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Heading abroad? Pack your pet

If you’re planning a last-minute trip to celebrate New Year in Britain or Europe, you still have time to get your pet a passport to travel with you. Planning an international trip with pets is like planning to travel with small children — details detail details!
Image: A dog stands in line before flying to Indianapolis at Dulles International Airport
With a bit of preparation, a few trips to the vet and the proper documentation, you and your pet will have a great time in Europe.Larry Downing / Reuters

If you’re planning a last-minute trip to celebrate the New Year in Europe, you still have time to get your pet a passport to travel with you.

Planning an international trip with pets is like planning to travel with small children — details detail details! While the quarantine laws between the United States, Britain and Europe have been removed, there’s still a lot of paperwork to be done before your pet can fly.

The British Pet Travel Schemes (PETS) allows pets to travel freely from the U.S. (including Hawaii) to England and European Union countries. There’s a standard procedure to follow to apply for a passport for a furry traveler. In Europe, pets are actually issued a document that resembles an actual passport with their photograph inside. Here in the U.S., the equivalent is just a paper certificate, but hopefully American pets will be able to acquire an authentic-looking documentation in the not-too-distant future.

Passport documentation checklist
Your pet has to be microchipped with an International Standards Organization (ISO) readable chip since tattoos and other forms of identification such as standard ID tags are no longer accepted as official identification.

Pets must also be vaccinated against rabies — even if you have vaccinated your pet in the last twelve months, you'll have to do it again. Your veterinarian will need to provide documentation showing the vaccination worked, so there is a 21-day delay from the date of the shot. Be sure to arrange a blood test with your vet, and don't forget booster shots.

It’s a good idea to vaccinate at the same time as you get the microchip implanted, and make sure your veterinarian includes all the following information on the paperwork:

  • Your pet's date of birth and age written out in full.
  • The microchip number, date of insertion and location of the microchip on the animal.
  • The date of rabies vaccination.
  • The vaccine product name and the batch number.
  • The date booster vaccinations are due. (This is calculated by reference to the vaccine manufacturer's data sheet.)

If you are traveling to Britain, your pet is required to be treated against ticks and tapeworm between 24 and 48 hours before departing.

This preparation can only be done by a veterinarian accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture — most veterinarians are, but be sure to check! The documentation then has to be sent to your state veterinarian for final approval. Many vets will do this on your behalf for about $24. (It varies from state to state.)

Furthermore, some countries require all the information to be translated in to the official language of the country you’re visiting, so once again, be sure to check with their consulate office.

Airline check
It is important to ensure that your pet is booked to travel with an airline that carries pets and on an authorized travel route. In fact, you should check this out even before you handle all the necessary travel documentation. Certain airlines don’t fly pets at all. Others, because they have to travel “cargo class” on international routes, will only fly them at certain times of the year.

“Most carriers have temperature restrictions,” explains Barbara DeBry of a full-service pet travel agency.

“Weather can dictate pet travel. If it is above 85 degrees airlines will not fly a pet, and if it’s less than 45 degrees they require a letter of acclimation from a veterinarian stating the pet can withstand the colder temperatures. You have to be extra careful this time of year.”

Further, it’s important to ensure that you have an airline-approved carrier for your pet. Measurements and details differ between carriers, so be sure to check. There’s also a weight restriction — most airlines will not allow both pet and carrier to exceed 100 pounds.

It’s also essential that you and your pet are booked on the same flight so you can personally see him or her aboard and be there at your destination.

If you prefer to leave everything to professionals, companies such as DeBry’s can organize it all for a fee of $80.

To tranquilize or not to tranquilize
The most common tranquilizer used for airline travel is Acepromazine. Others, including Valium, are acceptable. Significant tranquilization usually lasts about 2-3 hours, and then a gradual recovery occurs over the next 2-3 hours.

The problem is that flights from the U.S. to Europe can be 10 hours long, meaning medication can wear off in the air and leave the pet very confused. And that's without taking delays into consideration.

Consequently, many veterinarians are suggesting spraying the carrier before take-off with stress reducing spray such as Comfort Zone for dogs and Feliway for cats and adding a few drops of a holistic remedy called Rescue Remedy to their water bowl and then freezing it. This way, the pet can lick the ice as it melts and stay calm throughout the journey.

Security blanket check
Don’t forget to put your pet’s favorite blankets and toys in the carrier for comfort and security. It’s also OK to take a packet of your pet’s favorite treats along in your luggage as long as it’s unopened and remains sealed until you reach your destination.

Also, be sure to get any necessary paperwork regarding pet medications from your veterinarian and be sure to pack them along with your other important documents.

Pets are very welcome in Europe, so you should have a lot of fun. And as you jet off, a copy of “The Cat Who Went to Paris” by Peter Gethers is required reading for the flight. The hilarious tales of this Scottish Fold who traveled the world, wined and dined in Europe’s most fashionable restaurants and almost started a war in Italy over an uneaten sardine will have you rolling in the aisle.

Bone Voyage!

Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle writer. She is the recent recipient of the Humane Society of the United States' Pets for Life Award. Her work appears in many national and international publications.