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Going on holiday with your dogs and your cats

Is it possible to take your pets with you on holiday instead of leaving them at home? With summertime approaching, that question is certainly on the mind of many people. And depending on where you are going, it might indeed be a good idea to simply take your pet with you instead of leaving it in a foster home.

The European Consumer Center Germany gives tips on what owners should look out for when travelling with their pets by plane, by train, or by bus.

Common rules in the European Union (EU)

Whether you are traveling within the EU Member States, Norway, or Northern Ireland or are coming from a third country, there are certain minimum standards that must be met.

For example, the law stipulates that when you are travelling for personal reasons, up to five pets per person are allowed. This also applies if the pets and their owners are traveling to move to a new home. There are exceptions to this rule. For example, if you are travelling to go to an animal contest, you might be allowed to transport more pets.

In addition, pets cannot travel with someone other than their owner, unless that person has a written authorisation to take the pet with them.

Consumers should be aware that these regulations do not apply to pets such as hamsters or birds. For these animals, the respective national regulations apply. Be careful: If the animals are transported for sale, EU rules on commercial trade in animals apply.

The EU pet passport

When travelling within the EU, Norway, and Northern Ireland, a valid EU pet passport must be presented. Dogs and cats brought into one of the states must be microchipped or tattooed for identification. The pets must also have a valid vaccination against rabies. Both must be noted in the EU pet passport. As informed by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), the microchip variant is mandatory for newly identified animals.

If the holiday destination is outside the EU, the regulations valid on entry into the third country apply. In addition, further certificates may be required for re-entry into the EU, depending on the holiday country. If in doubt, owners should ask the embassy of their holiday destination.

"Even though the provisions on the EU pet passport apply in all EU Member States as well as Norway and Northern Ireland, consumers should find out about country-specific peculiarities well in advance of their departure," advises Julia Kreidel, a lawyer at the European Consumer Centre Germany. For example, the regulations on banned dog breeds continue to differ within the EU. Each Member State regulates itself which breeds it classifies as dangerous and whose entry it can consequently ban. Finland, Ireland, and Malta also have stricter regulations regarding tapeworm treatment.

Important: rabies protection

Owners are responsible for their pets. If, for example, a dog does not have the required rabies vaccination, it can either be returned home at the owner's expense or vaccinated by a veterinarian and placed in official quarantine. In extreme cases, the animal may even be ordered to be put down.

The obligation to be protected against rabies when travelling also applies to puppies. The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture points out that puppies are not allowed to go on holiday until they are 15 weeks old at the earliest. This is because the first vaccination against rabies is only possible at the age of 12 weeks. After that, it takes another three weeks for the vaccination protection to really build up.

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Dogs and cats on planes

If you want to fly with your pet, you should find out before booking whether the airline accepts animals. The airline may also restrict transport to certain breeds. Furthermore, the regulations differ with regard to costs and the permitted number of animals. It is usually possible to transport the animal as excess baggage in a transport box in the cargo hold. Small animals are often allowed in the cabin in a so-called soft-shell container.

Observe the airline's exact specifications

Before flying, owners should obtain written confirmation that the airline will accept their pet on the day and flight in question. It should also be clarified beforehand at what time you have to present yourself with your pet for check-in. You should also read the instructions and conditions of carriage carefully. Often there are specific registration deadlines. If the conditions of carriage are violated, the airline may refuse to transport the animal.

Good to know

The airline umbrella organisation IATA ("International Air Transport Association") makes general specifications that apply to the transport of animals in aircraft. For example, there are minimum dimensions for the size and composition of the transport boxes.

Compliance with entry regulations is also the responsibility of the animal owner when travelling by air. Passengers can hire a service provider (a so-called "animal shipper") to take care of the pick-up, check-in, and everything else.

With dog and cat on buses and trains

Depending on the transport company and the EU country, different regulations apply to the transport of pets. There are no EU-wide regulations, so pet owners have to enquire individually for each journey.

On the Spanish high-speed train AVE, for example, only dogs and cats weighing up to ten kilograms are allowed to travel. On the German Deutsche Bahn as well as the Austrian Federal Railway, dogs or cats are allowed at no extra cost, but they have to be in a transport box (maximum 70 by 30 by 50 centimeters). Larger dogs need their own ticket, unless they are service dogs. With this, the same railway passenger rights apply in the event of train cancellation and delay as for the owners.

In addition, dogs must be kept on a leash and muzzled on many trains.

A pet as a holiday souvenir?

There are a few reasons why it is not a good idea to become a pet owner in the middle of your holiday. In addition to the regulations described above, there are other regulations concerning the transport of animals and owning a pet in general that cannot be fulfilled so shortly before the return journey. This also considers that the health of the animal cannot yet be assessed.

Even apparently well-intentioned offers to "adopt" animals, for example by supposed animal welfare organisations, often resulted in a violation of regulations on animal trade and transport.

This article is from the 1/2023 issue of the magazine "Life Abroad".

The magazine is published four times a year free of charge with many informative articles on foreign topics.

It is published by the BDAE, the expert for protection abroad.