When you start thinking about this coming winter, you might begin plotting an escape from the cold and snow to a better climate. Doing so for more than a one or two week vacation would make you a snowbird.
But if pet ownership is a part of your lifestyle, before you pick up and go somewhere else for a month or more, you need to consider what you'll do with your favorite furry or feathery family member.
Pets are a very important part of your life. In addition to helping reduce anxiety and stress and lower blood pressure and cholesterol, they can also increase fitness and mental wellness for their owners.
If you decide to spend a winter season snowbirding, you will have to make some possibly difficult decisions about what to do with your pets.
Snowbirding is different from taking a brief vacation. Most people who venture south during the winter as “snowbirds” leave their primary residence for at least a month or two (and often more).
There's a lot to consider depending on your pet or service animal's age and size, where you'll be staying (and any rules that may apply), and more.
Your decision about what to do with your pets will likely come down to two options—leaving them in the care of someone else while you're away for the winter or bringing them with you.
Let's take a look at the nuances of both choices. With either, you must see that all vaccination and rabies shots are up to date for everyone's safety and wellbeing.
Leaving Your Pets in the Care of Others
If you are particularly fond of your pets, leaving them behind for a few months might create stress for you and them.
However, it's quite possible that leaving them behind would be the best choice based on your circumstances.
If you decide to leave your animals behind, there are logistical issues you would need to consider. First and foremost would be finding someone you can entrust with their welfare.
Leaving Your Pets With a Friend or Relative
It would probably be your best option if you could find a friend or relative ready and willing to accept that kind of responsibility.
Along with paying for your pet's typical expenses, you should plan on some form of financial compensation to offset the cost of caring for your pets.
The primary benefit of this choice would most likely be your friend or relative's familiarity with the nuances of your pet. This may be a win-win option for someone who loves animals or doesn't have their own pet but enjoys their company.
Enlisting the Services of a Professional Pet-Sitter
If finding a friend or relative to help isn't an option, you would need to find a “pet sitting service” that could care for your pet or pets while you are away.
The primary benefit of this option would be that professional pet sitters and kennels know how to care for pets. The downside to this option is two-fold.
First, if you take your pet to stay with someone else, your pets might initially struggle with their new surroundings. As part of your family, you might also find it stressful to leave your pets with strangers.
Second, the cost of a pet-sitting service might be high – especially if you'll be gone for a few months. Plus, you would still be responsible for providing money for food and medicine.
If you don't like the idea of taking your pets away from home, you might be able to find a solution that allows your pets to stay at home. This would certainly eliminate some of the stress they might feel from separation anxiety.
If you played your cards right, you might be able to roll house sitting into a combination of home and pet sitting for one fee. You likely have animal lovers who run pet sitting services in your area, or you can use an app like Rover to find a pet (and house) sitter.
Snowbirding With Your Pets
Logistically and for the benefit of you and your animals, keeping the family together during the winter could be the best solution. It would certainly eliminate the possibility of any separation anxiety you and your pets could experience.
If you take your pets with you, you need to get organized and plan ahead – especially if you don't own your southern snowbird home.
It would be a big mistake to assume that pets are welcome in rental properties. Many properties simply don't allow pets (other than legal service or emotional support animals).
Others may have a pet policy that limits sizes and breeds and others that charge high (and often non-refundable) fees.
Here are a few other things you would need to consider.
Traveling with pets can be a challenge. If you were to drive to your southern destination, it would undoubtedly lessen travel complications as long as your pets do well in a car and you can find pet friendly hotels for overnight stays.
If you were to fly or take a train, taking your pets along becomes a more challenging issue.
First, you would likely have to pay travel fees of more than $100 each way for your pets. Also, you would have to purchase a specific type of pet carrier to keep them safe while traveling.
Some airlines also have animal policies that limit animal travel to small carry-on pets only or require large service animals to be muzzled during the entire flight.
As part of the process, you might have to secure a health certificate or a training certificate in the case of service animals. These could also come with an additional cost.
Canadian snowbirds and other travelers from foreign countries coming to the U.S. can find government regulations and additional information on the U.S. Department of State website here.
To learn more about the types of pets allowed and what's involved with a few popular airlines, check out:
- Pet Travel Information on Delta Airlines
- American Airline's Pet Travel Assistance
- Southwest's Pet Policy
Taking Pet Age and Medical Issues Into Account
If your pets are elderly or are dealing with any medical issues, you'll want to take extra steps to ensure they're kept safe.
Consider obtaining extra medications from your family vet and ensure you can access their prescriptions through a pharmacy around your travel destination or have them shipped to you.
You would also want to find a vet who can provide continuity of care in your winter location. If possible, you can request a referral from your family vet. Absent that option, you would want to find a vet with good references when you reach your destination.
If you do this, you must remember to get a copy of your pet's medical records for the new vet. It will save them time while they're trying to get to know your “family members.”
What Else to Carry When Traveling with Animals
- Pet has identification tags with up-to-date information and consider a microchip implant for a dog or cat
- Up to date color photo of your animal and their ID tag
- Pet's health documents
- Emergency veterinary service locations and numbers along your travel route
- Flea, tick, and heartworm preventives
- Pet first aid kit
- Bottled water and travel water dish
- Extra pet equipment and supplies – leashes, collars, toys, food, etc.
- Grooming tools
- Absorbent pads, cloths, and cleaning supplies
- Pet seat or harness for vehicle travel
- Comforts from home – blanket, bed, favorite toys, etc.
Making the Best Choice
Since your pets are part of the family, it will be a very personal decision. With that said, we would recommend that you let two things be your guide to making the right decision.
The first consideration would be the emotional attachment you have to your pets. If they really are part of your “emotional” family, all interested parties would be better off staying together.
The other thing you should consider would be the length of your snowbird stay. Should it only be for a month or two, either option could be feasible.
If you intend for your snowbird migration to last more than two months, the best decision may be to keep your pets with you (even if family or friends agree to care for them). It would certainly eliminate the chances of emotional distress and separation anxiety or burdening someone you care about.
If you are a snowbird facing this issue every year, consider making your choice and sticking with it each winter unless your circumstances change. No matter what you choose, you and your pets will get used to the process each year.