We empathize with the pet owners who are faced with the tough decision to bring their pets abroad. But is Thailand pet friendly? Here’s a look into Thailand’s pet culture to help you decided if bringing your pet is the best choice.
We made the sobering decision to bring along our tabby cat, MooShu, but left our American Bully, Oakley, behind with family. We later agreed that this was the right decision because of his size and breed. Here’s a look at seven major deciding factors that influenced our choice to keep our cat but leave our dog in the US.
Thailand’s medical care is up to par with Western standards for both people and animals. Modern medical pet care is readily available in cities and large towns. While services will vary across facilities, it’s possible to receive 24 hour emergency assistance, operations, lab work, medical treatment, vaccinations, and general exams.
We had a scare with our cat in the middle of the night a few months after moving to Chiang Mai, and another mishap a year later. But much to our relief, we received immediate medical care from English-speaking doctors. And the cost? About 10% of what similar procedures cost in the US. Nice!
Street Dogs and Cats
After long observing Chiang Mai’s Old City streets, as well as traveling to over a dozen other cities throughout Thailand, one thing is unavoidable: street dogs and cats. They are everywhere, roaming neighborhoods, lounging outside of temples, and skittering through alleys and across dirt roads.
We can’t say for certain these cats and dogs are homeless. It’s evident that Thais throw them scraps of food throughout the day, but they aren’t cared for at the same level as cats and dogs are back in the USA. Many are pretty scrappy looking, complete with matted fur, bad skin conditions, and kinky tails. They are also typically intact, so baby-rearing females and territorial males are the norm.
Strays are often curious about foreign leashed dogs but often mean no harm. In fact, sometimes they show no interest at all. But we wouldn’t go as far as saying that going for a dog walk is relaxing. There are definitely enough strays wandering around and we can never be sure which ones are aggressive.
We’ve watched a friend’s miniature Cocker Spaniel several times and have had good experiences taking her out for potty breaks. She’s a calm dog and there’s only been one minor confrontation out of all the times we’ve walked her in our neighborhood. One of our neighborhood’s aggressive little dogs charged us, but we scooped her up and chased the dog away.
We laugh at the thought of trying to do that with our old dog, Oakley, who is 85lbs! Although he’s not aggressive, what could we have done if a stray got too assertive and things started getting nasty? Ultimately, we recommend taking extra precautions when walking a large dog or a dog that tends to be more confrontational or upfront with others.
There are beautiful parks for people to take a stroll, have a picnic, and exercise. While some parks allow leashed dogs for walks, many park are not exclusively dog parks and do not allow dogs to roam free. There are also parks that do not allow dogs at all.
It will take some looking to find an area to safely unleash your dog and allow to play. However, Chiang Mai University, located just west of the Old City, hosts a dog friendly park where dogs can run around.
Pet food and supplies can be found in major stores, such as Tesco Lotus, Makro, and Big C. There are also many boutique pet shops. They typically offer a good variety of cat and dog food, including several familiar brands we’ve recognized from the US.
There are also plenty of toys, grooming items, and clothing for smaller dog breeds. In fact, there seems to an industry that caters entirely to the cuteness factor of little foo-foo dogs! On the flip side, it’s hard to find a good variety of big heavy bags of dog food, large collars, and strong chew toys for big dogs.
For specialty food for pets on a diet or with allergies, we recommend browsing the selection offered at some veterinarian offices.
Boarding and Kennels
A huge deciding factor for bringing our big dog was the availability of kennels or dog boarding facilities in Chiang Mai. We had plans to travel, but we couldn’t just leave our dog alone for two or three days like we can our cat.
Before we moved to Thailand in March 2013, we browsed the internet extensively for kennels in Chiang Mai. We found nothing. Nothing.
Even today with our cat, we have to ask our neighbors or friends to watch him while we are gone. It generally works out, but what if we didn’t have that kind of network? Talk about stress!
Since we’ve moved to Chiang Mai, a recent online search provided a dog kennel about 25 km northeast of Chiang Mai’s Old City called Lucky Dogs. We wish they started advertising online a year sooner!
Motorcycles are a popular way of getting around Thailand. As tempting as it might be (especially after watching the locals do it quite often), they are not a wise choice to transport a pet. We’ve been sickened by the sight and sound of a small dog falling off a motorbike floorboard, yelping as it was dragged by its collar that was still leashed to the handlebars.
We planned on riding a motorbike in Thailand, but bringing our big dog would have prompted us to buy a car. In a bind, or for short distances, we might have found a songthaew or tuk-tuk that allowed pets on board. But in the case of longer or more isolated road trips, or even emergencies, we would’ve needed a car. Unfortunately, a car is a much larger investment than a motorbike and an inconvenience in a city like Chiang Mai.
Public transportation that allows pets is very limited. We’ve also looked into train rides with animals, but they are only allowed on third-class trains. No beds, no AC, just hot air blowing in the windows and bench seating.
As for flying, Thai Airways once allowed small pets on board if you booked ahead and paid an extra fee. Unfortunately, they have since reduced their service from pets flying in-cabin to flying as checked baggage only. Breed restrictions are also in place and tickets cost a whopping $238 USD compared to an affordable 360 baht ($12 USD) when we flew our cat in-cabin back in March 2013.
Hotels and Housing
Hotels and guesthouses are a dime a dozen in Thailand, but it takes a bit of searching to find pet friendly hotel. Luckily, our friends have done extensive traveling throughout Thailand with their dog and put together a great list of pet friendly hotels throughout the country.
We wish we’d had this list when we first moved to Thailand! When we flew our cat from the US to Thailand, his flight was delayed because of a snowstorm. Our original pet friendly hotel in Bangkok was fully booked for the next night. We eventually snagged another pet friendly hotel, but only after a stressful search.
Be aware that some hotels unintentionally or incorrectly advertise themselves as pet friendly, only to turn you and your pet away. Make sure to always call ahead to avoid an awkward situation. Also, they may include an extra non-refundable pet fee. Always be sure to clean up after your pets, both inside and outside of the hotel room, to make sure hotels will continue providing a pet friendly service.
“No Pets Allowed” are not just limited to hotels and guesthouses. While house hunting in Chiang Mai, we learned that condos don’t allow pets at all and few serviced apartments do, typically upon management approval. Although it’s not uncommon for pet owners to sneak their cat or dog into the facility, there’s the risk of getting caught. We tried that at our first serviced apartment in Chiang Mai and got kicked out two weeks later.
Our best advice is to rent a privately owned house or townhouse and let the landlord decide on an individual basis.
Is Thailand Pet Friendly?
We think Thailand is suitable for small pets that are content with living indoors. However, we understand that many pets are seen as members of the family and owners would do anything to keep their pet healthy, safe, and in a happy home, no matter what country they travel to.
We are glad we made the choice to bring our cat and not our big dog. As much as we love and miss Oakley, we know he’s happy in a big yard chasing squirrels back in the US with family. Heck, he couldn’t take Thailand’s heat anyways!