FAQ: On the Ferry Crossing with your Dog

My Mum is the risk assessor of the family. We’ve always joked that risk assessment should’ve been her vocation in life as she can think of every single eventuality. The logistics of getting humans abroad in their own vehicle is manic enough but getting dogs abroad as well is a whole different story. I think it is very fair to say that because Mum is constantly on lookout we seem to ‘smoothly’ and successfully to get two humans and two dappy dogs from point A in England to point B in central Portugal via cruise ferry every time.

My parents tend to travel on the Pont-Aven ferry with Brittany Ferries so I’d like to think that other people can use the information below for their own sailings. If anyone has any questions about taking your dog abroad, particularly the sailing, then please contact me and I’ll add it to this post with an answer. Here’s a picture of a Pont-Aven cruise ferry taken from the Brittany Ferries website.

It’s not my picture. I don’t own a helicopter. Please don’t sue me.

Here are some of the things that were keeping Mum awake at night:

  • What if my dog’s microchip details are incorrect?

Mum spent a whole day worrying about the microchips for the dogs. She needed to change Scrappy’s details but we needed written consent from Scrappy’s original owner who had since moved far away. In the end Mum called Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and they found out who had the ‘key’ for Scrappy’s microchip, which was Petlog. Mum then called Petlog and they resolved the address problem for a small fee. Speak to your vet about these kind of issues if you have more concerns as the microchips need to tally up with the pet passports.

  • What vaccinations do they need and what are pet passports?

You will need to speak to your vet but take a look at this article and hopefully it will help you out.

  • Does my dog need to wear a muzzle on the ferry?

The ferry service we used said that dogs must wear muzzles when travelling from your vehicle up to the kennels. They don’t need muzzles on when being walked on the dog deck. As to whether this is enforced depends entirely on whoever controls the elevator up to the dog deck. On once occasion it was a scary French lady who simply wouldn’t let you into the lift without a muzzle and on another occasion we had a young French lad who looked terrified of the dogs and didn’t challenge anyone.

You might think ‘I can’t bare to put a muzzle on my little snuggles’ but when you’re in a lift with three fully grown rottweilers, you’ll be glad that the rule was enforced.

  • What are the kennels like? Someone said that they were open air! Ahh!

photo (2)

Someone told Mum that they were open air. That was enough for her to have visions of Scrappy jumping out and into the sea and drowning. This also lead into the thought that the dogs would get too cold or even too hot. It turned out that they were all enclosed inside and they were a good temperature (not too cold and not too hot). Some dog owners actually sleep on the bench outside the cages because they can’t bare to sleep without their pets.

  • Does the ferry service provide any bedding for dogs? Should I bring their bedding with me? What about water and food bowls?

Yes, bring your dogs bedding otherwise it’s a cold flat floor for them to sleep on. It’s a stainless steel floor so please don’t forget some bedding! They’ll probably relax a lot more if they have some home comforts as well. You will need to bring food bowls as well as only water bowls are provided. See below for an example. Poppy has her best ‘don’t… leave… me…’ face on.

  • What if they need to go to the toilet when they’re in the kennel?

Poppy is so fussy she will hold it in until she can find somewhere very private, so Mum spent a lot of time worrying about Poppy’s toilet habits. It boiled down to one thing: if your dog poops in it’s cage then you are expected to clean up after your dog. Fortunately dogs won’t tend to poop where they sleep so you should be okay. The same goes for when you take your dog for a walk on Deck 10. The dogs will be expected to do their number one-and-two business straight onto the deck. The crew will provide plastic bags on the side and will hose down the deck every morning. I would strongly advise against being beneath Deck 10 when this happens.

  • Does my dog need to be on a lead the whole time? 

On the ferry your dog will need to be on a lead when going from the car to the Deck where the kennels are and upon return. Whilst walking your dog on the deck they do not need to be on a lead, but I would highly recommend that you put them on a lead as I seriously doubt they will stop the ferry to collect a dog over aboard. Of course, once your dog is inside its kennel they will not need to be on a lead.

  • Where do I walk my dogs? Can I walk them at 4am in the morning?

Yes, of course you can walk your dog at 4am at the morning if you really want to but you’ll probably wake up every single dog in the kennel block. You can access the kennels at any time provided that you have a card pass (one per dog, given to owners before they board). There is a whole deck allocated to dog walking, which was Deck 10 on my parent’s ferry. There are no rules on whether dogs have to be on leads or not, but Scrappy was always on a lead because he’s so naughty. Oh wait…

“Have you seen Scrappy?”

This is a photo of Deck 10, the dog walking deck. There are only steps between Deck 9 and 10, so you will need to carry your dog if they are not very mobile.

This is to the area to the right of the above photo.

photo 2This is the centre walkway connecting the two areas.

photo 1

The dog kennels are both through the door on the right or through the barriers and at the end. There are two lots of dog kennels, both pretty much the same.
photo (1)

  • What if the weather is bad when we’re sailing?

What if the weather is bad when you’re at home and the dog wants a walk? The chances are that your dog is smart enough to not want to get wet and so will hold it in and not ask for a walk, but sometimes if they’ve gotta go then you’ve gotta go. My parents didn’t have bad weather on their sailing but I can imagine that if it is so bad that it poses a risk to safety then they will not allow people out on deck, so it’ll be just tough and your dogs will have to cross their little legs.

  • What if someone breaks into the kennels and steals my precious snuckums (and then throws them overboard)?

Unless your dog is a yappy shih tzu then I promise I won’t throw it overboard. Err… what I mean is… you get a paper access card that only dog owners get. You get one per dog. On the bright side, if someone stole your dog then they either throw it overboard (I don’t know what that would achieve) or they’d hide it somewhere on the ferry. All you’d need to do is search the entire ferry, easy.

  • When we first get on the boat how do I get my dog to the kennels?

Dog owners are first on the ferry (they get their own queue) and must immediately take their dogs into the lift and up to the kennels on the top floors. Don’t forget your bedding! My parents normally do two trips up to the dog deck, first with the dogs and then with the bedding and food.

  • What if the other dogs on the ferry bark a lot or are nasty? What if Poppy or Scrappy get bitten? What if Poppy or Scrappy bark too much themselves?

It’s luck of the draw which kennel your dogs will get, sorry. When my parents made their sailing on the way over they were next to lots of barky dogs but on the way back it was very quiet. You might be able to negotiate a swap with someone else but who wants to be next to the yappy dog?

  • What happens when you arrive at Santander? Where can you walk the dogs as soon as they get off the boat? 

The arrival at Santander is fantastic. It used to be that you came out straight into the centre of Santander but now what they do is direct the cars along the coast and straight onto the motorway. In terms of places to stop, I would advise you to start making tracks and get at least half an hour away from Santander and you’ll find loads of little picnic kind of areas along the side of the road you can stop at.

  • What if they get eaten by a giant snake or attacked by wild dogs? Poppy and Scrappy don’t speak Portuguese so they’d have no chance against them!

It’s a chance you’ll have to take if you’re going to let your dogs off the lead. We had a few forests near us that we only walked the dogs in. For the first week or so we kept them on the lead then let them off later once we felt safer, but you never know who or what they’ll meet. We’ve not seen any wild dogs in Portugal, every dog was either on a lead or tied up. However, a wild boar with young babies is definitely going to be a bad day for you if your dog meets it.

Our dogs met lots of interesting creatures while they were out there. One was a genet and the other was a hoopoe. They’ve even met a raccoon! The genet ran away too fast for Scrappy to catch it and the hoopoe was high enough in the tree that Scrappy quickly lost interest.











  • What if the dogs get bitten? There are flees and mosquitos that will bite dogs. They might even get a tick infestation!

We spoke to our UK vet about this and she gave us some flee tablets that also put off mosquitos and ticks. We also bought our two dogs flea collars while we were in Portugal which were a little costly, about €20 each and they last for 6 months, but gave us a bit more reassurance. 

  • What else do I need to worry about?

There were countless of other things that Mum worried about, such as: the dogs escaping or getting stolen, one of them jumping into the swimming pool while it was empty, the journey being too long for them or them getting ill abroad. For these things you just need to take them in your stride and keep a close eye on them and know where your nearest qualified vet is.

Arriving in Portsmouth after three months abroad. We made it!

If you have any questions please e-mail me @ laura@myhomeinportugal.com. :)


    • WT
    • March 28, 2017

    Thanks a million – was worried about bringing my dogs on the boat – but much happier after reading this!

    1. Reply

      Hi, thanks for the feedback! Things have changed a little bit since I wrote this but not a whole much. Have a great trip!

    • Viv
    • May 21, 2017

    Hi Laura, so glad we stumbled across your site. it answered a lot of our questions and eased our concerns.
    Surprised Brittany ferries haven’t provided a link from their site.

    1. Reply

      Hi Viv, glad to hear! There have been some chances since I published this post. My parents did the journey again not too long ago, so I’ll see about making some changes to keep things up to date. Have a good journey!

  1. Reply

    Thank you so much for this Laura! It’s so helpful as we are booked on the Pont Aven to Santander for the first time next month & I was concerned about where the dogs will be housed & exercised, in addition to not being sure what to take (food, bowls, bedding etc). We now just have to worry about our African Grey parrot who will need to stay in the car for the crossing!

      • Laura
      • September 7, 2017

      Hi Nancy, thanks for posting! Things have changed a little bit since I wrote this blog post but not much. That’s amazing that you have a parrot you’re bringing over too, I hope that goes well! All the best.

    • Christine
    • September 20, 2017

    Hello Laura,
    We are in Portugal on our boat. Can we travel by car to Santander and take the ferry to UK. We have our pet passports. The vet will will prepare our paperwork ect. The airline s will not fit dogs to UK. We are extremely upset about that.

    1. Reply

      Hi Christine, thanks for posting! I’ve heard that TAP will transport dogs, but I’m not sure about that. Our dogs are starting to struggle with the ferry because of the stress and steps up to the dog area. We’re going to start driving from the UK through France, Spain and then into Portugal. It’s a long and more expensive journey but if it keeps the dogs calmer then we’ll do it.

  2. Reply

    Thank you for the advice
    We are taking 3 dogs with us on ferry to Santander
    2 pugs and our Deerhound
    Our dogs are allowed in our room with us which makes me feel better, the fact they are with us.
    Bit worried about muzzle for pugs, I have searched frantically and cannot find one.
    My pugs – all pug dogs have short muzzles and the thought of making the breathing more difficult is worrying me.
    Has anyone else ever used a ridiculous pug muzzle please?

    1. Reply

      Hi Jeannot, thanks for posting! In my parents experience, they’re getting stricter about muzzles but you’re right, the pug muzzles are ridiculous! Your poor pug would feel so embarrassed with one on, never mind you! You have to take a lift from where you park your vehicle up to the dog deck and there will be an attendant in the lift with you. It depends entirely on how strict the attendant is as to whether they insist on a dog muzzle. My parents have a muzzle for both our dogs but they will only put it on if the attendant insists and even then they’ll take it off as soon as they’re out of the lift (our dogs hate it, as would any dog not used to a muzzle). We will also wait until the bigger and more excitable go up in the lift first. I think because your dog is quite small you could get away without having a muzzle and just carrying your puggle.

      • anna
      • February 13, 2018

      Thanks Laura, Can you stay with your dog during this one hour please?
      Also someone said they had their dogs in the cabin with them. Is it possible not to use the kennels and keep them with you at all times please?

        • Laura
        • February 16, 2018

        Hi Anna, unfortunately you can’t stay with your dog. Yes there are dog cabins but they go fast, so book as far in advance as you can.

    • Claire
    • January 17, 2018

    We are considering taking our dog to Portugal, your blog made me laugh so much, it is very helpful. Your mother and mine would have made an excellent partnership. Thank you

    • Helaine
    • February 2, 2018

    I have read nearly of your blog now, the one that stands out is the ferry crossing !! the dogs going on a boat with out me scares the crap out of me ! my husband and son are going to do the drive from santander to the algarve so will be responsible for both dogs on and off the ferry, one is a mental cockerpoo and the other a nervous rescue dog who I doubt has ever been muzzled, how long do they have to have it on for as I may need to start getting her used to it now! also can you request that they are in the same kennel, Ava is pretty nervous and if shes seperated from Indie that may just tip her over the edge !

    1. Reply

      Hi Helaine! Thanks for commenting and reading my blog! It sounds like your husband and son are in for a fun road trip. I’ll help you out as best I can. Your dogs should be muzzled from the car, straight into an elevator that goes up and then opens on Deck 9 and then you take a short flight of steps up to Deck 10. You’ll take the steps up to the kennels and to where the dog exercise area is. From the car, it takes probably about 5 minutes max but this really does depend on the dogs mobility. The crew member operating the lift is normally very fast and efficient at getting people up and down the lift, so you won’t need to wait long. As you say one of your dogs is quite nervous, so perhaps wait until the big rush is over and then do everything at the dogs pace. Your dogs will be stressed out, there is nothing you can do to avoid this. In terms of kennels, we also put both our dogs in one large kennel together. What my parents do is book one large and one small kennel. They put the dogs in the large one (of course!) and then all their food and water bowls go in the small kennel. Don’t forget bedding!! If you like I can put you in touch with my folks, just drop me an e-mail at laura@myhomeinportugal.com. They’re in England right now :)

      1. Reply

        Oh, one other thing. When it comes to arriving in Santander you have to take your dogs down to the car ONE HOUR before docking. Make sure they go for a good walk around beforehand. I hope it all goes well! :)

    • Karen
    • February 11, 2018

    we would love to take our 1 year old staffie along to Portugal this year, but do we need to Spay her before?

      • Laura
      • February 16, 2018

      Hi Karen, I think certain staffie breeds are banned in Portugal because they’re consider dangeorous dogs. You’ll have to look further into it but I think you may need to do a DNA check and go from there. There is information online, just google it or speak to your local vet for information.

    • Tony
    • June 2, 2018

    Hi Laura thanks for this blog travelling to Santander from Plymouth shortly with the dog for the first time this is very helpful and reassuring

    1. Reply

      Hi Tony, no problem! I hope your trip goes smoothly :)

    • Natalie McGillivary
    • July 18, 2018

    My parents are on the overnight ferry from Santander but have had to leave their dog behind. She’s at the vets for at least 2 weeks. Apparently, whatever jab the Portuguese vet said the dog (Oura) didn’t need, the Spanish vet disagreed.
    I need to look into options for bringing her back. The vet has all the paperwork.
    My dad can’t go back and bring her to the UK as a foot passenger.
    Do you have any ideas?
    Apparently, some Brits bring dogs back regularly in cases such as this? No idea where to start.
    Thanks for any advice…

    1. Reply

      Hey Natalie, thanks for commenting! You can contact a guy called Bill who may be able to help – his website is http://vanmanbill.com. He normally transports furniture but he also transports animals, such as your parents dog. Check out his website and e-mail him/call him. We’ve used his services a few times now and he’s very reliable. If he can’t help then maybe at least he can offer some advice. Good luck!

    • Denise
    • July 13, 2019

    Great advise, thanks for answering most of my questions in your blog above! 1 more question… i have 2 chihuahuas and a pug, do brittany ferries let you put them in 1 large kennel together? Or is it a bun fight for the best kennel when you get onboard?

    1. Reply

      Hey Denise, sorry for the delay! The kennels are allocated, so you won’t need to fight other dog owners over the best kennels. I believe because you have 3 dogs you’ll have to book for x3 kennels but you don’t *have to* separate your dogs. They don’t regulate it. We tend to book x1 large kennel and x1 small. Our two medium sized dogs go together in the large kennel and we store they food etc. in the small one. I hope that helps and my response isn’t too late. You can also phone Brittany Ferries and ask them, and then you’d know for sure. Safe travels!

Leave a Comment