Every pet owner will be familiar with the tricky conversation about going on holiday. Either option – taking it with you or leaving it behind – can pose challenges, not least for the wellbeing of your pet. But if you’re thinking about taking your beloved companion away with you and giving it a taste of the open road, you might be wondering about what happens if something should go wrong.  

We’ve gone through some possible scenarios you might face and use examples to help you plan for the most enjoyable holiday possible – for you and your pet.  


Should I take my pet abroad? 

This has to be the most pressing question and it will depend a lot on your animal and its temperament. Only you can decide on what’s right, but your pet’s ongoing wellbeing must be the primary concern.  

Dogs often travel well, though flight freight can be a challenge for them and some sedation may be necessary. This is something worth discussing with your vet as there’s lots to consider, such as the length of the flight you’re taking, the level of comfort your airline provides and the rules your airline may have about pet travel. These are all things that can be determined before you book a flight.  

Cats, on the other hand, seldom enjoy travel. Domestic cats are very closely related to wild cats and can easily become distressed in situations they can’t control or escape. It’s normally kindest to leave them at home with a cat sitter or, if you can’t arrange this, then leave them with friends or family in a space they’re familiar with. While not ideal, a good cattery is normally preferable to the disorientation of travel.  

Other pets such as ferrets or rabbits may have very different needs, so it’s a good idea to speak to your vet about transport when you’re planning your holiday.  


New rules after Brexit 

Back when the UK was a member of the EU, taking your pet to a member state or two was a fairly simple process (as much as any pet travel can be said to be simple). You could get your hands on a pet passport, then all you had to arrange was transport.  

But with the UK’s departure, this process became significantly more complex. So before you get everything booked, it’s important to familiarise yourself with what you need to do to ensure your pet is allowed to travel.  

If you’re taking your pet to the EU or Northern Ireland, it will need an Animal Health Certificate (AHC); anywhere else and you’ll need an Export Health Certificate (EHC). They will also need an up-to-date rabies vaccination that has been administered at least 21 days before you travel. Your vet can advise on both the vaccination status of your pet and sign an AHC or EHC.  

Your pet will also need to be microchipped and, if it’s a dog, need tapeworm treatment for travel to Finland, Ireland, Malta, Norther Ireland and Norway.  

The government has detailed information on taking your pet abroad.  


What if something goes wrong with my pet on holiday? 

Once you’ve got all the paperwork sorted and arrived safely, the next thought on your mind could be what to do if something goes wrong. Most animals will want to explore a new area – whether that’s a hotel room or a friend’s house – to satisfy themselves that it’s safe.  

But it might not be. And a cat or dog that’s been raised in northern Scotland might feel a bit warm if it finds itself in southern Spain in July, and if it’s allowed out (or gets out on its own), it could face numerous hazards such as unpredictable traffic and encounters with stray populations that can carry disease.  

Hopefully, none of these eventualities will take place, but if they do, it’s important to know what action to take. Just as you should insure yourself with travel insurance, it’s important to insure your pet with pet insurance.  

This is where choosing the right insurance becomes particularly important. If you’ve yet to buy insurance for your pet, then it’s worth reading through what a few different policies cover before making a choice. Pet travel is sometimes included as part of a policy, and sometimes it isn’t. You may be able to buy it as an add-on, for which you might have to pay extra, but this could also mean that the cover provided is better.  

It’s important to make sure that the cover you buy meets your needs, and you can find this out by reading the relevant parts of the policy documents. There will almost certainly be a limit to the amount of time you can be away with your pet (often 90 days), and you may have to pay an excess if you need to claim.  


More things to consider  

Make sure that you’re allowed to take your pet on your preferred mode of transport. As mentioned, different airlines have different rules for taking pets. If you are travelling by car, either by ferry or the Channel Tunnel, it’s normally fine to take your pet provided you have the correct documentation, but it’s still worth checking with your travel provider if you have an unusual pet (more on those later). In the case of taking a ferry, you should also check whether your pet can be taken on your route as even the same provider may have different rules for different routes. In the UK, according to National Rail, you can take up to two pets with you on trains free of charge. However, the rules may differ from the UK to mainland Europe and the journey in between. For instance, pets aren't permitted on Eurostar trains (source: Rail Europe). 

You should check with the rail operator in the countries you'll be visiting what's allowed on their routes.

You’ll also need to know what you can and can’t do once you arrive, for instance getting connections or bringing pets to where you’re staying. If you’re staying in a hotel or AirBnB then there may be quite different rules depending on the accommodation. Hostels generally aren’t appropriate for pets. And it goes without saying that you should check with friends or family if you’re planning on showing up with your St Bernard’s.  


What sort of animal does this cover? 

The rules above mostly refer to dogs, cats and ferrets. Other animals may be included under the same rules or may need special treatment, particularly more out-of-the-ordinary animals like reptiles or arachnids. For information about these, your animal’s vet should be your first port of call, as well as any specialist insurers who might cover your unique pet.  

And everything we’ve written about only relates to companion animals (ie pets and service animals) rather than animals travelling for sale or competition. The rules become more complex if you’re planning on travelling with more than five animals. Again, speak to your vet and consult the government website to learn about the rules.