In early June I took my rescued dog Rosa on holiday for the first time, well not in this country anyway! Although there are some fantastic dog-friendly destinations in Europe, I was still a little apprehensive – would I get all the documents needed in time, could she potentially overheat on the ferry crossing, will we run out of gravy bones, the list goes on. After a bit of preparation the 10-day driving trip to France worked out amazingly. In fact it went even better than that, the famously laid-back lifestyle in France worked its magic on my otherwise slightly over-excitable dog, the sun shone, the vineyards glistened, the dog friendly hotels were extremely welcoming to both of us and we both found it hard to prise ourselves away from the truly beautiful country.
Although when researching for the trip I found that although here in the UK we’re most definitely a nation of dog lovers (with a quarter of British households now owning dogs), only 5% of these households take advantage of the introduction of the Pet Travel Scheme – which allows itchy-pawed British dogs, and other furry creatures such as ferrets apparently, to travel on a “pet passport” to Western Europe. In the darker years before the passport scheme, it was possible to travel overseas with your dog it just meant that your poor pooch had to endure a 6-month stint in quarantine afterwards in order to keep the risk of rabies and other foreign diseases from entering the UK.
Well anyway thankfully those days are over and maybe the reason not many dog owners are taking up the pet passport is a probably fear of the unknown (I know that feeling!). I’m also now getting quite a few emails now asking for advice on travelling with a pet. So to help, it’s my aim to write one of the most complete – and hopefully foolproof – guides on the internet on how to travel to Europe with your dog, so here goes…
Deciding where to go on your dog-friendly Europe trip
Although it’s fairly easy to drive around anywhere in Europe with a dog, some countries are much more welcoming to your pet than others. For example, Scandinavia isn’t particularly welcoming to furry companions but travel destinations like France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Austria are very welcoming. In these countries many of the pet-friendly hotels have doggy welcome packs, there’s a dog paw rating in Austria and in France dogs are even allowed in the Michelin starred restaurants – wow!
It’s also worth bearing in mind that a few countries in Europe still have issues with stray dogs roaming around, Spain and Greece are sadly particularly notorious for this issue so it’s probably best to avoid those on your dog-friendly holiday. To cover this in a little more in-depth we’ve written this guide to the most dog-friendly countries to travel to in Europe.
Booking the transport and dog-friendly accommodation
Although it’s possible to travel around Europe with your dog via a train (on SNCF trains in France, for example, you can travel with up to two dogs) most people choose to travel around Europe in their car. You just have to make sure when you travel that they are safely behind a grill in the back or attached by the seatbelt anchor with a harness to ensure you are within the law. You can cross the English channel with your dog in your car via either the Eurotunnel or a ferry for a little extra, normally around £25, and usually, the journey takes anywhere from around 35 -90 minutes.
You just need to ensure that your pet is well enough to travel and on a few transport providers – but not all – they will require your dog to be muzzled. It also depends on the transport provider you are going with but on some you can stay in the car with your dog, others – like the ferry we travelled on – the dogs are kept inside the car on their own during the journey (with the windows down to the safest distance possible) and on others, the dog will be kept in a crate for the journey. If travelling by ferry, it’s much cooler below the decks where the cars are transported and you can visit them during the journey if you wish, although when travelling during the warmer months it’s best to book an early crossing as possible.
The transport carriers all state that they cannot accept liability for any adverse reaction that your pet has to the journey or facilities provided so you just need to bear this in mind before you travel, also travelling with a dog is becoming increasingly more common so when travelling with a pet it’s best to book in early to avoid disappointment.
There’s an increasing amount of dog-friendly hotels to choose from across Europe now (just type in dog-friendly hotels into Google and then your chosen destination) and there’s also a wide range of self-catering accommodation like cottages and lodges. It’s probably best to avoid looking at small guest houses and bed and breakfasts in your search as these are the least likely to welcome your pet.
Things to think about when booking a dog-friendly hotel is to ensure you have easy access to a park or green space for when your dog needs the toilet or to exercise last thing at night and first thing in the morning. Also, most accommodation providers really frown upon leaving your dog alone in the accommodation so you’ll have to make provisions for this – local pet sitters or dog walkers are a good option if you think this is might be an issue for you. Also, it’s best to find out whether there are other animals already on site that your dog is potentially going to clash with.
It’s quite common for both hotels and self-catering options to charge for a doggy guest to cover the extra cleaning so you’ll also need to budget for this. When you are travelling around Europe with your dog you’ll find that many hotels are so welcoming they even give you a doggy welcome bag filled with treats and toys on arrival – very cute!
Preparing the documents for your dog-friendly European holiday
When preparing for the trip the best advice I can give you is make sure you start the process as soon as possible and don’t leave everything until the last minute. My dog originally came from Athens so she’s already had a passport – albeit one that was in all Greek but hey ho. If you need to apply for one, the passports are limited to a maximum of five pets for EU member states, and you can apply through certain vets, by telephone (0370 241 1710) or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once you have your passport, it will remain valid for as long as you and your pets continue to meet the entry requirements. If you are travelling or returning to the UK from an EU or non-EU listed country, you must ensure that your pet:
- Already has a microchip
- Is up to date on all of their annual vaccinations
- Has been treated for tapeworm
- Has been vaccinated against rabies
- Is at least 15 weeks old
If all this sounds a little confusing just ask your regular vet and they will advise, just keep in mind that your pet officially cannot return to the UK until 21 days after your pet’s rabies vaccination is given when travelling from EU and listed countries, this means it’s best to get your pet’s passport at least a month before travel. That way, there is also time for your vet to issue the passport, which can take a little time, especially during busy summer periods. The Rabies vaccination has to be administered no less than 3 weeks before you travel.
There are other vaccinations available for your dog against diseases such as parvo, distemper, leptospirosis and hepatitis but they are not required by law necessary for travel on the Pet Passport. If you do decide to get these vaccinations as well, they can be recorded in your Pet Passport. I personally decided not to give my dog too many vaccinations at the same time so I just went for the legally required rabies jab.
Other things to consider before you head off is checking whether your pet’s current insurance covers trips to Europe, many insurers are already covered. Mine was, but it’s always best to make that phone call and find out for sure just for peace of mind. There will probably be an option to pay a little extra to ensure coverage for overseas trips. I also made sure I had breakdown coverage, this was a little extra but I didn’t fancy getting stuck out on a lonely country road just me and my dog. Several of the leading breakdown service providers offer an English speaking helpline and give you the number to call before you head off, so I kept that handy!
Other things to think about before you head off
Before heading off you’ll need to ensure you have plenty of water, a bowl, familiar bedding that’s easy to carry (just in case you can’t park near your hotel) a spare collar and leads, their favourite toy for comfort and also their favourite food (of course you’ll find supermarkets out there but always keep some in supply just in case) and lots of doggy toilet bags – in many countries in Europe you can be fined on the spot for just not carrying a doggy bag so you’ll need to have them on you at all times. It’s best to either buy a dog first aid kit or make one up yourself, just make sure you include tick removers, bandages etc. Also, I made sure I had a new easily readable tag for Rosa with my mobile number on with the +44 country code.
If you worried that your pet might be anxious on your trip, like I was, you’ll probably be surprised just how much they enthralled by all the new sights and smells that they just love the adventure of it all. Having said that it’s best to prepare for this as well. There are many good calming wipes or supplements on the market now and for example, my dog becomes much calmer on B3 and I know a few other owners that swear by magnesium during more stressful situations.
If your dog has serious behavioural issues though I would sadly consider not taking them with you or otherwise hiring a good dog trainer a few months before you head off!
How to travel to Europe with a dog – on the journey
I travelled by ferry but a friend who regularly travels to Europe with their dog says that the Eurotunnel is well set up for travelling with a pet. They charge £19 extra each way and they even have a dedicated pet area with artificial grass (no muddy paws) and complimentary poop bags so you can exercise your dog and you can stay in the car with your pet for the entire journey which only takes 35 minutes.
Like I mentioned before, I personally travelled by ferry and on this method of transport you’ll have to leave your dog in the car for the crossing. They allow you to leave the windows down and it’s a lot cooler in this part of the ship. My dog was completely fine for the 90-minute journey but I just made sure we travelled early in the morning and left her with plenty of food and water as well as her favourite toy.
Of course, you’ll have to make sure you bring your pet passport (as well as your own!) and when you arrive the transport provider with will scan your pet’s chip and check that their passport is all in order. If you’re crossing by ferry they then place a special pet carrying sticker on your car windscreen to ensure you’re parked in the right lane and those with pets on board are usually boarded first and then can leave first when the journey is over. To be honest the whole process was a lot smoother and hassle-free than I imagined.
When you get to France, there are plenty of well-kept service stations on the motorway which all seemed to have grassy areas (as well as picnic areas) where you can easily stop the car and exercise your dog on the journey to your destination. Of course, just remember not to leave your dog in the car on a hot day and make sure they’re cool enough on the journey as well. It’s also best to keep your all your documents handy when travelling just in case.
Finding dog-friendly attractions and things to do when you actually reach Europe isn’t actually very difficult at all – Europe is generally a lot more pooch-friendly than the UK in terms of where you can take them when you’re out and about. There are plenty of beautiful countryside, national parks, picturesque hilltop towns and villages to explore, mountains to hike and beaches to walk on where it’s very easy to take your dog. There are a few attractions though that it’s not possible to take your beloved pooch, for example, a few museums or art galleries, so it’s always best to check the attraction’s website before you head off and then make adjustments if needed.
When it comes to eating out, many restaurants in Europe surprisingly allow dogs and one night we even dined in a Michelin star in Troyes, France and Rosa was allowed to come too. She even received her own dog bowl and treats on arrival – amazing!
Preparing to come home – a legal requirement
Before you are due to arrive back in the UK it’s a legal requirement to ensure your dog is given a specific tapeworm treatment given by a vet which is then recorded in your pet’s passport. This has to be done within 5 days of travelling back to the UK and you won’t be allowed back into the UK with your pet without this. This is potentially the most tricky bit of travelling to Europe with your dog but honestly, don’t let this bit put you off. I was a little daunted by this at first as I didn’t speak any French and of course, not all vets in France speak English either.
I think the best way to handle this bit is by asking your hotel receptionist or accommodation owner to very kindly make the appointment for you at a vet local to your hotel (and for them to also explain what you need when you get there) and then just turn up at the correct time! Most vets in France especially know this procedure very well so fluent language skills aren’t really needed and if they are then Google translate on your smartphone can easily fill in the gaps.
Just to recap, the specific legal requirements before you travel back to the UK are…
- A specific tapeworm treatment given by a vet.
- Recorded in your pet’s Pet Passport.
- Signed by a vet in your pet’s Pet Passport.
- Given no less than 24 hours and no more than 120 hours (5 days). before you enter the UK.
- Approved for use in the country it is being given in (you can bring a tapeworm treatment from home, but this must be approved by your vet on holiday else you will need to purchase a local product).
- Known to contain an ingredient which is effective against the Echinococcus multiocularis tapeworm (the most common being praziquantel).
What will happen when the UK leaves the EU?
There are all sorts of rumours about what will happen when the UK leaves the EU but it looks likely that there won’t be a return to the old quarantine restrictions, so hopefully we can all enjoy dog-friendly trips to Europe for many years to come!