By Erin Carey, Sailing Magazine

The cruising life is difficult enough, with confined space and endless maintenance. Throw an animal into the mix aboard a sailboat and cruisers are presented with a whole raft of additional challenges. Litter trays and fur balls, seasickness and vet bills; these are just some of the obstacles pet owners face. 

Sailing with Sandy PawsPet owners feel a sense of loyalty toward their four-legged friends. After all, they are members of the family and for some, leaving them behind is not an option. 

Stephanie Colotti Ferrie also felt very strongly about bringing her two Labradors along for the adventure.

“Having dogs was a long-term commitment our family had chosen, and we’d had both Emmie and Summer since they were puppies. We couldn’t imagine leaving them behind,” she said.

Sailing with dogs

Neither of her dogs had ever stepped foot on a boat until they moved aboard their 44-foot monohull Serendipity. Lucky for them, it was a smooth transition.

“Our dogs love being with us 24/7. At home, they would often be alone while we ran our four kids around. Now they get to spend so much more time with us, and they clearly love it,” she said.

It wasn’t such a smooth transition for Sharon Fisher and her cat Mollie aboard Spindrift. She too wanted to bring her pet along, but she had a hard time trying to help her kitty adapt to boat life. In the end, they had to stop cruising.“We totally failed at getting our cat on board. She was so sick. She was always vomiting, unable to adjust to the movement of the boat—it was horrible. In the end, she was part of the reason we had to stop sa iling,” Sharon said.

For others, their dogs seem to find them as they go sailing.

“A feral Tunisian cat rescued us,” said Nikki Fox Elenbaas. “When we pushed off in 2016 aboard Grateful, our rule was ‘no pets.’ We thought they would be too much hassle. Yet, when we found Bumpkin, she was injured and alone. Her brother had been killed, and her mother was nowhere to be found. We took her home with the firm plan of helping her recover from her injuries and gain some weight. That was 18 months ago.”

Staying healthy while sailing with dogs

Sailing with dogsPets that travel aboard boats face an increased risk of health issues compared to their suburban friends.  For the safety of your pet, it’s essential you consult with a vet before you set sail. It’s also important to ensure you are capable of some basic medical care for your animal, should you be cruising in remote areas or your animal is injured underway. While vets are accessible in many locations, you still need to bring along supplies to treat common injuries such as coral cuts on paws, skin and ear infections and dehydration. Pet first-aid kits are not unlike our own, and owners should bring antibiotics, antihistamine, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatories along with heartworm and flea treatments.

Seasickness is a genuine problem among some pets. While most of the pet owners I spoke to had some experience with their pet getting seasick, it wasn’t all doom and gloom.

Sailing with dogsThere are several options available in terms of seasickness and anti-anxiety medication, and it’s important to follow the dosage recommendations. Providing plenty of comfort and reassurance underway is also necessary. Animals are often frightened when the boat is pitching and rolling.

Cats have been sailing aboard boats for centuries. Revered as a good luck charm, they were also used to rid ships of mice. It seems they don’t require the same level of exercise as man’s best friend, saving multiple trips to shore each day. Kach and Jonathan Howe of Two Monkeys Travel Group live aboard their monohull Empress with two cats, Captain Ahab and Zissou. “Our sailboat is basically a 37-foot jungle gym for them, if the mast were a material they could get their claws into, they would have climbed to the top of it by now,” said Kach.

Then there is the issue of ensuring your pet doesn’t fall overboard and teaching him how to clamber back onto the boat if he does. Owners should also be mindful of stray animals when traveling ashore, as the incidence of mange and other transmittable diseases are common in third-world countries. 

Pets are also susceptible to sunburn just like us, so ensure you protect them from the UV rays with hypo-allergenic sunblock. While zinc oxide is an effective sunscreen for humans, it’s toxic for dogs. White dogs with short hair are more prone to sunburn, so they need sunscreen on sun-sensitive areas such as noses, lips, ears, groin and belly. Buy a sunscreen that is suitable prior to departure.

Doing their business

What is often most taxing on pet owners is the numerous trips to shore each day to allow pets to relieve themselves. While there are techniques owners can try in the hope to train their pets to relieve themselves on the boat, many dogs do not feel comfortable doing so unless they absolutely have to, such as when they are on a long passage. All the dog owners I interviewed agreed that while being forced to take their pooches to shore was usually at inconvenient times, such as first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening, the pros outweighed the cons. They all mentioned meeting many interesting people, both fellow cruisers and locals alike. They made new friends and explored more of the area because of their regular trips ashore. And they too had an excuse to exercise. Piper steadfastly refused to go on deck. He hadn’t learned to go sailing with dogs.

Sailing with dogs“Perhaps it was because he was kennel trained at home, he now considers the whole boat his kennel,” Dawn said.  During long passages at sea, he will hold as long as possible, but will finally pee after 24 hours at sea and do his business after 40 hours, after that he’ll do both once a day, usually at night.”

Kelly Porter and Nick Johnson’s pup Arthur lives aboard Satori, their 44-foot Morgan, and is less than five pounds soaking wet. Arthur is so small that he travels with his doting parents in a backpack. However, it’s not so much the size of the animal but his level of stubbornness.

“We’ve tried to train Arthur with a pee pad,” said Kelly, “but he is so stubborn and will not go consistently. We even tried with real grass, but he just used it as a bed.” It’s hard to go sailing with dogs.

If dogs present toileting issues, cats are easy. While Capt. Kach had a soft spot for ginger cats, and the little kitten bared a striking resemblance to Capt. Ahab, who they already had on board. After a brief adjustment period, the two cats bonded, and the pair are now inseparable. As far as toileting goes, Kach seemed to find this aspect much easier than those with dogs.

Keep a litter tray on board“We have a litter tray on board which both cats are happy to share, and sourcing litter for their tray has been easy. I only ran out once and had to resort to sand from the beach. Luckily there’s always plenty of that around,” Kach said.

International sailing

“Cruisers have to meet the regulations of the country they’re traveling to and also the country they are leaving from. We met with the U.S. Department of Agriculture vet for full certification and then sent the paperwork to a government vet in the BVI. We found this part of the planning process very costly,” she added.

Email vets directly for feesStephanie has found emailing vets directly to be the best way to gain knowledge on fees and requirements for future destinations. Alternatively, some large veterinary offices provide a service where a travel specialist conducts all the research on behalf of the pet’s owners, ensuring they meet all of the countries requirements before departure. It’s imperative that you do your homework if you’re going sailing with dogs.

Gear and chow

Safety gear is another issueSafety gear for your pet is another issue you will need to address before you leave, ensuring you have a correctly fitting harness, tether and life jacket for your pooch or kitty.

Many benefits to sailing with dogsThere are many benefits to cruising with a pet. There’s the joy they provide as they frolic and romp along deserted beaches. They dart this way and that, trying to take in all the new sights, tastes and smells at once. They are also entertaining. Moreover, there is the company and companionship, affection and unconditional love.

Overall the payoffs seem to be worth the complications and expenses for most. 

–Sailing Magazine, Sept. 19, 2019

Let’s Go Sailing with Dogs

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