The rules for travelling with pets in Australia: Airlines, hotels and more

If sometime, possibly later this year, you find that the passenger on the plane next to you is excessively hirsute, panting rather rapidly and sporting a moist nose, do remain calm. You're not going barking mad and there is a perfectly reasonable, if not historic, explanation.

Earlier this year, in a landmark decision, Australia's Civil Aviation Authority (ACAA) made it legal for pets to travel inside the cabin. A social media crusade, of sorts, has already been launched to convince airlines, which have been so far quiet on the subject of pets on planes, to get onboard the global petsetting trend.

"You look at airlines overseas where dogs travel freely and you wonder 'how are we that behind'?" says Elizabeth Clark, owner of a cocker spaniel called Yeah Boi and the person driving the campaign. "If we travel with Yeah Boi we always have to drive. I think the airlines need to get with the times."

For pet owners, any progress is welcome. Australia has some of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, with the RSPCA putting the pre-pandemic figure at 61 per cent of Australian households owning a pet of some kind with 40 per cent of them being home to a dog.

We also have some of the most restrictive laws concerning travelling with pets,  but the rise in pet ownership is forcing the industry to change.

Stayz travel expert and dog owner, Simone Scoppa, says that travelling with a pet has been on the rise for years with the accommodation provider seeing growth before the pandemic hit. "Pet travel has become this real emerging category," she says. "One in 10 searches on our Stayz website is a pet-friendly search."

Stayz holiday home rental website has been keeping a keen eye on the rise of the doggie dollar and it recently commissioned research from Longeron that shows over 2 million Australian travellers are planning a pet-friendly holiday this year. This is putting pressure on the supply of dog-friendly accommodation

"We have 50,000 holiday homes and 9000 of them are pet friendly," Scoppa says. "If people are not booking months in advance, particularly at peak holiday periods, you are not going to be able to get that pet-friendly home. The peak time that people are booking for Christmas – pet friendly or not – is now July. It used to be September."

The research also showed that NSW dog owners wanted a more active holiday so beaches and parks were top of the list, but in Victoria the dogs and their owners wanted more of a cafe-culture experience. "So, the snobby dogs of Victoria wanted their puppuccinos while on holidays," Scoppa says.

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While dogs might grab all the headlines, they are not the only pets that are packing their bags this year. Scoppa. says that Stayz has heard that people have taken their rabbits, their cats and even their hamsters with them at their booked properties.

As for the airlines, a spokesperson for Virgin Australia says that the carrier continues to closely consider the ACAA regulatory changes. Regardless of the outcome, designated service dogs, including those for the visually impaired, "will continue to be able to travel in the cabin of our aircraft."

While we wait on airlines to welcome a new class of furry frequent flyers, let's take a look, based on my book, The Nomad's Guide to Taking Your Dog on the Road in Australia, at the rules around pet travel as they now stand.

PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES

Obedient dachshund dog sits in blue pet carrier in public place and waits the owner. Safe travel with animals by plane or train. Customs quarantine before or after transporting animals across border sunjun5cover cover travel travelling with dogs pets ; text by Paul Chai
cr: iStock (reuse permitted, no syndication) 

Taking your pet as carry-on is yet to be allowed by Australia's airlines.  Photo: iStock

Despite the above rule change, you can only book your furry friend on as cargo. If you want the same flight as your pet it is suggested you book the pet transport first and then book your own seat on a plane, not the other way around, as there are less places in the hold so your pet's seat will be harder to find. For now, the most practical way to travel Australia with your pet is to hit the road.

BEFORE YOU GO For new pet travellers start with short trips to see how your pet takes to car travel. Some pets, for example, get carsick, some pets simply don't like driving and need to be desensitised to it. You will need to make sure your pet has its own space in the car. Room to curl up but also do a full sleep stretch, the more comfortable your pet is the longer you will be able to drive. A happy pet is a calm and quiet pet. For nervous dogs try calming sprays like Adaptil, calming chews like Vetalogica's VitaRapid Tranquil Daily Treats.

KEEPING SAFE The No. 1 thing to be aware of is to make sure your dog has an easily accessible supply of fresh water, or make plenty of stops so they can hydrate. Remember the adage "dogs die in hot cars", well they do not need to be parked cars.

KNOW THE RULES The rules for having pets in the car vary slightly from state to state but they generally revolve around your pet being secured properly, not being a driving hazard and looking after their welfare. For example, it is illegal in most states for your pet to travel in the boot of your car and in Victoria you cannot leave a dog unattended for more than 10 minutes in a car where the outside heat is higher than 28 degrees. The majority of states make it a legal requirement for a dog to be restrained when the car is moving. A collision involving an unrestrained dog could see it become a very dangerous projectile. When it comes to public transport, dogs can travel with you on the train, as long as they're on a lead and wearing a muzzle. You'll need to keep your dog under control at all times and clean up any mess your dog makes. It is also best to avoid travelling during peak morning and afternoon periods.

STAYING THERE At Jugiong Motor Inn at the gateway to the Hilltops Region in NSW just off the Hume Freeway between Melbourne and Sydney, Jen and Mark Milner have a whole dog-friendly wing to their charming motel set on an acreage off the Hume Freeway. There is a huge amount of grass for the dogs to run around and the motor inn is just a short walk from the Murrumbidgee River where you can take a stroll or throw in a fishing line.

INSIDER TIP Be fully aware of local wildlife. We all know that "everything in Australia can kill you" from ticks to tiger snakes, but your pet doesn't know that. Keep them under effective control.

HOLIDAY AND RENTAL HOMES

Whether your go-to rental website is Airbnb, Stayz, specific local networks or pet-friendly sites like Holiday Paws, there are a few things you should know before hiring a holiday home.

BEFORE YOU GO The first thing is to use the pet-friendly filter. "Look at the house rules that the property owner has set, some owners may still want your dog to be outside," says Stayz's Scoppa. She adds not to assume pet-friendly means that you don't have to bring anything with you.

KEEPING SAFE Make sure you understand the risks in the local area says Tania Mullen from Melbourne's Essendon Vet Clinic (essendonvet.com.au). "Call into the local vet to find out what problems are common in the area," she says. "Is this an area that has ticks, or has a higher risk of heartworm? Also you should know where the 24-hour vet clinics are in your area, and some clinics will have an on-call service in rural Australia.

KNOW THE RULES Check the specifics of the property with the owner. For example, many people assume dog-friendly means that the property is fenced in but this is not the case. Other properties might say they welcome dogs but will also allow other pets if you ask.

STAYING THERE Scoppa says that when she arrives she checks out the social networks for people who also travel with their pets. "We had gone up to Byron when our dog Taco, was about a year old," she says. "And we messaged this lady that we knew was based in Byron Bay with her dog. So we met her at the dog park for a weird first-date situation but with a dog owner. But I thought that it was cool that people are using Instagram to find other like-minded dog owners when they are going on holidays. And they had all the tips about dog-friendly places in the area."

INSIDER TIP Scoppa brings familiar things from home and tries to replicate as much of Taco's routine as possible when they are at the holiday home to help keep him calm.

HOTELS AND MOTELS

sunjun5cover cover travel travelling with dogs pets ; text by Paul Chai
(handout image, Destination NSW, no syndication) Your dog will feel like canine royalty at The Langham, Sydney.Mandatory credit: The Langham

Photo: The Langham, Sydney

Another area of Australian life that is catching up to the US and Europe when it comes to pup friendliness is upscale city hotels. In the US, nearly three quarters of hotels welcome furry family members but the numbers here are much lower. However, hotels are catching on to the pet dollar given the fact that, in pre pandemic times, Australians dropped nearly $750 million a year on spoiling their pets. Andre Jacques at The Langham, Melbourne oversaw the creation of its Pampered Pets Staycation program last year. "We even brought some colleagues' dogs in and did some taste testing to find the most popular dishes," he says.

BEFORE YOU GO The beauty of staying in a hotel is that you need to do very little preparation, though it is suggested that you take something familiar to your pet, and make sure the hotel has pet beds.

KEEPING SAFE No matter where you stay it is a good idea to make yourself a pet first-aid kit. The pet first-aid kit will need to have items that can help you stop bleeding, stabilise a fractured limb, respond to poisons where possible and manage eye wounds.

KNOW THE RULES The most important thing is to check what the package entails and where the dog is allowed in the hotel. For example, one dog-friendly hotel we stayed in had nowhere for the dog to go to the toilet so we ended up taking him out into a concrete car park for his morning ablutions; another recommended a restaurant but the dog would have to be tied to a pole on the street.

STAYING THERE There is something slightly surreal about taking your dog slipping and skidding across the marble floors, past ornate fountains and staff with golden trolleys full of luggage in a high-end hotel. But part of the fun of taking your pets with you anywhere is seeing them excited and interested in new surrounds. When we stayed with our dog, Orinoco, at The Langham Hotel in Melbourne (langhamhotels.com) he spent ages on the room's balcony, nose in the air taking in all the new smells coming from Southbank and the CBD. Ori was less keen on the lift where he could feel the movement but not see it but he got used to it after a couple of trips. Sunset was spent out on the terrace, us with a beverage and Ori with a chef-cooked bowl of Australian beef that would see him turn his nose up at kibble for a week.

INSIDER TIP Do research for dog-friendly bars and restaurants near your hotel as this is a new category for many big hotels.

CARAVANNING AND CAMPING

A young woman setting up camp in the wilderness with her trailer sunjun5cover cover travel travelling with dogs pets ; text by Paul Chai
cr: iStock (reuse permitted, no syndication) 

Photo: iStock

Campgrounds have long been the most dog-friendly options for people who want to take their pet around Australia. Though not all campgrounds are pet-friendly, there will be a much higher percentage of parks that will take pets than holiday homes, motels or hotels.

BEFORE YOU GO Ask the park operator if there is any additional cost to have your dog stay at the park, or if they require a bond as some places do put extra charges on for cleaning. You might also need to check if there is a size limitation placed on your pet, or if there is a limit to the number of dogs that are allowed on one site, if you own multiple pets. A common size cap is 10 kilograms, though it is usually an arbitrary limit so it can be worth calling ahead to check.

KEEPING SAFE Be mindful that it's common for fox, or wild dog bait to be set in bushland areas, so check with the local council to determine if this may be a risk. If worried, make sure that your dog is muzzled when it is not in your direct line of sight.

KNOW THE RULES Some parks have specific areas that they might want you to stay in so they can keep the pets away from people who are not so animal friendly. Most parks won't let you take animals into the shower or food prep area so make sure you can leave your pet safely alone for those times.

STAYING THERE One of the benefits of camping is there are a few campsites adjacent to national parks where you can have pets. For example, Cape Conran Coastal Park in Gippsland (parks.vic.gov.au) is run by Parks Victoria but allows pets. This stunning coastal camping area, where each camp spot has its own fire pit, allows dogs as long as they are on a lead and is metres from the beautiful bay of Sailors Grave that gave its name to the local boutique brew.

INSIDER TIP Some caravan parks may have "pets on application" on their website or brochure, this is just a way for owners to reserve the right to say "no" if they don't like the sound of your pet. Call to find out more.

Paul Chai is a regular Traveller contributor and the author of The Nomad's Guide to Taking You Dog on the Road in Australia by New Holland. See au.newhollandpublishers.com

THE FIVE DOS AND DON'T OF PET TRAVEL

PUP CRAWLS

Find fun dog-focussed activities. Bianca Sondakh runs Melbourne's Puppy Pub Crawls (facebook.com/crawlpuppypub). Each week Sondakh and her pugalier (pug and Kings Charles Cavalier cross), Hugo, lead a group of hoppy hounds and their owners on a wander between pubs that love dogs.

GET SOCIAL

Get social. Online groups like Facebook's Dog Friendly Holidays Australia (72K members) are great networks to find pet-friendly accommodation, parks and ideas.

WATCH OUT IN THE WATER.

Dogs love the beach but not all dogs are good swimmers, and no dogs are natural swimmers. Some breeds, like dachshunds, simply lack the leg length to be canine Ian Thorpes.

LEAVE NO TRACE

Put plastic bags in every nook and cranny of the car. A responsible dog owner always picks up after their dog whether at the local dog park or an outback roadhouse.

CATCH THE COST

Create a separate pet budget. On big trips take a note of monthly expenses, including treats, toys and grooming.

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