There’s an inexplicable joy in travelling with your pet, be it your dog, cat, guinea pig, or any other furry friend. However, holidaying with a pet requires a lot of prep that’s crucial for their safety and wellbeing, as well as paperwork and plenty of training. There’s a learning curve to planning trips with pets, but once you make a few, you get to know exactly how to go about it. We spoke with canine behaviourists, trainers, a veterinarian and pilot, as well as pet parents, who shared all you need to know before travelling with your pet.
Inputs from pet parents Arathi S. Unni (marketer, researcher and mom to two dogs, Sasha and Chloe); Sukanya Ray (mom to Kissy, the Shih Tzu, and senior subeditor at The Hindu); Aishwarya Mahurkar (cat mom to Momo); Sheela Joseph (IndiGo First Officer and dog mom); and Jaydev Calamur (dog dad to Luna, the lab); Namratha Rao, Canine Trainer & Behaviourist; Pranita Balar, Canine Consultant, Dognition Evaluator & Founder, Bark n Bond; Dr. Michelle Simoes, a Mumbai-based veterinarian; Shraddha Vora of Alpha Angels Animal Trust, Goa; and Sahil Sharma and Amruta Patwardhan, co-founders of Koira Club and parents to a pack of four (Heidi, the Labrador; Shadow, the Siberian Husky; Pepper, the Beagle; and Asahi the Belgian Malinois).
Travelling with pets in India: the best travel tips to remember
Preparing and planning for the trip
- Before taking your pet on their first outstation trip, consult with your regular veterinarian.
- When identifying destinations, pick places that will be good to stimulate them mentally and physically. They should be able to roam around, sniff, prance, explore— beaches, woods, waterfalls, hills, snowy areas, lakes, or even a house with a backyard!
- Needless to stay, only book pet-friendly hotels. “Airbnbs have been my first port of call because they give you the flexibility to choose places that may have private, open spaces for pets. But there are many resorts and hotels across the country that allow pets today, including pitstop hotels. It’s best to call and book in advance, rather than cold-calling at the last minute,” says Unni. “You can also seek advice and recommendations from the reliable pet community online on where to stay.” Mahurkar recommends this Airbnb near Kolhapur and Nisarg Resort on the outskirts of Mumbai. For pet-friendly getaways near Mumbai, Sharma and Patwardhan recommend Wag-A-Bond and Wheyside in Karjat; White Haven in Khed Shivapur; Roar Ventures and L’attitude in Kamshet; Good Heavens in Kolad; Tents and Trails in Khopoli; and Belantara Beachfront in Vengurla.
Pre-travel training for dogs and cats
4. Teach your pet basic obedience cues—sit, stay, come (for recall), and settle. They must be trained and practised in different scenarios, around different distractions, before travel. For example, asking your dog to ‘stay’ before getting out of the car, or waiting in the vehicle while you step out.
5. Confinement training is recommended if you plan to travel with your pet. “There will be times when they have to be in a crate or confined by a leash, in a car or in a restaurant. This will ensure that your dog remains relaxed and comfortable when caged during travel. To get them used to confinement, start at home for short durations of one minute and slowly build it up,” advises Balar.
6. Begin crate training at least two to three months before your journey. You must train your pet to not only enter the crate on command but also to remain relaxed inside for several hours. If you crate-train well, your pet will remain as calm and comfortable as possible during air travel. For cats, this applies to the carriers they’ll be kept in during their time in the aircraft.
7. While they are in training, keep the door to the crate open so they can enter and leave as they please to begin with. Gradually proceed to crate training them at night and then moving the enclosure to another room. Most importantly, never use the crate as punishment. They should always see the crate as a happy place.
8. Pandemic pups and cats relate car rides to a trip to the vet, so this negative association needs to be reversed. This means a lot of fun car rides for your pet to get accustomed to being in a car. It could be a simple joy ride or a trip to a fun place like a park, as well. “I strongly recommend you start training your dog to be comfortable in a car at least two months before your journey,” says Rao. Desensitise your pet, beginning with sitting with them in the car in parking, followed by driving just around your society. Reward them with treats or pets whenever they are relaxed in the car and gradually increase the duration of the drive.
9. What helps most in tackling road sickness is behavioural training and teaching them to associate car rides with fun and safety. “Once my dog started trusting car rides, these episodes significantly reduced. She has now travelled as far as Kerala, Goa, and Kutch from Mumbai without throwing up,” says Unni.
Things to pack—necessities and extras
10. Irrespective of whether you are travelling by rail, air, or road, carry water and their bowl. That’s basic because they tend to get stressed in transit, and need to be hydrated constantly. It helps modulate their body temperatures and calm them down.
11. Always carry extra collars, harnesses, and leashes—besides towels, sheets, and their bed if they’re fussy about it.
12. Keeping cleaning supplies like pet wipes, a paw hygiene spray, towels, brushes and blankets handy is a must. Add a shampoo to the list in case of emergencies—you never know what they decide to roll over. If you’re travelling with a puppy, pack pee pads!
13. Bring along their favourite toys, cushions, blankets, and other familiar items from home to make the trip as pleasant as possible for them.
Pet-friendly travel—things to keep in mind
14. Make sure all their vaccination records are up to date as you will need to submit copies with your flight carrier and the railways. You also need a fit-to-fly certificate from your veterinarian 72 hours before your scheduled departure for air and train travel. Keep them within reach at all times, in case local authorities ask for them. Better to be safe than sorry!
15. “Be up to date with the DHPPiL and rabies vaccines for dogs, and the Tricat and rabies vaccines for cats. You need to carry their vaccine records or pet passport while travelling,” says Dr. Simoes.
16. When in transit, always keep your dog’s registration papers in hand.
17. Cleanliness in public places is a major concern when it comes to travelling with pets, so it’s best if they are toilet trained. Plus, you must pick up after your pet! Be armed with scoopers, waste bags, newspapers, and a cleaning spray. “This goes a long way in making people more amenable to having pets around in public. It also makes you, as a responsible pet parent, more welcome” stresses Rao.
18. Try and keep calm yourself since pets feed off of our energy. If you are stressed and they sense a change in the tone of your voice, it will automatically make them anxious.
Food and snacks
19. If you’re using dry food, our practice is to carry food for an extra three days. “We use pre-packed meals by DogSpot.in, which contain all the necessary nutrition for our dogs,” says Sharma.
20. Some basic treats for the road—like biscuits, kibble, pet-friendly ice cream, boiled eggs, dry chicken, curd, and so on—work well for positive reinforcement.
21. If your pet is not prone to getting sick on the road, you could give them a small meal to keep them satiated. What they really need is basic hydration and a small quantity of food 90 minutes before the journey begins. “We were advised to avoid giving our dog heavy meals during the trip. So we restricted her food to small portions of kibbles but at regular intervals,” shares Ray.
Road trips with your pets
22. Make sure your vehicle is fully prepared for your trip with your pets. Ensure your fluids are topped up, air pressure is on point, and your vehicle has been examined by a certified service technician to avoid mechanical issues—being stranded can add to the stress of being on the road for your pets and yourself.
23. Understand and plan your route so you can mark the spots ideal for pit stops. Take breaks for them (and you) to stretch, drink some water, take a loo break, and also sniff around. This not only gives them some exercise, but sniffing and exploring jogs their otherwise idle and anxious travelling brains.
24. There should be enough room for your pet in the car to allow for some movement. It’s important to make them feel at home, so carry their favourite toys and cushions.
25. In the case of large dogs, in-cabin organisation is important. “Each dog in our pack of four has their designated space in our Mahindra XUV 700 or Maruti Suzuki Alto. We use the dirtbag seat cover by Ruffwear and Trixie boot cover to ensure our dogs comfort and also to protect the interiors of our vehicles,” adds Sharma.
26. For single-day journeys eight hours and above, breaks every two to three hours are recommended. For longer road trips, an overnight stay at a pet-friendly hotel is advisable.
27. Keep the air conditioner at a pleasant temperature and avoid over-chilling the car. In less-polluted stretches, roll down windows.
28. Keep your pets stimulated with games or a quick run or walk during breaks. But avoid getting them over-excited.
29. Upon reaching your destination, stick to your pet’s regular daily schedule as much as possible.
30. When staying at unknown hotels and B&Bs with cats, you need to be extra careful with windows, balconies, and any open spaces.
Air travel with pets in India
31. Air India and Akasa Air are the only two India airlines that allow pets aboard for domestic routes.
32. There are restrictions on weight, which includes the weight of the pet plus the crate they are in. While smaller pets like puppies, kittens, and dogs under 5kg can travel in the cabin with you, larger breeds require crate training beforehand as they’ll have to travel in the cargo section.
33. You need an IATA-certified crate to travel with your dog. The size of the crate should be in accordance with the size of your dog. A basic rule of thumb to get the correct size of crate is that your dog should be able to sit, stand, lie down on their side, and circle around comfortably inside. If it’s too small, your dog will be in a great deal of discomfort. And if the crate is too big, your dog may soil it.
34. Arrive early, at least four to five hours before your scheduled departure, so you have ample time to get through the formalities and let your pets do their business right before they’re dropped off.
35. When confining them to a crate for travel, make it as comfortable as possible for them. Keep their bedding, favourite blanket, and toys inside. Consider leaving something that belongs to you, like a T-shirt, so they’re comforted by your scent. Ensure positive reinforcement with praises and treats.
36. They must be fed at least 3 to 4 hours before the flight and given plenty of water to stay hydrated.
37. For international travel by air, consult with companies like The Bark Traveller, professionals with plenty of experience regarding the intricacies and tons of paperwork involved with pet travel and relocation.
38. For anxious and easily fearful pets, your vet may prescribe calming medications to help them have a less stressful experience during their flight. Some may advise against it because of the changing altitude and pressure in flights. But allow your trusted vet to take the final call.
39. Keeping your pet active the day of departure is a good idea. When tired out, they will be able to spend most of their time in the crate or carrier asleep.
Train travel with pets
40. Indian Railways allows you to travel with pets in the first-class coupe. The most important step is to ensure you get confirmed first-class tickets. Either two or four seats are recommended for purchase because the booking increases your chances of getting the two-person coupe or the four-person cabin.
41. If you’re booking via an agent, ensure that your preference for a coupe or cabin is clearly communicated to avoid last-minute hassles on the day of departure.
42. Once you have your confirmed tickets, two days before a train journey, submit a physical letter at the reservation office of the main station—your starting point— requesting for a coupe. Here, you must present your confirmed seats and PNR number and let them know that you want to travel with your pet and need seats together. This step is crucial because the seating chart for any train journey is only made on the day of or a few hours before the journey.
43. On the day of the trip, you will get an SMS confirming your seats in the cabin or coupe. Get to the station at least two hours before time. Present your confirmed ticket at the parcel office at the station, as well as your pet’s fit-to-travel certificate from the vet and vaccine records. This step is needed because your pet is essentially travelling as cargo in the eyes of the railways. The authorities will then weigh your pet and levy parcel charges. While your pets don’t need a separate ticket to their name, you have to book either two or four tickets to ensure that you travel together in a coupe or cabin.
Travelling with cats—things to remember
44. Especially for cats, travelling by train is the most convenient option because you can place their litter box inside the coupe, without having to worry about getting off the coach.
45. It’s quite common for domesticated cats to not enjoy travelling or being out of their homes, unless they’ve been accustomed to it since kittenhood. While arranging for a sitter would be the preferred option more often than not, if they must travel, carry their crate or carrier along because it becomes their safe space in unfamiliar territory. Stuff it with something comfortable, like their favourite blanket.
46. You can also use some catnip in the carrier. Make it a happy place for them. There’s cat calming music that you can play during the journey to put them at ease.
Tackling motion sickness and anxiety
47. Keep an eye out for signs of distress during travel, like salivating or drooling, pacing up and down, whining, barking, or vomiting. You can work with a canine behaviour professional beforehand to get accustomed to such mannerisms, understand the signs better, and work on a personalised desensitisation programme.
48. If your pet is prone to getting sick or queasy in a moving vehicle, consult with your vet to know exactly what medication could help with motion sickness. “There could be a bit of trial and error before you find the perfect combination of medication and quantity of food before you travel,” warns Rao.
49. “Ondem works really well to curb nausea,” recommends Dr. Simoes. “If your dog or cat has a tendency to throw up during car rides, giving a dose every eight hours helps. Avomine is another option for dogs, but consult your vet personally about the dosage and which drug would best suit your pet.”
50. “For pets prone to anxiety, Gabapin helps calm them down,” advises Dr. Simoes. “It can be given half an hour before you start the journey.” “CBD oil works wonders for both anxiety and motion sickness; THC-free broad spectrum CBD oils work the best,” Dr. Simoes says. “Two drops of the 500mg CBD oil are enough for cats and small dogs; the dosage is up to 2-5ml for large dogs. Get your pet used to this a few days prior to travelling. Locally available Hexia tablets and the Cure By Design CBD oils also work well. Use these 30 minutes before starting your trip. You can give them another dose, if needed, after 6 hours.”
Safety, wellbeing, and first aid
Do your research and save contacts of local vets at your destination. Knowledge of local vets and animal welfare groups could prove life-saving in case of emergencies. Have your pets wear a tag on their collar with their name and your contact details. GPS trackers also help ensure their safety. “For dogs, it’s always a good idea to keep a bottle of hydrogen peroxide on you, in case they swallow something untoward and you need to make them throw up. Also carry activated charcoal tablets (Flatuna), in case they ingest something toxic,” advises Dr. Simoes. “Pack medicines to deal with vomiting, diarrhoea, allergies, and antiseptics. I’d suggest Ondem, Cetzine, and Flagyl, a probiotic, the dosage of which depends on your pet’s weight,” says Dr. Simoes. “Betadine liquid and gauze bandages are a must to dress wounds. Potassium permanganate powder will help stop bleeding from a cut nail or a deep scratch.”