Travel planning can get complicated, however, there is a new layer added when you include dog travel. As we were planning to go away for an extended amount of time, flying with pets to Italy was our only option. So, what did we learn from taking the dogs abroad? Quite a bit.
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Flying with pets basics
I must admit that I knew nothing about flying with pets. Since I’ve never had to do it, it wasn’t something that I ever looked into. This was a very speedy learning curve for me.
Note: There is a difference if you are transporting pets for commercial purposes. I am only focusing on flying with animals that you own and will keep with you as pets.
Health and age of your pet
This was a huge concern for us as our dogs are older. Snoopy is 14 and Moka is 10. Neither has travelled in anything other than a car since we’ve had them. Being able to transport them with us was a major factor in planning our trip. Fortunately, our vet gave both the dogs the okay to travel.
The vet examined both of them and we felt comfortable with taking them on the plane. That was a huge relief and the first hurdle to overcome.
Some airlines can refuse your pet if it’s under or over a certain age. They will also not take any liability if something happens to your senior pet during travel. It seems that most airlines will not take pets under 12 weeks of age. That’s probably a good thing in my opinion. It’s best to check with your vet and the airline before booking a flight.
Destination country requirements
This is probably the most challenging part of taking dogs abroad as each country has its own set of rules for dog travel. After some digging, I learned that Italy is not that complicated, which was definitely a plus.
One of the most important rules we had to follow was regarding microchipping and rabies vaccinations.
As we’ve never had the dogs microchipped, this was the first step. Only AFTER they got the microchip, could they get the rabies vaccine. This was a very clear instruction – microchip then vaccine.
As they were due for the rabies shots anyway (glad we kept updated dog records), this was not a problem. We then had to wait at least 21 days after the shots before we could travel. Apparently, it takes 21 days for the vaccine to kick in, hence the rule. Again, this is the rule for Italy. Other countries might have different stipulation.
Country of origin
Where you are travelling from also plays an important role. The requirements vary whether you’re flying from a rabies-free country, rabies-controlled country or a high-rabies country. Canada falls into the second category, which made the process quite straightforward.
Taking the dogs abroad was one thing. Ensuring we could bring them back to Canada was another. Luckily, the paperwork we have is all we need to come back home. You should ensure you also check rules for the return home to avoid complications.
Vets and more
I can’t certainly say that all vets are familiar with requirements of international pet travel. Our vet’s office has a technician who sends many dogs overseas. She was extremely helpful with explaining the process to us and completing the necessary paperwork.
The vet has to issue a specific form that is in English and Italian, stating dog details including the rabies vaccine and the microchip information. The cost for that was about $100 and they put both dogs on one form, which made it easier.
We also needed to have the form signed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Both the vet and the CFIA must sign the form within 10 days of travel. This very important step has to be completed exactly as stated. I also had to bring the original rabies vaccinations certificates with me when I went for the CFIA agent’s signature. If you’re not in Canada, specific organization designated by your country will sign the papers for you.
Dog travel not created equal
Once I started to look more into dog travel, I realized that many variables could affect the taking dogs abroad experience.
Each airline has different rules
Turns out that not all airlines have the same rules. Some restrict certain breeds and those breeds can vary from one airline to another. While there are a number of airlines for pet travel, I had to consider the duration of the flight, whether direct or connecting and the dates/prices available.
What it came down to was regulation. Air Canada has a restriction that if the temperature at departure and/or landing is over 29.5 Celsius they won’t take the dogs on. I wasn’t quite clear as to why other than it was to protect the safety of the animals. I get the safety concerns, but aren’t planes ventilated? I had nightmares about my poor dogs locked in their carriers with no air.
Air Transat doesn’t have the same regulation. The reps were super friendly and patient during all the times I called them with questions. Air Transat heats up the cargo and air-conditions it, making the flight comfortable for the pets. This was a relief since flying to Rome in the middle of August meant temperatures higher than 29 degrees.
Cabin or cargo
The decision for flying with pets is never easy. Taking them in the cabin versus checking them in as cargo is a big decision. Sometimes, there is no choice. Our dogs were unfortunately too tall to come in the cabin. This meant they had to go in cargo and it wasn’t an easy decision.
Not all airlines allow pets in cabin, especially on intercontinental flights. The dimensions of the carrier also vary, but our dogs were too tall for all of them. As the dog is required to stay in the carrier during the flight, I wasn’t going to ram them into a small carrier for over eight hours. That just seemed cruel. However, if your dog is small enough, it usually counts as your carry on. That is something to keep in mind if you choose this option.
In addition to breed, age and health restrictions of the pets, you are looking at regulations about the carrier too. Depending on the size of your pet, you might need a custom-made carrier. All the airlines have specifications and they usually are very similar.
Your pet has to be able to comfortably stand and turn around in the carrier. The recommended carrier are made from rigid plastic with wired door. Wired cages are not allowed. You are encouraged to place a familiar object like a toy or a blanket with the pet to provide comfort. We were lucky to have dog beds that fit perfectly inside the carriers.
There is also a maximum carrier restriction for size and weight. This is also something each airline has available online. For Air Transat it was 32 kg (70 lb) including the pet and the carrier. Luckily, our dogs weigh a lot less than that.
Another interesting thing I discovered when looking into taking dogs abroad was the fact that you could only have so many pets travelling at the same time. Some airlines only allow one pet on board so if someone else booked their ticket first, you’re out of luck.
For cargo, there is also a limit. Air Transat allows up to four dogs on a flight. It’s advisable to book your tickets directly with the airline and check if there are spaces for dogs on the day you want to travel. In a way, it’s funny, but I can totally see the reasoning behind it. Four dogs might bark, but 10 of them would make a ruckus that would stress them all even more. When I booked our flights, there were no other dogs travelling which worked out just fine.
One of the most frequently asked questions is about cost. For us the cost breakdown, not including the microchips and rabies, included in CAD$:
- Vet certificate $100
- CFIA agent signature $20
- Carriers $80 for both
- Plane tickets $1,100 ($275/pet each way)
- Calming drops $15
- Thundershirts $84
- Portable bowls $10 (for two)
- Total: $1,409
Whether that is a lot or not really depends on each individual. I didn’t include the cost for vaccines and microchips as we would’ve had had to get those anyway. The amount is way less than it would have cost us to board the dogs for the two and a half months we were going to be gone.
Pet transport – travel tips
Most airlines have the same suggestions for getting ready for pet transport. I’ve added a few of mine based on our experience.
- Include familiar object with your pet for reassurance (blanket or toy), check with airline if pet bed is acceptable if it fits in the carrier.
- Consult your veterinarian about your pet’s health especially when travelling with senior pets.
- It is not recommended to tranquilize your pet before the flight. Some airlines might refuse to transport a tranquilized pet. We used natural travel anxiety drops before the flight.
- Do not provide food or water inside the carrier to avoid spillage and discomfort. Also, don’t feed your dog before the flight.
- Provide an empty dish (or check if airline provides one) to feed/water the pet in case of delays. We had to sign a consent form for them to do that.
- Take your dogs for an extended walk before the flight. It will tire them out since they will be contained for hours on the plane.
- We bought thundershirts for the dogs to help with anxiety and stress. We’ve used them extensively since then and they seem to help.
- Have some food on hand to feed the pets upon arrival. We used portable water dishes for food and water. They proved very useful.
Third party companies
As flying with pets to Italy wasn’t overly onerous, we did the whole process ourselves. If you have multiple pets or a travelling to a country with more restrictions, you might want to consider a third party pet travel company.
Friends of ours are travelling to England with four pets. They chose to use Worldwide Animal Travel to help them with planning the trip. The company looks after ensuring all the documentation is completed correctly and timelines are met for vaccines. As one of their pets is a large breed, the company is also assisting with the carrier.
Another friend of mine used a third party company for bringing a cat to Canada from England. The company builds a custom carrier for the pet and looked after all details including getting the pets to and from the airport. Seems that flying with pets has never been easier.
Our flight to Italy
When the day finally arrived, we were both nervous getting to the airport. There was nothing else for us to do other than hope for the best. Getting to the airport and checking in our bags was standard. We went through the “special needs” lane, which meant we didn’t have to stay in line with everyone else. The attendant printed a bunch of tags and stuck them to the carriers and that was that.
We had to get the dog carriers through the scanner and then come back closer to the flight to check them in. As we watched them secure the carriers with additional strapping, the reality kicked in. I won’t lie, I cried a bit. The staff was very assuring and helpful, which made things so much easier. We said our goodbyes and that was it.
The flight was delayed about two hours. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten out of the plane as fast as I did this time. I was almost in tears again when we got the area whee the dogs waited in their carriers. Not sure who was happier, the dogs or us.
Customs and declarations
Thankfully, the immigration process for us didn’t take long. We got the dogs and the bags almost at the same time. I had the papers with me, but nobody really asked for them. Honestly, we could have just walked out of the airport with them and not be questioned by anyone.
When we stopped by the “something to declare” area, we were met with indifference. They looked at the papers, shrugged and that was it. I was told they would keep the papers I had to sign before we left, but they just looked at them. I guess that was better than having problems.
Pets and jetlag
The dogs were literally knocked out once we got into the rental car. The journey was just over two hours and both of them slept pretty much the whole way. Whether it was jetlag, stress or exhaustion from the flight we’ll never know.
They adjusted well and we didn’t see any significant changes in them. However, I was curious enough to look it up and jetlag in animals is possible. Some can be awake/sleepy at uncommon times and can be slightly off for few days. It’s good to get them back into a routine so they can adjust to the new hours.
On the ground
I am so amazed at how laid back Italians are about dogs. We have taken them to the beach, bars, restaurants and nobody seemed to care. At the grocery store, they even have special carts for putting your dogs in while you shop. We have yet to try that.
Going through the process was definitely an experience. In the end, was it worth it? Absolutely. I am so happy we have the dogs with us. We’ve taken them to many places and they are comfortable enough to stay home alone too. This makes things so much more convenient. I just hope they forget all about the experience by the time we have to fly home.
Have you ever travelled with pets? What was your experience like?
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