Making Plans with your Pet for the Holidays by Dr. Chantal Rittwage

Whether you are travelling for the holidays or staying home, there will likely be a change to your routine, which can translate to a stressful change in your pet’s routine.   The following are tips to help reduce stress when travelling with your pets, boarding, or leaving your pet home with a “sitter”:

Travelling with Your Pet

  • Being well trained in the following basic behaviors will be a huge benefit when travelling long distances: not pulling on leash, come when called, learning new tricks, riding calmly in the car, resting calmly in the crate, and not dashing through doors.
  • It is good to have a valid health certificate when travelling with your pet, but depending on the destination, there may be additional requirements or endemic diseases that he/she should be protected from. Check with your veterinarian well in advance in case there are certain treatments or vaccinations that need to be done beforehand.
  • Make sure to plan your route and make reservations in advance for pet friendly hotels.
  • Pack all the food and treats that your pet will require for the duration of your travels and visit. A lot of animals with get diarrhea when their diet is suddenly changed.
  • Make frequent stops for “bathroom” and water breaks. A lot of pets will refuse to drink while in the car and this can be harmful if travelling long distances.
  • If it is extremely cold, do not leave the pet in the car unattended for too long. If short-haired, you may consider dressing him/her in a coat to help keep warm.
  • When you arrive to your destination, make sure that your pet is well behaved. Just because Fluffy is house trained at home, doesn’t mean he/she won’t make a mistake in a new environment, or chew furniture, or get along with other your host’s pets/children. Until you both acclimate, make sure to keep your pet leashed with you or crated in a private area.


  • If it is your pet’s first experience at a kennel, you should arrange to bring him/her to the facility beforehand for short boarding visits in order to show your dog that you will always come back. Without this important step, you could potentially precipitate a traumatic experience for your pet and maybe trigger future separation anxiety. These short visits also allow you to fully ensure that the facility you chose is the right fit for you and your pet; that the treatment meets your standards and your pet is content.
  • Make sure to inform the facility where you take your pet for their veterinary care.
  • Make arrangements with your veterinary clinic so they can be aware of your wishes as to the pet’s treatment in your absence and leave up to date contact information.
  • Find out what the facility’s vaccine requirements are and discuss with your veterinary to make sure your pet is protected from possible contagious diseases.
  • As mentioned above, to avoid upset stomach, make sure to send your pet to the kennel with enough food and treats for his stay. Let the staff know of any dietary restrictions, allergies, or medical conditions he/she may have.

Home Alone

  • Some pets can be left at home while you are away, with the help of a friend or family member to feed and walk them 3-4 times throughout the day.
  • Make sure that you have “pet-proofed” your home before you leave.
  • If the care giver is a stranger to your pet, make sure to develop this relationship well in advance: have a few trial runs to ensure that he/she can handle your pet, that he/she performs assigned tasks correctly, and that your pet likes/trusts the caregiver.
  • Make arrangement with the caregiver and your veterinarian to ensure he/she receives the proper medical care if needed in your absence. You should find out what payment forms are accepted and make sure your wishes with regards to treatment are known.
  • Again, make sure to inform the caregiver of any dietary restrictions, allergies or medical conditions your pet may have and ensure that you have more than enough food and treats for the duration of your absence.

Receiving Guests

  • If you are having people and possibly their pets over for the holidays, make sure prepare all parties beforehand.
  • Let your guests (especially children) know what they can give to your pet, if anything, and remind them to keep their dishes out of your dog’s path of temptation.
  • If the company seems to be stressing your pet, he/she may be happier isolated to his/her own room. Make sure to allow him/her access to fresh food and water (and litter for cats).
  • Make sure any initial contact between children and pets is supervised and teach the kids how your pet prefers to be handled, if at all.
  • Remember that not all dogs and cats get along, if your guests are bringing their animals with them, separate them until you’re certain they will.