Holiday travel with pets: Some vet-approved tips to limit stress

Travelling with pets during the holidays can be a nightmare. But you can limit stress and get to where you're going safely with these tips from a veterinarian.

WestJet, Air Canada ban large pets on holiday flights

WestJet and Air Canada have banned large pets from flights during the holidays. But there are ways to make travelling with your dog, cat or other pet easier. (Shutterstock/a katz)

Travelling during the busy holiday season can be frustrating. Travelling with pets — well, that can be a nightmare. 

Things got even tougher for pet owners this year after WestJet and Air Canada announced flight bans on large pets during the holidays, due to capacity and weight restrictions.

Small dogs and cats are still allowed as carry-on luggage, with restrictions, but undoubtedly the ban puts a lot of animal owners in a tight spot.

"The airlines have been making it a little bit more difficult to fly with your pets the past couple of years, so it’s not surprising they’re doing it at this time of year," says Dr. Ted Morris, a Toronto-area veterinarian. 

If you can't fly with your pooch (or pig for that matter), or you pet is small enough to fly but you're worried it might not go so smoothly, Morris offered up some tips, on CBC's Metro Morning.

Drive, if you can

Depending on how far you're going for the holidays, it may be worth your time, money and sanity to opt for a road trip instead of a flight. 

"Get [your pet] used to driving in cars," Morris says. "Make it a positive experience by giving them a treat or reward," and make sure to take lots of little trips with your pet before the big travel day.

If your pet isn't comfortable in your ride, then try giving it medication to help limit stress.

"If they're really stressed out in the car, you can absolutely give them a little something to take the edge off," says Morris. 

Travelling with pets can significantly add to your holiday stress. (ilovemytank/flikr)

"I'd recommend some Benadryl or Gravol, something that a lot of people take before long flights."

In extreme cases, vets can prescribe anti-anxiety medication like Xanax.

But be warned — sometimes these treatments have unintended consequences.

"If you are going to sedate your dog, you have to test it out to beforehand. Some of the drugs have the opposite effect of what is intended," says Morris. 

Plan ahead

It may seem obvious to most, but Morris says "you won't believe" how many people show up at his clinic asking for help or advice the day before a big trip.

If you are taking a flight with a small pet, or driving with a pet of any size, get it accustomed to its carrier or crate in the weeks before the trip.

Morris says even taking the carrier or crate out of the packaging or storage for two weeks before your departure date can help ease the animal's stress as you pack, and be sure to contact the airline well in advance to get information about maximum carrier dimensions. 

On travel day, put your pet's favourite blanket or toy into the carrier to help calm it.

Don't exaggerate 

In November, a passenger with an emotional support pig was kicked off a U.S. Airways flight after the animal became "disruptive" to other customers.

Morris says that while emotional support animals are a growing trend, many people are "abusing the system" because they think that claiming a pet is used for treatment purposes somehow exempts the animal from the rules.

"They are not afforded the same luxuries under the law," he says. "The problem with emotional support dogs as opposed to service dogs is that they don't really have any training for what they do because all they do is comfort you with their presence."

"They're not always the best-behaved animals," Morris says laughingly. 

Bottom line: don't try to get your dog, or any other animal, aboard a flight as your emotional support pet because it almost certainly won't work.