As a resident of Vancouver Island, sooner or later you may need take your dog or cat on a ferry trip. Here are several tips to make the sailing go smoothly when you are taking your pet on the ferry:
1 – Keep vaccinations up to date
Prior to travelling, make sure that your pet is up to date on their vaccinations and parasite control. Taking an active interest in prevention against diseases and parasites that may be lurking at the ferry areas or your destination is important. Be extra vigilant when transporting puppies and kittens who have not received their complete set of vaccines as they are most at risk. If you are unsure which vaccines are necessary, check with your veterinarian prior to departure.
2 – Take your dog for a walk prior to boarding
Prior to embarking, take your dog for a short walk to allow them to urinate and defecate. Most BC Ferry terminals have a designated pet area for this purpose. Keep in mind that all dogs are required to be kept on a leash around the terminal as well as on the ferry itself. In order to mitigate the risk of heat stroke, be sure to seek out shady spots while waiting for the ferry, especially when the vessel is delayed. Keep in mind that much of the ferry terminal is paved which can overheat a dog’s paws so try and spend the bulk of your time on the grass. You are obliged to clean up any excrement your dog leaves behind to help keep the terminal area tidy. Cats and other small creatures are required to be carried in a secure pet carrier throughout the terminal area and on board.
3 – No large meals immediately prior to travel
Pets that consume a large amount of food or water prior to travelling are more likely to experience motion sickness and a need to eliminate during the trip. Depending on your pet’s regular meal time and the time of day that you travel, it may be best to delay feeding until after the ferry trip. It is ideal to withhold food for approximately 12 hours prior to travel, however young kittens or puppies should not be excessively fasted as they are prone to hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar).
4 – Combat motion sickness
Motion sickness is common in younger animals and is often outgrown. Signs of motion sickness include whining, listlessness, shaking, lethargy, excessive salivation, dry heaving, vomiting, and diarrhoea. If your dog or cat has previously displayed severe signs of motion sickness when travelling and does not seem to have outgrown it, speak to your veterinarian. There are medications available to help relieve nausea and prevent vomiting.
5 – Reduce anxiety
Dogs or cats who travel infrequently may become scared and anxious. Reduce anxiety by helping your pet feel as comfortable as possible. If travelling by car, allow your pet to get used to being in the car prior to ferry travel. For walk-on passengers, allow your pet to get accustomed to the carrier. Bringing a familiar blanket or toy along on the journey can help pets feel at ease. Dog or cat pheromone sprays can help to have a calming effect on anxious pets. For extremely stressed pets, prescription medications are available but these should be used sparingly. Talk to your veterinarian if you have concerns regarding your pet’s anxiety.
6 – Bring water
Make sure to pack a water bottle containing an appropriate amount of water for the size of your pet. Water is especially important to prevent dehydration on a hot day whether your pet is left in the car or is kept in the designated pet area on board. Allowing your dog or cat to drink small quantities of water can also help to relieve motion sickness.
The above tips will apply to passengers travelling with a vehicle as well as walk-on passengers. Depending on how you chose to transport yourself and your pet, there will be some differences once on board the BC Ferry.
What to expect during the crossing
Pets will not be permitted in the passenger areas on board and must remain below on the car deck. This is due to Health and Safety regulations prohibiting animals in food service areas as well as the risks animals can pose to passengers such as injury and allergies.
Travelling with a car
If you’re travelling with a car, your pets will stay in the vehicle. While your pets remain in the car, you will be free to enjoy the passenger amenities on board. The upper car deck will often remain open during the ferry crossing (except on Northern Route crossings) and you are encouraged to go down and check on your pets to make sure they are doing OK. Recent changes to BC Ferry policies state that passengers parked on the lower car deck of many of the vessels are required to leave their vehicle to go to the upper decks until the lower car deck reopens at the end the crossing. When paying your ferry fare at the kiosk, ask if you can be parked on the upper car deck so that you will be able to check on your pet part-way through the crossing. Sometimes staff are able to accommodate this request.
Walk-on passengers will board the ferry via the vehicle deck for easy access the pet area. Pedestrian passengers are given priority boarding before cars, however if you are late then you will be required to wait until all vehicles have been loaded before walking on. Walk-on passengers will also be given priority to disembark at the destination.
Most ferries will require you to remain in the pet area with your pet throughout the crossing. The pet area is a basic facility containing a seating area, waste bags, and a garbage bin. It is best to provide your own water and bowl. Dogs must remain on leashes while cats and other small critters must be secure in their carrier. You will need to dress appropriately for the weather as the pet areas, while covered, are located on the car deck.
If travelling on a Northern Route crossing, the car deck will be closed during the journey and you cannot stay in the pet area. Kennels are provided for pets, but you must provide your own lock. Passengers will have access to standard passenger facilities on board and can visit their pet during designated visiting hours.
While travelling with your pet on the ferry can be stressful at times, preparation is the key to a successful trip. Consideration for the above tips should help you and your pet feel at ease. If you have any additional concerns about travelling with your pet, don’t hesitate to contact your veterinary team for advice.