Pet-friendly travel: Don’t leave home without them

If you have pets, chances are you miss them when you go away on holiday. The good news is that it’s probably easier than you realise to take your best friends along on your travels around South Africa.

Before you decide to take your pets on holiday, you need to assess their suitability for travel. Cats are highly territorial and usually don’t leaving home. However, most dogs love accompanying their owners and exploring new places. If your dogs are well behaved, socialised and house-trained, they’ll be good travel companions. Very young or old animals and sick or boisterous pets are best left behind.

Digs for dogs

Naturally, you’ll want to choose places to stay that not only allow pets, but actively welcome them. Although pet-friendly accommodation is still the exception, it’s growing in popularity. The South African Pet-friendly Directory’s Fifth Edition lists almost 350 places to stay in South Africa and some neighbouring countries (www.petfriendly.co.za). SA-Venues also offers a good on-line pet-friendly directory.

When enquiring, ask for a copy of their pet policy. This will tell you types and sizes of pets allowed, as well as any specific restrictions eg. no pit-bulls. It should also describe where your pets are expected to sleep, where they must be kept on a leash, any walks or facilities nearby and whether there are other animals on the property. You’ll usually be expected to pay a damages deposit, which can range be anything from R50 to R800. There’s often an additional accommodation charge for pets.

Health and safety

Before you go, it’s a good idea to take your pets to the vet for a check-up. Dogs can travel anywhere inside South Africa as long as their vaccinations are current, but if you’re going to KZN, where rabies is common, make sure the rabies vaccine was given at least 30 days before. Your pet should wear a collar tagged with your cellphone number and have additional tattoo or microchip identification. As an extra precaution, take along a current photo.

Pet insurance may also be worth considering. Policies cover vet bills in case of accident or illness, theft, death, kennel fees if something happens to you and public liability if your animal does any damage. Premiums for dogs range from around R85 to R140 a month (Try petsure.co.za or medipetsa.co.za).

On the road

‘It’s absolutely essential to get dogs used to travelling,’ says Cape Town veterinarian Dr Roy Aronson. You can train your dogs to travel by taking them on plenty of short drives. It’s important to restrain dogs inside a vehicle, both for their safety and yours. If you use a pet carrier, it should have good ventilation and be large enough for your dog to sit, stand, lie down and turn around in. Familiarise your dog with the carrier over time and always secure it with a seat belt.

Specially designed canine vehicle harnesses may be more practical for large dogs. Although they aren’t generally available in South Africa, you can order them on-line. A mesh safety barrier is another good option.

Break long drives every couple of hours with a pit stop and a chance to stretch paws. Don’t let your dog out without a leash. Take plenty of water, as animals tend to drink more when travelling. Never leave your dog alone in a parked car, especially on hot days when temperatures can soar in minutes, even with windows open.

In the air

It’s relatively easy to take your pet on a plane. For domestic flights, you need to check in at least 90 minutes beforehand. Your pet must be in a suitable carrier, with sufficient food and water. Animals are checked in and returned the same way as other luggage, but are stowed in a separate, pressurised hold. You don’t need to make any arrangements with the airline in advance, but an additional fee of between R25 and R35 a kilo, including the carrier, is payable at check-in.

Most airlines will suggest you sedate your pet, but it’s not compulsory. ‘There is a host of sedatives and calming agents that can be used,’ says Aronson, ‘but they are all high-schedule medicines and vets may not dispense them without seeing the animal.’ Aronson says dogs find the sensation of flying similar to driving, so preparation and training should be more effective than sedation to keep your dog calm during a flight.

Good petiquette

As it’s still an industry in its infancy, you and your pets are ambassadors for pet-friendly travel. Good pet etiquette will help keep places pet-friendly; bad behaviour may mean animals are no longer welcomed. Mostly it’s a matter of common sense: consider the people around you and keep your pets under control.

Groom or wash your dogs and give them flea and tick treatments before you go. Clip nails so that they don’t damage furniture and take old sheets and blankets to cover couches and beds. Take all the bedding, bowls and food you’ll need, as well as a leash, toys, cleaning supplies and a poop scoop. Never leave your pets alone in the room and don’t take them into the dining room, lounge or pool areas. If you’re on a farm or in the wild, realise that all dogs – even chihuahuas – are capable of chasing and killing farm animals and wildlife.

Sit, stay!

If you have to leave your pets behind, organising a live-in pet sitter is much better than asking a neighbour to feed them. Occupied House and Pet Sitters arrange screened house sitters to occupy your home, care for your pets, water your plants and even maintain your swimming pool. The service is available all over South Africa and in Namibia. Prices range from R140 to R260 a night, depending on the number of nights and season. Make sure the pet sitter has your contact details and those of your vet and that there’s enough food to last while you’re away.

If you decide to kennel your pets, book well in advance ­­– especially if you’re travelling in peak season – and try to check the facilities beforehand. A listing of kennels in South Africa is available on-line. But before you decide to leave your best friend behind, think about how wonderful it would be to explore South Africa together. ‘Your dogs spend most of their lives waiting for you to get home,’ says Rachel Robinson of Cape Town. ‘If I can take mine on holiday with me, I will.’

Originally published in the March 2010 issue of Getaway Magazine.

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