What To Do When You Must Leave Your Pet Behind At The Last Minute

Today is travel day. You have loaded up the car, heading to the airport with your family and your pets with plenty of time to spare in the case of heavy traffic or other delays. You get to your airline’s check-in counter, and your pets are denied by the check-in agent. Your flight cannot be rescheduled and you must leave your pet behind.

Or, you have packed up the car with family and your pets, you turn the key in the ignition, and nothing happens. You must leave today, and the taxi you summon does not accept pets.  

These are the last things you need to happen when traveling, but they do happen, nonetheless. If you prepare in advance, you can cope with emergencies like this and know what to do when you must leave your pet behind at the last minute.

Leaving your pet behind suddenly when you have planned carefully for your vacation can be extremely stressful for both you and your pet. This is especially true if you are traveling internationally or will be gone for an extended period of time. In these cases, most pet owners have made preparations necessary to bring their pets with them.

Thankfully, the travel industry has made it easier to take our pets with us no matter how we travel. More hotels are allowing well-behaved pets to stay on the premises. And published pet import policies for foreign countries makes it easier for pet owners to understand what kind of documentation is needed to cross borders with their animals.

Dog in airline carrier

But no matter how carefully you may plan, unforeseen situations may occur that cause your pet to be left behind. Here are some scenarios to help illustrate this point.

Problems with Documentation

What if the requirements change for importing your pet into a country or you did not understand what vaccinations were needed? Or perhaps the documentation you provided was not properly endorsed by a government veterinarian? 

In these cases, your airline will not permit your pet to board. If they are negligent in checking the paperwork, and your pet arrives at a foreign destination, it will be refused entry, quarantined and returned to the origination at your expense if it does not comply with the rules.

Crate or Carrier Issues

Maybe your crate or carrier was deemed by agents as being inadequate to transport your pet safely. Your carrier was too big or too small, did not have adequate ventilation or was not secure enough. Or your pet’s crate was not IATA-compliant.

Maybe the aircraft that serves your route is not approved to fly animals because the temperature and pressure in the cargo hold of the aircraft is not regulated. 

Maybe you did not make a reservation for your pet far enough in advance, and there is no room on your flight for their crate or carrier. 

Maybe your airline has restrictions on the breeds that can travel on their flights, and your pet is a snub-nosed or aggressive dog breed.. 

Maybe your pet is not in visible good health.

Maybe the stress of the situation makes your dog display aggressive behavior.

Finally, maybe there may be problems with your connecting flight, and your pet may not have clearance through to its final destination. 

Pet Owner Emergencies

Sometimes pet owners may experience emergencies that cause them to have to travel at the drop of a hat. This may mean that the pet owner has been unable to make the proper travel arrangements before they are forced to leave the country. Preparing a dog or cat to travel takes time. Sometimes there is simply not enough time and your pet must stay behind.

Pet Health Emergencies

As with children, pets can get sick at the last minute. The worst thing you can do is expose them to the stress of traveling when they are sick.

Lost Pets

What if your pet becomes lost while you are traveling? If your pet is not microchipped, the chances of them being reunited with you are significantly reduced. In fact, one study shows that over 80% of pets that are not microchipped and registered are not returned to their owner.

Auto Failures

Despite the fact that you had your car serviced prior to travel day, it won’t start when you need it to and you need to take a taxi to the airport. The ride may or may not accept pets, especially larger ones.

So, what is a pet owner to do if their beloved pet must be left behind? Here are some steps to take if you find yourself in this situation.

Always have a backup on hand

Find someone to care for your pet in the short term. If you are lucky enough to have a family member, neighbor or friend in the vicinity, ask this person to care for your pet and help you arrange for their transportation home. Know that pets can fly without their owners through airline air cargo services.

If you don’t know anyone where you are, contact a veterinarian or a licensed boarding facility. Most people who work with animals will understand the stress of the situation and will do anything they can to help reunite you with your best friend.

Know the pet import regulations of your country

If your pet is flying (or driving) internationally, it will need a new health certificate. The health certificate you intended to use may no longer be valid as many certificates expire in 3-10 days.

Arrange for someone to take your pet to a licensed veterinarian for the certificate.

If your pet was restricted due to health reasons, make sure the person left in charge of your pet understands that care may be needed before your pet will be allowed to travel. 

This party may need to use your pet’s health insurance to get the proper vaccinations or care required before boarding the plane. If your pet is not currently covered by health insurance, you can get a free quote  here

Make sure your pet’s crate is airline compliant

Your pet’s crate should be large enough for your pet to move around, but small enough to fit in the cargo space. Check the International Air Transport Association website for specific information regarding the appropriate size. Be aware that you will pay a cargo fee based on the weight of the animal and the weight of the crate.

Pick your flight carefully

Your pet may undergo stress during the journey home. To make the trip as stress-free as possible, find flights that are nonstop. If your pet is traveling through high temperature regions, consider booking overnight flights. Be aware that most airlines won’t allow pets in the cargo hold if the temperature exceeds 85 degrees F (30 degrees C) or drops below 45 degrees F (7 degrees C). 

pet in crate offloaded from aircraft

Prepare for take-off

Ask your caregiver to make sure proper care is taken by the airline before leaving your pet in their care. Ask your overseas helper to take care before leaving your pet at the airport. Ask them to double-check that the cargo hold is pressure and temperature controlled. Ask them to make sure that the your pet and its crate are correctly identified. Ask your helper to make sure your pet has enough food and water to last the trip. 

Hire a transport agent

Consider hiring the services of a pet transport company.

If you are not able to find an individual you trust with the task of transporting your pet, hire professionals for the job. Ask for recommendations for a pet transport company in the area or search for a licensed agent at IPATA.org. These transporters know the international requirements for unaccompanied pet travel and will make sure your animal arrives home safely.

dog with owner at the airport

Even though being separated from your beloved pet may cause you to panic, know that millions of unaccompanied pets travel safely each year. Prepare for the unexpected emergency and, in case something happens, you what to do when you must leave your pet behind.

Kristina Marshall is a stay-at-home blogger. After having kids, she began sharing some of her diy tricks for around the house with people in the community. She then started answering some questions on Yahoo and Quora, and now she writes full articles on tips for around the house, lifestyle tips and more.


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