How to plan a paw-fect pet-friendly holiday

Girl in a pink dress getting out of a caravan with a fluffy white dog

Sue Hewitt

Posted March 24, 2021

Planning a getaway? Here are 11 expert tips for safe and happy holidaying with pets.

The year 2020 was marked by many things: lockdowns and Zoom calls, face masks and mastering the art of the perfect sourdough. And, for legions of Victorians, it was the year we welcomed a new four-legged family member into our homes. Now as we emerge from lockdown and get out exploring again, many people will be taking a pet along for the ride for the first time. 

Animal expert, author and radio talkshow regular Laura Vissaritis says holidaying with a pet for the first time is a whole new experience for both you and them, and presents a host of challenges –  from the stress of a long car journey or adjusting to an unfamiliar environment, to the dangers of ticks and snake bikes. “It’s like moving house – you have to get them familiar with their new surroundings, make sure they’re safe by checking things like fencing, put them on a lead to explore the new area and try to emulate the routine you use at home,” says Laura.

And if you’re travelling at Easter, remember no Easter eggs for your dog – chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine which can cause canines serious illness or even death.   

So how can you ensure your next holiday is as fun and as safe for your pet as it is for the rest of the family? We asked Laura and Lost Dogs Home veterinarian Dr Ashe Mooney and animal behaviour team leader Jade Currie for their advice on how to pull off the paw-fect pet-friendly holiday.

Woman with curly brown hair sitting in a caravan door patting a golden retriever

Photo: Getty

11 tips for a paw-fect pet-friendly holiday

1. Check out the accommodation 

There’s a wide choice of pet-friendly accommodation on offer, from holiday houses and motels, to campgrounds and caravan parks. And even motorhomes.  

But before you book your dog-friendly digs, be sure to talk to the host about what that really means, and decide if their place is the right one for you. Is your pet allowed inside or on furniture? Is the yard completely enclosed? Is there a doggy door? Are there additional charges for your pet? Some accommodation providers may restrict particular breeds or sizes, so make sure your pooch is welcome. And if this is your first holiday with your pet in tow, the Lost Dogs Home recommends starting with a short trip to gauge how well they cope with travel.  

Cats tend to prefer familiar surrounds, so unless you’re headed to your own holiday house or familiar accommodation, you may want to consider booking them in for a stay at a pet hotel.  

2. Watch out for wildlife 

If you’re going to a farm stay or accommodation next to a nature reserve, consider whether your pet has ever seen farm animals or wildlife and how they will react. Many dogs might be fearful or could harass or even kill native wildlife. Laura strongly recommends keeping your pet on a leash at all times, when not indoors or in a fenced yard. 

3. Consider camping 

Many campgrounds and caravan parks, including NRMA parks and resorts, welcome pets, but if your dog is anxious, isn’t well socialised with other dogs or has not bonded with you, you might want to think about alternative accommodation. Interacting with other camp dogs, people and nearby wildlife can be stressful and there’s a risk your dog might not return if they’re off lead.  

If your pet is up for camping, bear in mind that national parks are generally off-limits for dogs, but there are exceptions, including Johanna Beach and Lake Elizabeth in the Great Otway National Park and Jerusalem Creek at Lake Eildon National Park. Plenty of state-park campgrounds also welcome dogs – try Upper Yarra Reservoir Park near Warburton, Shoreline Drive campgrounds in the Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park, or Howqua Hills Historic Area near Mansfield.  

4. Pack right  

When heading to an unfamiliar environment, taking along your pet’s bedding and other familiar items, such as favourite toys and treats, will go a long way to helping them feel settled and happy. If it’s a long drive to your destination, bring plenty of water and pet food, plus bowls in the car. And remember to pack prescribed medication, insect repellent, sun protection, a carrier or crate, and first-aid kit.  

5. Drive safe 

No matter how far you’re travelling, your pet should be safety restrained whenever in the car, and never seated on the driver’s lap or the front passenger seat. Use a carrier for cats and a harness for your dog.  

Break up longer drives with regular stops so your pet can exercise, go to the toilet, and have something to eat and drink,  and never leave them in the car unattended. They can easily overheat and succumb to heatstroke even on mild days. 

Brown dog sitting in the sand at the beach

Photo: Getty

6. Keep them calm on the road 

Some dogs like nothing more than jumping in the car for a road trip, but others find car travel extremely stressful. If your pet hates the car, it’s advisable to talk to your vet before heading off on a long drive. Sedation may help some pets cope with the drive, but for others it can cause extra stress.  

7. Help settle them in 

On arrival at your holiday digs, spend some time with your pet introducing them to their new environment. Play with them and give them a pat or a cuddle to reassure them, and show them where the grass is for toileting and where their bed, and water and food bowls are. Check that all fences and gates are secure. 

8. Keep tabs 

Being in an unfamiliar environment may make your dog more inclined to try to escape. Make sure they’re supervised at all times and don’t leave them alone with unfamiliar people.  

Make sure your dog has been microchipped and provide two contact numbers on a dogtag – the second being a close friend or relative who knows where you’re staying, in case you have no mobile coverage. Consider putting a GPS tracker on their collar. Check in advance where the local vets are for any medical emergency, and the local pound in case your pet gets lost. 

9. Take them exploring 

You won’t want to leave your dog behind when you head out to explore, so check whether dogs are allowed at the local attractions. Dogs on leads are welcome at most state forests and regional parks, but generally not in national parks, although there are some exceptions including parts of the Great Otway, Lake Eildon and Greater Bendigo national parks.   

There are dozens of dog-friendly beaches throughout the state, along with wineriescafes and beer gardens that welcome pooches on a lead. Gourmet Pawprints even runs winery tours for you and your pooch. 

10. Avoid snakebites, ticks and heartworm 

Snakebites are a common hazard in the Australian bush. If you suspect your dog has been bitten, take it to an emergency vet immediately because life-threatening symptoms can occur within minutes. 

Ticks are rare in Melbourne, but quite common in rural areas or even urban areas with longer grass, and can be extremely dangerous to dogs, causing paralysis or even death. You can help prevent ticks by keeping your pet’s fur short, checking paws (especially between the toes) after walks, and regularly administering an anti-parasitic pill that prevents ticks. A thorough combing within four to six hours of returning from the bush may also stop ticks attaching themselves to your pet. 

Due to their small size ticks can be difficult to detect. It’s a good idea to run your fingers through your dog’s fur after they’ve been in the bush to feel for any telltale lumps – especially forward of their front legs. Signs that your dog has a tick vary, but if they have a wobbly walk, a cough, or difficulty eating, breathing or standing, take them to the vet immediately. If you’ve removed the tick, place it in a container so the vet can identify it.

Another serious risk for dogs is heartworm, which is prevalent in New South Wales and Queensland. So make sure their heartworm prevention medication is up to date, particularly if you’re headed to those states.   

11. Beware overheating  

Another risk to dogs is overheating, so keep a close eye on them when the temperature reaches over 25 degrees, and never leave them unattended in a vehicle. If your dog is outdoors only, provide plenty of water and shade. Dark-coloured dogs and those with ‘squished’ faces, such as pugs or bulldogs, are particularly sensitive to heat. If you’re worried your animal has heatstroke, cool it down immediately with cold water or wet towels and take it to a vet.