks, picnics, beaches. If travelling long distance with your pet in the car, they should be properly restrained. A cat should be in a cat carrier to prevent him from bolting when the car door opens. Equally, a dog should be in a crate or kept in the back of the car using a dog bar barrier. You can even buy dog seatbelt clips and actual seatbelts. Restraining your pet is not just for theirs, but also for your own safety. An animal wandering around the car can be distracting, they can get in the way and cause accidents.

On long journeys dogs need water regularly, particularly if it is a warm day. If your pet gets stressed when travelling there are remedies available. Many pet owners swear by Bach’s Rescue Remedy, which can be purchased in most chemists. If your pet is particularly anxious by nature, it would be best to consult your vet before you make your trip.

Taking your pet abroad is very much an option however, you need a lot of forward planning and research. There are rules in place that restrict international travel for pets. You can travel to certain countries without putting your pet into quarantine if you have a Pet Passport. You also need to be aware that some airlines will not take animals and those that do usually charge a large fee – an animal can rarely travel as ‘excess baggage.’ The animal must also travel in the hold of the plane in a crate, this is not something that every animal can handle, particularly old age animals, you should consult your vet before flying with any animal.

Not all ferries have kennel areas and some will only allow you to travel with your pet if you leave him in the car. If you have ever been in the car park area on a ferry you will know it is very stuffy and full of petrol fumes. As an animal should never be left in a car without a window open you can see how this could potentially be very unhealthy. So your international pet travel checklist:

1. Check the pet travel rules for your destination.
2. See your vet about Pet Passports (if necessary) and update your pets vaccinations and discuss your travel method and it’s potential affects on your pet.
3. Contact the travel company: airline, ferry or train and ask about travelling with your pet. What facilities do they have? Are there extra charges etc?
4. Book your trip once you are sure you can travel with your pet in a way you are happy with.

5. Prepare a travel pack of water bottle and bowl, anxiety remedy if necessary, food (in a cool bag perhaps), toys to keep him amused, his Pet Passport and all relevant vaccination documentation, contact details for a vet in the location you are travelling to if you are going on a lengthy trip.

Finally, be warned that a pet of any kind should never, under any circumstances, be left alone at home for days on end even if you leave lots of food out. Every year pets are rescued from such situations, they get dehydrated, emancipated, sleep in their own excretion and in severe cases they can become malnourished and die.

Now, pet taken care of, go have a happy worry free holiday!

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