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All you need to know about international travel with a special-needs pet

Pets are loyal companions who offer unconditional love and loyalty to pet parents. Pets make our lives better in so many ways; they make us happier, healthier and help us live longer. Special-needs pets are pets that have physical disabilities or chronic medical issues. Some are born with disabilities, while others develop disabilities as they age. Though they are more challenging to care for, they make great pets.

Advanced veterinary care and mobility devices have made it easier to care for special-needs pets and have given them a better quality of life than ever before. If you are travelling to an international destination with your special-needs pet, here’s what you need to know to have a safe and comfortable pet travel experience:

Start the process early

There are several time-bound steps to the process of international pet travel. When you are travelling with a pet with special needs, it is best to start the process early to give your pet enough time to get used to the significant change in their life.

  • Buy the right crate– A good crate is essential for international pet travel; your pet will spend most of their time in the crate during the journey. It is a good idea to buy the crate months ahead of the date of travel and allow your pet to get acclimatised to it. Ideally, an IATA-compliant crate is large enough for your pet to stand up, turn around and lay down comfortably. If your pet has vision issues, make them familiar with the crate by laying down a favourite blanket or an unwashed t-shirt during the flight.
  • Crate trainingCrate training helps your pet identify the crate as a safe and positive space. Start slowly by introducing the crate to your pet and make sure they are comfortable in the crate. Your pet dog or cat will stay in the crate for most of the journey; the more comfortable the crate is, the easier the process is for the pet. If your pet has mobility issues, help them into the crate and allow them to explore the crate at their own pace. It is often challenging to crate train older and special needs pets, but it can be accomplished with time and patience.
  • Documentation and vaccinations – Get a head start on the pet transport process by ensuring your pet has the right documentation and is fully vaccinated before travel.

Speak to the vet

Every country has a different set of pet import criteria that must be fulfilled satisfactorily before your pet enters the country. One of the most important requirements is a health certificate from the vet attesting that the pet is healthy and well enough to travel.

Visit your vet to assess how the travel will affect your pet and understand if your pet is equipped to deal with the stress of international air travel. If your pet has an extremely severe disability, it may not be in their best interest to take a long-haul flight across the world. An expert opinion will go a long way in assessing whether your pet is physically ready for air travel.

Once your vet gives you the go-ahead, make sure your pet is microchipped and vaccinated as per the pet import regulations of the destination country.

Keep medication and special food handy

If your pet is on medication or needs to follow a special diet, make sure you attach the food and medicine to the crate with detailed dosage instructions. Your pet will travel in a dedicated space in the cargo hold of the aircraft. The crate will be fastened securely, and the lights are dimmed during the flight duration. The cargo hold is temperature-controlled and pressurised, just like the cabin of the aircraft.

Once your pet has boarded the aircraft, airline staff will have no access to your pet. If your pet needs medication, it can be administered before take-off or after the plane has landed.

Pet food is a choking hazard, and your pet dog or cat will not have access to food during the flight. Airline staff or pet travel agents will make sure your pet is fed before and after their flight.

Do not sedate your pet before the flight; sedatives and tranquilisers a huge health risk and is not recommended by experts. 

Check with the airline

Not all airlines are pet-friendly, and not all pet-friendly airlines have the same pet policies. Check with your airline about their policies for special-needs pets. Make sure you mention before-hand what to expect, so the airline is prepared to receive your pet. Make labels with the nature of the disability and stick them prominently on the pet crate for airline staff when they are interacting with your pet.

Managing quarantine with a special-needs pet

Many countries around the world have mandatory quarantine for pets entering the country. If you are flying to a country with mandatory quarantine, make sure the quarantine centre knows of your pet’s disability and special needs. Speak to them about the facilities and how your pet can receive all the care they need in terms of food, medicine and grooming. Many quarantine facilities allow visitors and you or your agent to visit the pet during the quarantine. However, if visitors are not allowed, speak to the quarantine officers to help them understand your pet’s special needs.

If you are unsure about how to contact quarantine officials, an experienced pet travel agent can help arrange for a stress-free quarantine process for your pet.

Call the pet travel experts

International pet travel is often confusing and perplexing for pet parents; travelling with a pet with special needs can be even more challenging. An experienced pet travel agency can hand-hold you through the entire pet travel process, making it safe and stress-free for the pet and the pet parent.

If you are planning to travel to an international destination with your special-needs pet, reach out to Petraveller for more information on zero-harm international pet travel and a free pet travel quote.