The holiday pet guide: Keeping your pets happy during the winter bustle

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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Ross Martin

Insurance Writer

  • 4+ years in the Insurance Industry

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. He specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers make informed decisions.

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The holiday season is a busy time for pet owners. As decorations go up and holiday travel gets booked, the 49% of Americans who own household pets will have some big decisions to make regarding their furry friends. Whether you plan to bring your pet along your holiday travels or find a pet sitter to tend to them while you’re away, knowing the type of insurance you need for your pet before the holiday schedule kicks in is essential. 

In this guide, we’ll cover topics you and your pet may face over the holiday season, such as kennel boarding basics, travel best practices, and holiday safety tips. We’ve also noted the types of insurance you’ll need for any given holiday situation. Read on for our complete holiday pet guide.

Traveling with pets

More than half of Americans take their pets with them when they travel. If you plan on bringing your furry friend along, there are a few options available to you. Bringing your pet along for a car ride rather than a plane trip is easier and more cost effective, but travel distance plays a huge factor in that decision. No matter how you plan to bring your pet along, being prepared and informed is the most effective way to travel safety.

Read below for tips on both traveling by car and traveling by plane with your pet.


Before you travel

No matter how you plan to travel with your pet this holiday season, make sure to follow these three steps before your trip begins. 

1. Schedule a pre-trip checkup with your veterinarian: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asks that you notify your vet ASAP if you plan to travel. Schedule a checkup to make sure your pet is up to date on immunizations and has all of the medications and flea prevention they need. 

2. Make a packing list, and check it twice: You’ll want to have all the essentials with you during travel so your pet can be as comfortable as possible. It’s also a good idea to bring along an emergency kit. 

3. Don’t change diet routines: Your pet will already be stressed with the change of scenery, so decrease chances of an upset stomach by sticking to your normal routines.

Traveling by car


Avoiding accidental injuries

Pets are most likely to get injured in a car if a collision occurs. The average number of car accidents in the U.S. each year is 6 million. While you never plan to crash, you do need to think of the best way to protect your pet in case of an emergency and find out if they’ll be covered by your insurance

Rather than letting your pet freely roam through the vehicle, a pet carrier will allow you to secure your pet in the car. Choose a carrier crate that is large enough for your pet to both sit, stand, lie down and turn around. Make sure to tie the crate down either using a seat belt or the floor of the backseat. The backseat of the car is the safest place for your animal. In the front seat, your animal runs the risk of getting hit by an airbag should an incident occur.


Food and water

Pack plenty of food and water for your pet to eat on the road. Your pet shouldn’t miss any meals and should have regular access to water. Now is not the time to experiment with a change in food, as this can cause an upset stomach for your pet.


Bathroom breaks and other stops

Experts advise stopping every two hours to allow your pet the opportunity for relief. Frequent stops also let you and your pet stretch your legs and re-energize. If you have a dog, consider working in a few longer stops to give them a chance for longer walks in addition to bathroom breaks. 

Remember that a lot can happen during a bathroom stop. Your pet will likely be excited or stressed by their new surroundings, so make sure your pet is prepared in case an escape or separation happens. It’s essential to have a detailed collar tag with up-to-date contact information so if you lose your pet, you can find them again.

If you are traveling with a cat, bathroom breaks aren’t necessary. Instead, set up a disposable litter tray for your cat inside your car for them. Keep in mind cats are private animals who prefer to be alone during this act, so making this area of the car as secluded as possible will make your cat feel the most comfortable.

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Traveling by plane

In 2016, the Department of Transportation ruled that any airport servicing more than 10,000 passengers annually must install at least one animal relief area in each terminal.

Risks involved when traveling by plane

Reports of pets being killed or injured on airplanes is well documented. A USA Today report in 2018 revealed that 24 pets died, 15 were injured, and 1 was lost in 2017. While these instances do grab headlines, the number of losses is small compared to the estimated 2 million pets that travel each year. 

The riskiest place for a pet to fly is in cargo, with extreme weather temperatures being the most common cause of death. 58% of respondents agree that airlines need to improve pet safety in cargo. 

If you do decide to travel with your pet, we recommend choosing the cabin whenever possible. 

Here are some questions to ask when booking your pet’s travel:

1. Are you able to take your dog or cat in the cabin with you? 

2. Are there specific health and immunization requirements for pets?

3. Is a specific carrier or brand of carrier needed? Note that soft-sided carriers may be more comfortable for your pet. 

4. If you aren’t allowed to bring your pet in the cabin, does the airline have any restrictions in the cargo hold? 

Cargo pet tips

If you must place your pet in cargo, consider these tips from the Humane Society before, during, and after the flight in order to ensure your pet’s comfort and safety. 

1. Book a direct flight: Decrease the chance of mistakes by booking a direct flight. This will allow you to avoid any mistakes that could happen during airline transfers. You’ll also want to consider the time of day and weather when booking your pet’s flight. Early morning or late evening flights are best for summer travel, whereas afternoon flights are better in winter. 

2. Travel on the same flight: Flying on the same plane as your pet is both convenient and safer. You can ask the airline to watch your pet being loaded into the cargo hold and unloaded, and also save yourself a trip or two to the airport. This also gives you the opportunity to notify the captain and a flight attendant that there is a pet traveling in the cargo hold. You never know what special precautions they may take now knowing a pet is onboard. 

3. Consider your pet’s breed: Brachycephalic animals such as Pekingese dogs, bulldogs or Persian cats should never fly in cargo. Double-check your pet breed is safe to fly in cargo before you book. 

4. Purchase a carrier: Follow the airline’s guidelines on a pet carrier, and purchase at least a month in advance to give your pet time to become familiar with the travel carrier. This will minimize their stress during travel. You’ll also want to attach a label to the carrier that includes your contact information, including a copy of your permanent ID and the address and telephone number to best reach you at. 

5. Get your pet ready: Before travel, make sure you’ve visited with your vet to make sure your pet is up-to-date on blood work and immunizations. You’ll also want to make sure your pet’s nails are clipped so they don’t get hooked in the carrier’s door and holes. Don’t give your pet any tranquilizers or medicine unless your vet has prescribed them. In the four to six hours leading up to boarding, don’t feed your pet. You can give them small amounts of water. 

6. Bring identification documents: Check with the airline on what identification documents are needed for your pet to travel and make sure to pack a copy with you and with your pet. You should also bring a current picture of your pet with you so that way, if your pet is lost, you have an up-to-date image to make the search easier. 

7. Examine your pet post-travel: As soon as you arrive at your destination and are reunited with your pet in a safe space, open the carrier to help calm and examine your pet. If anything seems wrong, take your pet to the nearest veterinarian or clinic. Make sure to get results of the examination in writing, with the date and time.

Hiring a pet sitter


If you are heading out of town for the holidays, paying a pet sitter to stop by and visit with your animal will likely be the least stressful scenario for your pet. While pets may show signs of stress when their owners are out of town, these may be less severe if the animal stays in familiar surroundings. Most pets are covered by home insurance, so you are covered if your pet runs into a common scenario such as a biting incident or property destruction. 

According to a study by Pet Sitter International, 51% of pet sitters begin accepting pet sitting requests six months in advance or more. If you do plan to hire a pet sitter, it’s best to ask early.

Types of pet sitters

Multiple types of pet sitters are available for hire. You can hire a pet sitter who stops by a few times a day to feed and walk your dog, or you can hire a live-in sitter who will stay at your house and provide constant companionship. Additionally, you can hire a pet sitter who brings your dog into their own home.

Where to find pet sitters

Plenty of places exist where you can find pet sitters, from word-of-mouth to professional websites. If you are hiring a live-in sitter to stay in your own home, it may be more comfortable for you to employ an acquaintance with whom you’re already familiar. 

Here are some places to find pet sitters: 

Word of mouth: Ask family and friends if they know a pet sitter who has done a great job, because nothing beats a great recommendation. If you can find someone you already know and trust, this could put you at ease. Match with loving and dedicated pet sitters throughout North America. This site is trusted by more than 22,560,678 users across the US and Canada. Connect with professional pet sitters on Pet Sitters International. This site has been around since 1994. In addition to pet sitting and dog walking services, Pets IT also provides your sitters with education and resources. You can search the website by zip code to find a sitter near you. Book trusted sitters from Rover’s website or app. Sitters are asked to pass a basic background check and required to provide a detailed portfolio. You can decide whether to invite the sitter to your home or have them take the pet to their home for the overnight visit. Find vetted dog walkers willing to do overnight stays on the fastest-growing network of pre-screened and insured pet sitters and dog walkers. Wag is dedicated to providing quick service, advertising that you can book a nearby sitter in 15 minutes or less. 

Preparing for a pet sitter


Get organized to ensure your pet will be in the best hands while you are away. Here are six tips to prepare for a pet sitter:

1. Stock supplies: Purchase enough food, treats, litter, and any other items your animal needs during the pet sitter stay. 

2. Outline expectations: Let your sitter know what is required of them during the stay, including number of walks, baths, meals, and more. 

3. Prepare your pet: Make sure your pet is wearing their ID tags and that their chip is registered and up-to-date.

4. Contact your vet: Let your vet know that you will be away. Also provide them with the name of your pet sitter, in case a vet visit becomes necessary. 

5. Fill out forms: Complete a veterinary release form for your pet sitter in case of emergency. If applicable, you should send your HOA a note about the pet sitter.

6. Provide emergency contact info: Make sure your pet sitter knows how to contact you. It’s best to leave behind an additional emergency contact as well.

In addition to the tips below, you’ll also want to leave behind any house instructions for your pet sitter such as alarm codes, appliance information, thermostat instructions, and more.

Boarding your pets

If you are traveling this holiday season and have decided to leave your pet behind, you can either hire a pet sitter or board your pet. While experts agree that having a pet sitter stop by your home is the best way to keep your animal calm, sometimes this isn’t a realistic option. The next best choice for your pet is to board them at a kennel you’ve screened. 

Kennels have evolved over the years from cold concrete and tiny spaces into pet hotels full of amenities. Many of these boarding facilities even offer video surveillance so you can check in on your pet throughout your trip. Other luxurious offerings include day camp (featuring pool days and other field trips), bubble baths, massages, and more. 

Before you book a kennel for the holidays, review our pet boarding tips below.

Evaluating your kennel


If you’ve decided to board your pet this holiday season, your next big decision will be deciding on a kennel. The American Boarding Kennels Association has almost 1,600 kennels throughout the U.S. and Canada. The ABKA helps the kennels in its association develop and maintain professional standards of pet care through education.

Once you’ve found a kennel of interest to you, you should contact the kennel right away to see if they have availability for your pet. You can also ask any “make or break” questions on this call, so you can make sure the kennel is a match from the start. Once you’ve verified availability and a culture fit, you can schedule a personal visit to the kennel to determine whether you feel comfortable leaving your animal in its care. 

Here are some things to look out for during your kennel visit:

Cleanliness: Does the kennel look and smell clean? 

Security: Are there sturdy, well-maintained fences and gates in place? 

Safety: Does your pet gets its own area, apart from other boarders? Is there fire fighting equipment visible? 

Supervision: How often are pets checked on a day, and is the person checking trained and certified? 

Health care: If a medical emergency arises, what is the veterinary service process? 

Immunization requirements: Are all boarders at this facility immunized against rabies and other common immunizations?


Common amenities

You don’t have to book an expensive pet hotel in order to get your pet access to good care. Here are some common amenities to look for when you’re evaluating your kennel: 

– Temperature control
– Weather protection
– Ventilation
– Light
– Bedding 
– Sleeping quarters
– Exercise area

Booking your kennel

Once you’ve found a kennel with availability that meets your standards, it’s time to reserve your pet a spot. Costs can vary widely from kennel to kennel depending on amenities and amount of attention received. 

The average cost of boarding a dog is $40 per night. Rates can typically range anywhere from $25 to $85. Luxurious pet hotels start around $75 per night on average, so expect to pay more at those dog boarding kennels in order to provide five-star treatment for your pet. 

As soon as you know your travel dates, you should begin the kennel searching process. Popular kennels fill up fast and may even give preference to returning customers. 

Not every pet should be boarded. If your pet is extremely anxious, there are risks involved with placing them in an uncertain social situation and new surroundings. All of the unfamiliar smells, sights, and sounds can push your pet’s anxiety over the edge, resulting in changes in appetite and bowel movements.

Holiday safety tips for pets

The holiday season is full of new sights and smells your pet. As the decorations go up and the weather cools down, some new risks emerge for your furry friend. Below we’ll discuss safety tips around weather, food, and plants so your pet can enjoy a healthy and happy holiday season. 



Extreme weather can be dangerous — or even deadly — for your pet. During the holidays, winter can cause discomforts such as chapped paws and flaky skin, and hard freezes can cause hypothermia. 

Here are six tips from ASPCA to help keep your pet safe from the elements this holiday season: 

Keep your home humid: Towel dry your pet after an outdoor adventure and keep your home humidified to prevent dry, itchy skin. 

Don’t shave your pet: Let your pet’s coat grow long during the winter. The hair will provide warmth during chilly days and nights. You can trim a long-haired dog to get rid of clinging ice balls and salt crystals, but otherwise let your pet’s natural coat grow. 

Limit baths: Cut down on baths during winter, especially during cold spells. Baths can remove essential oils and cause dry, flaky skin. If you must wash your pet, consult your veterinarian for product recommendations. 

Use paw protectants: Rub petroleum jelly or other protectant rubs into paw pads for your pet before they go outside. You can also have your pet wear booties for an extra layer of protection. 

Provide a cozy bed: Let your pet cuddle up on chilly nights in a bed away from windows and off the floor with a warm blanket or pillow. 

Bring your pets inside: Open up your home to any of your outdoors pet on cold nights. If it’s too cold outside for you, it is too cold outside for your pet too. Don’t let them fall victim to a freeze, which can be deadly.

Food dangers


Holiday treats are everywhere this time of year, but don’t let your pet fall victim to a dangerous (and potentially deadly) food scrap. Your pet can still join in on the fun, but we recommend only feeding your pets treats that were formulated just for them. 

These pets are especially hazardous for pets. In addition to making sure these items are always out of reach, you should also review these items with any guests in your home – especially children – that way everyone is aware of the risks these common holiday treats pose. 

Chocolate: This rich sweet is a holiday essential, but it’s also toxic for both dogs and cats. Toxicity varies depending on the type of chocolate, amount ingested, and size of your pet, your best bet is to make all chocolate off limits. 

Turkey: This Thanksgiving favorite can cause pancreatitis in pets. This condition is life-threatening and can be caused by even the smallest amounts of turkey ingestion. 

– Table scraps: Feeding your pet table scraps should never be allowed, because many foods can be poisonous to pets. Onions, raisins, and grapes are three examples of every-day food items that can cause harm to your pet. During the holidays especially, your pet runs the risk of ingesting high-fat foods that are hard to digest and can cause pancreatitis. 

– Yeast dough: Dangerous bloating and painful gas can occur if they ingest yeast dough, so keep this item off-limits and out of reach at all times.

Poisonous holiday plants


According to PetMD, these holiday plants could be deadly or cause irritation if your pet comes into contact with them: 

– Christmas tree: It’s hard to imagine Christmas without a fir tree, but this festive tradition can be harmful for your pet. If ingested, the tree needles can cause your pet to have gastrointestinal irritation, obstruction, and puncture. The tree also produces harmful oils that may cause excessive vomiting or drooling. The Christmas tree water can also become a breeding ground for bacteria and mold, which can be toxic for your pet if they take a sip.

– Poinsettia: The poinsettia gets a bad reputation for being deadly for pets and children, but the truth is that it’s more likely to cause mere discomfort. The plant’s brightly colored leaves produce a sap that can irritate the mouth and the esophagus. This irritation can cause nausea and vomiting. 

– Holly: The beautiful red berries on a holly plant are poisonous to both pets and humans. Swallowing the berries can cause vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and drowsiness. 

– Mistletoe: This parasitic plant can cause your pet to have a sudden and severe drop in blood pressure. Other reactions include severe intestinal problems, breathing problems, and even hallucinations. Similar to the holly plant, if large amounts of mistletoe are ingested, seizures and death could follow. 

– Christmas cactus: This plant’s fibrous material can cause irritation to the stomach and intestines of pets, leading to vomiting or diarrhea.  

– Lilies: Cats may have bad reactions to lilies, especially Lilum and Hemerocallis. In addition to gastrointestinal issues, these plants can also cause arrhythmia and convulsions in cats.  

– Daffodils: Both cats and dogs can be poisoned by daffodils. 

– Amaryllis: This winter bloom is toxic due to the lycorine and other toxic substances found in its flower. The bulb is the most dangerous part of the flower, but any ingestion of the amaryllis can cause salivation, gastrointestinal abnormalities, lethargy, and tremors. 

If ingestion does occur, you can contact the Pet Poison Hotline or your veterinarian. If it’s after hours or in the event of an emergency, find your nearest 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic.

Interactions with guests and other animals

If your pet will be interacting with guests this holiday season, take steps to ensure they feel calm, safe, and comfortable during their social interactions. Whether you are hosting a holiday party, having family over for meals, or traveling with your pet, it’s a busy time of year for everyone and stress can run high. 

Here are some tips from Rover to keep your pet calm and collected around guests:

– Stay relaxed: A ruckus is likely to rile up your pet – even if the commotion is positive. Pets have trouble determining between excitement and irritation. Try to keep your reaction relaxed and calm as you answer the door, and encourage your pet to do the same. If your pet does remain calm, reward them with a treat so they know they’ve done well. 

– Practice greetings: As your dog is learning, you may want to place them on a leash during doorbell greetings. The leash will allow you to have more control if your pup misbehaves. If your pet begins to jump on your house guests as soon as they enter, pull your pup into a nearby room to cool off for 30 seconds. Then, let them back to the common area and see if they’ve calmed down. If not, repeat. 

– Mix in distractions: It’s the perfect time of year to reward your pup or cat with a new toy. Set up their bed near an area of the house they feel comfortable, and encourage them to play with their new toy here. 

Set you and your pet up for a holiday season full of cheer by focusing on safety, awareness, and preparation. If you plan to travel with your pet, make sure your car insurance is up to date before booking your travel arrangements. 

Additional resources: 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Traveling with Pets 
PetMD: Holiday Car Travel
Humane Society: Travel Safely with your Pet 
ASPCA: General Pet Care

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