How Should You Care for Your Pet During the Holidays?

dog and cat laying down

It's that time of year, again. The holiday music has started. The door-buster sales are buzzing. The family is gathering at Grandma's -- and you're trying to figure out how to squeeze Fluffy into a carry-on.

Holiday traveling is stressful. Whether going on a plane, train or automobile, adding your pet as your passenger doesn't make things any easier. The roads are busier, airports are crowded and flights are packed. Whether your family is opting to travel without your furry friend or plan to invite him to bon voyage, you need to be prepared. So if taking Fido to the family function or leaving him at home, here is everything you need to know - and prepare, for pet travel and at-home pet care, to make sure this season is hairball-free!

Leaving a Pet at Home
If your family decides the hustle and bustle of pet travel is too much around the holidays, there are other options that can give you peace of mind.

Place your pet in a kennel. Although this option can be expensive, kennels can provide excellent care. They take care of animals all year round, have the comforts of home a pet needs and some states have specific kennel laws. Research kennels online prior to dropping off your pet as there may be differences in prices and availability. Just be warned: they tend to book up fast around the holidays.

Hire a pet sitter. Pet sitters can be a great alternative to kennel care (and often a cheaper option). Most pet sitters will watch your pet at their residence but some can also come by your house if your pet is more comfortable at home. Typically, pet sitters will stay with your pet for a majority of the day or will check in on him frequently. An experienced pet sitter will watch your dog or cat, keep up on training, take your dog for walks and be a friendly, loving face while you are away.

Hire a dog walker. A dog walker coming by twice a day to take your dog on walks while your family is away is often the cheapest option. This could be the least expensive option if you are only going away for a short time, your pet is comfortable being alone, and he only needs a few breaks a day to run and play.

Pet Airline Travel
Before you go to the airport, make sure you and your pet are ready for travel. Check with the airline. It's so important to know what is allowed and what isn't so you aren't surprised when you arrive.

Booking Your Tickets

  • Research restrictions. Some breeds are restricted and cannot be checked. Most of the restricted breeds are short-nosed dog breeds (such as the American Bulldog, Pug, King Charles spaniel, etc). Refer to your airline to make sure your pet is allowed to be checked. If the breed is restricted, you must carry-on your pet.
  • Book early. A limited number of animals are allowed on each flight so to ensure your pet is accommodated, book your reservation early.
  • Find your flight. Go online and look at the flights you wish take to your destination and decide what days you want to travel.
  • Call to book your pet. Pets cannot be booked online. Call the airline's Reservations phone number and ask the agent to check for pet availability (checked or carry-on). If they have availability on the flight, book your flight online (it's $25 for you to book your ticket over the phone so you save money by booking online) and then call them back to book your pet.
  • Budget for the fee. Pets will carry a fee associated with their travel. Ask the airline what their prices and policies are. (Note most pet fees are non-refundable so you want to be certain your pet is coming with you before you book his ticket.) Fees associated with pets can be $75-$125 for a carry-on pet and $175-$250 for a checked pet each way.

Carrying-on Your Pet

  • Know the rules. Carry-on pets are not allowed on transatlantic flights, pets cannot come out of their carrier, and only one animal is allowed per customer.
  • Check the fit. Make sure your carrier meets the requirements. You can find carrier dimensions guidelines on most airline websites which will let you know the maximum size of cabin pet carriers. Some airlines may allow carriers 19" long x 13" wide x 9" high while others may allow a maximum of 17" long x 12.5" wide x 8.5" high so research ahead of time. There may also be restrictions on the type of carrier you can use (leak proof bottom, etc). Click on your airline's Pet Policy guide below to see what the maximum size and other restrictions are.
  • Travel light. Your pet carrier will count as your one personal carry-on item. Use a pet carrier with side pockets. Store all necessary items in the side pockets and check all other baggage.

Checking Your Pets

  • Go inside. Pets must be checked at the ticket counter. Pets cannot be checked with curbside services or at the Self-Service kiosks.

What to Bring

  • Required vaccinations and documentation for each destination you are flying to (only if you are flying internationally)
  • Pet's license and identification tags
  • Favorite toys-to give him a sense of home!
  • Blanket/comfortable bed (Some airlines, like JetBlue, carry great Pet Travel Kits available for purchase.)
  • Leash
  • Things your pet will need in the travel destination
  • Snacks and treats
  • Puppy pads (just in case)

More Tips and Links

Exercise helps. Tire your pet out before you take off! Take your dog on a longer walk than usual. Play fetch. Make your cat chase a toy. After a long day of exercise, your pet will be able to sleep soundly and comfortably on the plane.

Arrive to the airport extra, extra early. Around the holidays, most experts suggest arriving 2 hours early to make sure you get to your gate on time. Add an extra hour (to be on the safe side) if you are traveling with a pet. Don't forget let your pet take care of his business before you go through security, otherwise you will have to return through security again if nature calls him!

Click on these airlines for more information about their specific pet travel policy:

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Comments (11)
Member Care T.
Hi Julia! Thanks for the question! Pay rates can depend on a lot of factors. Here's a great article on costs of pet care that you can check out: http://www.care.com/pet-care-pet-care-cost-p1145-q7401.html
You can also do a search of other pet care providers in your area to see a range of what people where you live are asking. We hope this helps!
Posted: December 16, 2013 at 2:11 PM
Photo of Julia T.
Julia T.
Around how much should a pet sitter be paid?
Posted: December 13, 2013 at 5:19 PM
Photo of Carol P.
Carol P.
If your using a Pet Sitter in your home while your away, as a Pet Sitter I would like to remind you if you don't mind, of a few do's. Check out your Sitter besides good pet care, is the person trustworthy? Clean background checK? Make sure you leave info as to how to contact you and for less critical situations, a relative or friends close by. Does your pet have any allergies? Is it okay to share people food with your pet? Make sure they know where to put refuse outside of the dwelling. There are many little things that may make things easier or be better for the pet(s) that you can jot down. Just like a childcare person coming in your home, show your sitter around, what's where, if there is a room off limits to Fido.
Just a thought that during time of packing and planning trip and having a sitter come in, these may not come to mind.
Posted: November 23, 2013 at 12:19 AM
Photo of Laura J.
Laura J.
Thank you for all the tips on pets. I am a pet sitter for a few families in their home been paid well for honest relable care. A car is at times provided for me to travel home for a few hours a day and their pick ups and drop off at airports. This a better safer way to provide your loving pet's with care at home.
Posted: November 22, 2013 at 8:54 AM
Photo of Trisha H.
Trisha H.
We more than once had to travel being in the Air force, our pets most of the time did very well however, there was this one situation were one of our dogs had a panic attack and even with tranquilizers he managed to chew threw his wood crate and ended up under the plane fusalage where the suit cases were stored. Keep in mind he was a medium sized terrior. It was so bad that he managed to pull out a few teeth and completely destroy the cage. My father had to hammer a piece of plywood over the hole and we prayed that it would work. with all that said, the flight was slightly delayed due to our dog having a panic attack. The tranquilizers finally took affect, but our dog lost teeth, was bloody and a wreck by the time we landed. It is so much easier to keep them at home with a sitter where your pets will be comfortable and less stressed!
Posted: November 20, 2013 at 6:47 PM
Photo of Doris R.
Doris R.
Good tips and suggestions! Thanks.
Posted: November 18, 2013 at 10:46 AM
Sarah G.
Another consideration-- your pet's stress level: does the animal tolerate travel well? Some will howl/yowl and panic at the thought (so much that it becomes intolerable for everyone), so if your furry friend is one of those who who absolutely will NOT get in the car, your best bet may be to make arrangements for him/her to stay at home (or at a kennel, or with a friend whom he/she knows well).
Posted: October 11, 2012 at 5:54 PM
Lynn H.
Great tips thank you so much!
Posted: December 13, 2011 at 8:42 AM
Photo of Kristin C.
Kristin C.
I work at a veterinary office and this time of year brings in a lot of health certificate appointments.

Many pet owners aren't aware of airlines' requirements for pets to have a valid health certificate prior to flying.

What is it? Basically, it's a piece of paper that assures the airline that your pet is up to date on his/her rabies vaccination, is healthy enough for travel, provides microchip information (if applicable), and is signed by a veterinarian. Most airlines will only accept a health certificate within 10 days of it being issued, so timing is key. Make your appointment within 10 days of travel to be sure that it's valid.

Most vets charge about $50/certificate, so budget accordingly.

Happy and safe travels!
Posted: December 03, 2011 at 8:32 PM
Photo of Rosemarie S.
Rosemarie S.
This article covers everything that one should think about when it comes to traveling with a pet!
Posted: November 18, 2011 at 6:35 PM
Andrea C.
Thanks for the tips!
Posted: November 18, 2011 at 6:33 PM
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