How to safely include your pet in all holiday traditions

How to safely include your pet in all holiday traditions - Kitty sleeping on bed beside open suitcase

As storefronts roll out the holiday decor and the airlines are getting busier, we are heading into our first holiday season since the COVID-19 pandemic. As Thanksgiving and Christmas draw near, many pet parents are traveling and visiting family and friends with their beloved pets for the first time, and must adequately prepare for the venture.

Traveling to friends and families

Today, many hotels, Airbnb homes, and rentals are pet friendly, but make sure you confirm this before you leave. Here are some helpful tips to help you ensure you have safe travels whether you and your pets are going by air, road, or rail.

Flying: In the past couple of years, regulations regarding dogs on planes have changed quite a bit. You might be able to pay a fee to have your animal in a carrier under a seat. When traveling internationally, it is important to verify in advance that you have all the documents required for pet travel. The process for completing the necessary paperwork for some countries can take six months or longer, so start taking steps well in advance of your travel dates.  Don’t forget about preparing for your return trip as well.  Depending on your destination, returning to the US from abroad with a pet can be even more complicated than your trip out.

Trains: Different train carriers have their own policies regarding travel with pets. Some allow dogs and cats up to 20 pounds, including the carriers. Usually, there is a fee involved. Make sure to reserve your pet a spot in advance. Trains will often limit how many pets can be on the train at one time.

Cars: If renting a vehicle this holiday season, ensure the carrier allows pets to avoid fines. Every company’s restrictions vary from mandated carriers for your pets to leaving the car clean and odor free. Be sure to leave your rental clean. There are charges for leaving behind a mess, including pet hair. Groom your dog or cat before travel, clean their paws each time they get in the vehicle, and keep baking soda on board to help absorb any odor.

The safest way to travel in cars is with carriers or crates. There are seat belts for dogs, but the best option is to put them in a pet-safe carrier while driving. Having your pet loose can be a distraction and a danger to your pet, especially during winter months when road conditions can be more hazardous and unpredictable. Traveling with a familiar dog blanket may comfort your pup, but make sure to stop every three to four hours to give them a break from the road trip. 10-15 minutes outside for some fresh water and a bathroom break should suffice to continue on the road.

Signs of anxiousness or restlessness, including panting or whining, indicate it is time for a break! Some dogs may experience more anxiety than others. If your dog is experiencing motion sickness, it will show signs of nausea and vomiting. Indicators of this include panting, drooling, and lip licking. Motion sickness in cats is also possible. They will show similar symptoms to dogs such as nausea, drooling and vomiting. A good idea might be to practice shorter car trips in advance of your holiday plans to help desensitize your pets to car travel.

Hotels: These days, most hosts are pet friendly, whether that be a hotel, Airbnb, or house rental. However, it is always a good idea to understand exactly what that means. Each accommodation will have different rules and policies. Some hotels will go above and beyond to treat your dog like a guest with treats, massages, or room service. Others may charge a fee for bringing your animal along at all. Certain places have strict rules regarding weight limitations, the maximum number of pets, whether they can be left in the room unattended, or breed restrictions. Ensure you include animals in your reservations, so your host’s policies do not catch you off guard before arriving.

Packing checklist

There are many supplies you need when traveling with pets. So make sure you have everything you need when bringing your furry friends on holiday! Here are a few items to consider:

  • Collect health certificates and medical records: These may be required for flying, train rides, or emergency vet visits. Create a medical folder for your pet that includes vaccination records, rabies certificate, medical records and health certificates, microchip number, vet contact info, and the phone number for animal poison control.
  • Veterinarian check: Get your older pets checked by the vet in advance, making sure they are in prime health for travel.
  • Veterinarian availability: Research local vet facilities at your destination in advance in case of illness or injury.
  • Medications: Don’t forget to pack any medications your pet may have to take for medical conditions and medications for nauseous or anxious pets.
  • ID tags: Have a tag on your animal with your ID and contact number for the trip.

The host's house

When visiting friends and family for holidays, always thoroughly understand your host's house and the rules they have. You do not want to run into the awkward experience of showing up with your pets and having the host not allow them in. Are there young children around? If so, how do they feel about animals? It is best to understand these questions before entering your host’s home.

As a pet parent, bring lots of toys to keep your pets busy and out of the way of holiday chaos. Bring food and water dishes. Make sure you have enough food for your pet so you aren’t running to the store at the last minute during holiday hours. Make sure to pet-proof immediate areas where you're spending the holidays, including closing the coat room and closet to prevent animals from getting into household hazards that could intoxicate them, such as medications in purses, bags, and coat pockets. Check the menu and be cautious of people's food that could make your pet sick or give them an allergic reaction. A safe household for your pets will make it a smooth holiday for your family and friends!

Making holiday activities safe for your pet

Holiday activities are fun from November through January. However, they aren't as fun without your pets. Here are some specific areas to watch out for during the holidays to keep your pet safe.

Gift wrapping/Giving: Gift-giving is a significant part of holidays like Christmas, Kwanzaa, etc., but when disposing of the wrapping, make sure to keep it out of reach of your pets. Wrapping paper, ribbons, batteries, and children’s toys can be chewed on and ingested, creating poisoning and choking hazards. In addition, gastrointestinal blockage is common in pets and can cause serious harm. For example, cats can easily experience gastrointestinal blockage from eating something like string or ribbon. The foreign object can damage the intestinal lining and, if not taken care of, can be fatal. Dogs also experience gastrointestinal blockage from ingesting large items that can get stuck anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract. A sign of this may be your dog is unable to eat or drink and will begin to vomit. Also, if a dog ingests more than one magnet from a toy, it could kill them, so be sure to keep these out of reach.

Decorations: Decorations are beautiful and come in heaps this time of year. As glamorous as the tree, lights, and tinsel may be, they are a hazard for animals. Dogs and cats might see tinsel or wires as a tasty snack or a toy to play with. So keep decorations inaccessible to animals, especially if you host lots of dogs and cats this holiday season. Secure the Christmas tree so playful pets can’t knock it over.

Walks in the snow: We all love family strolls through a snowy neighborhood or down a path in a wintry forest. If you decide to take your pet along, the cold weather can impact your animals. While most dogs are perfectly comfortable walking for an hour or so in the snow, small dogs with thin or sparse fur may be more sensitive. Prepare these dogs for the cold with proper pet attire. Jackets and booties provide a little insulation and can minimize exposure to any ice-melting chemicals left on the sidewalk. Dogs can burn their paws on ice-melting products, so be careful where you walk!

The holiday season is time spent with family and friends. And there is no reason to exclude your pet family members from the festivities. Follow these tips to keep your animals safe through the holidays and keep all pet Christmas sweaters loose and comfortable so they don’t become a hazard! There is little free time between holiday errands, cleaning, and cooking. A quick online virtual care appointment at Vetster can clear up concerns regarding your pets without adding too much to the schedule. Make your pets a priority this holiday with Vetster today!

The Vetster Editorial Team is comprised of seasoned writers and communicators dedicated to elevating stories about Vetster, pets and their owners.

Time for a check-up?

Start a video chat with a licensed veterinary professional right now on Vetster!

Book an online vet

Online veterinarian and virtual pet care services available on-demand.

Available now on Apple and Play stores.

Vet on phone