Even though I’ve lived in Europe for almost four years of my life already, about a year ago I decided I wanted to move back. There is so just so much to explore!
I choose to move to France. A big deciding factor was the ease at which I could obtain a work visa for this lovely country. I also haven’t eaten enough fresh baguettes and croissants yet—or sampled enough French wine and champagne, either!
I’ve had my little dachshund Poppy for five years now—and I just couldn’t imagine leaving her behind in Canada! Knowing I would bring her, I did a lot of research to find out what I would need to do to fly with my dog from Toronto to Paris. I had many questions: What airlines allow pets? What paperwork would I need? What kind of travel carrier bag should I get? What about sedatives?
Lo and behold, after all the stress, everything worked out fine on our travel day! I thought I’d write this blog post about my experience travelling abroad and flying with my dog—everything from the paperwork, to making a reservation for the plane, to picking a pet carrier, checking in, and more. Perhaps this documented experience will help others looking for answers about travelling with their pets!
The first thing I had to do was lots of research (thank you, Google!). I had to find out whether I was even allowed to move with my dog to Europe, and how. I discovered that, for the most part, pets like cats and dogs are allowed into the European Union (EU), but the entry requirements vary from country to country. For some countries, like Australia I’ve heard, it’s not as easy (even if you’re Johnny Depp ;)). I found a lot of information on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website on pet travel to the EU. I also called them a few months before we flew to make sure I was on the right track.
I learned that I would need to have official paperwork to bring with me to the airport (sort of like her passport). For entry into France, I found out Poppy needed to be microchipped and given a rabies vaccination no less than 21 days before our departure date. Poppy in tow, off to the vet we went (one of her least favourite places), where she was microchipped and given a rabies shot. Her vet had to fill out the paperwork proving it had been done. After that, I had to bring the papers to a Canadian Food Inspection Agency office to have them signed no more than 10 days before my flight. This all went smooth, although the appointment at the CFIA office took longer than expected in the end.
I also had to find out which airlines allow pets, and then find out which pet carrier I should buy. This part of the getting ready caused me the most stress. Mostly because there just isn’t a lot of information out there online from people who have done this! My dog Poppy weighs about 6 kilos … she’s fairly small. So, luckily I could bring her in the cabin with me (in the plane) and she didn’t have to go in cargo (thankfully, I think being underneath the plan on her own would have given the poor little dog a heart attack or nervous breakdown). I started to research pet-friendly airlines, and I narrowed it down to two: Air Canada and Air France. I looked at tickets and discovered that Air Canada flights were far more reasonably priced, so I decided to fly with them.
After I had the airline narrowed down, I needed to make sure that my dog would be allowed in the cabin (in the plane with me), and what the airline rules for pet carrier bags were. As far as I know, Air Canada does not specify a maximum pet weight for animals in the cabin. I found this written on their site: “You are welcome to bring your cat or small dog in the cabin with you provided it is small enough to stand, turn around and lie down in its carrier under the seat in front of you.” They also specify the allowed pet carrier dimensions on their site (21 cm/ 8.25 inches high, 38 cm/ 15 inches wide and 43 cm/ 17 inches long). I got out my measuring tape and called Poppy over to me. I quickly realized that I luckily had a lot of room for the length and width (good news!), but the height was maybe going to be a problem.
If Poppy was really coming with me, I needed to find a bag that would fit these requirements. I started shopping around, bringing her to pet stores, pulling down the carriers off the shelves, and luring her inside them with treats. Like I’d realized before, and most likely for many dogs, the height was going to be an issue. In a worried state, and as a last resort, I even called Air Canada and asked if she could sit on the seat beside me before I bought a bag (flights were cheap). “No ma’am,” said the person on the phone, “pets aren’t allowed on seats.” I went ahead and booked a reservation for her to travel in the cabin, and I was billed an extra $100. That was it, there was no turning back. She was coming with me, and I had to find a bag that would work.
I eventually settled on a soft, breathable bag that was just slightly taller than the stated specifications but in line with the specified length and width. It wasn’t easy at all to find a bag lower than 8.25 inches in height. However, the bag I settled on was soft enough so it could be pushed down if need be if Poppy was lying down. I just had to trust that it was going to work out (and hope the airline staff person who checked me in was smiling and having a wonderful day). Also, Poppy sleeps (lying down of course) for up to 20 hours a day sometimes (yup, its crazy!), so I really didn’t think it would be a big deal if she was in a bag she could only lie down in for about 7 hours.
I had about a month before I was flying, so I had time to get her used to the carrier bag. I replaced her bed at home with her shiny, new-smelling bag. She, of course, thought this was bizarre. However, after a few days, she accepted this as her regular “spot” to lie down, sleep and stash her favourite toys. I also took her on an Uber ride. Some people travel with their pets on day trips in the carriers to get them used to them, this is another idea. I think getting her used to the bag really helped us the day we flew.
The big day came around, and we headed to the airport. I put her paperwork together with my passport in my handbag. I stood in line hoping to be checked in by someone in a great mood. We ended up with the person who seemingly was the least happy, but all went well. She scanned my passport and asked if I had a pet. I put Poppy on the scale, and she asked me to open her pet carrier. Out popped Poppy’s head, and the lady asked me if she had enough room to stand up and turn around. I said yes, and that she’d been sleeping in the bag for a few weeks now and she’s used to it. I was asked to zip Poppy back up again before being asked for my paperwork. She slowly looked it over with (what seemed like) indifference and handed it back to me. And that was it: We were off—all we had to do now was get through security and then customs in France!
But wait — I was also concerned about her being nervous during the flight and having to pee before I could get her to a patch of grass. Although Poppy ‘s blatter amazes me, I was still worried she might not be able to hold it for the whole flight and going through customs when we arrived. So I brought some training pads with me. My plan was to use these at the airport in France when we arrived—to find a washroom and have her “go”. I tried, but it didn’t work. If your dog needs to pee often, I recommend getting them used to going on training pads before you fly.
Also sedatives: I thought I’d bring sedatives with me in case Poppy started trembling or freaking out. My vet recommended Gravol, so I brought some children’s Gravol tablets with me. I gave it to her before we took off, but I can’t say whether it helped her situations, or not.
When we got to France about 7 hours later, I had the paperwork out again to show the border officer greeting us. He looked it over and told me I’d have to speak with customs upon exiting. After I waited to pick up my heavy suitcase, we headed towards the exit, but no one stopped us. I found the customs desk and voluntarily showed my paperwork. The friendly officer skimmed over it quickly and told me it all looked fine! We did it! I was free to go with Poppy by my side!
Overall, for a first-time flyer, Poppy handled flying to France really well. If you do your research and know what needs to be done well in advance, travelling with your pet can be a smooth experience. Shop around for a bag that meets the airline requirements, and choosing a soft, mesh one will allow you to squish it down if you need to. Make sure you give your pet time to get used to and sleep in their pet carrier before taking off.