By the time they walk down the aisle, many couples have already made a significant commitment together. Yep, we’re talking about adopting a pet! Whether you’re a dog family or cat people, there’s no denying the special connections we develop with our four-legged friends. They’re more than just “pets” — they become family members.
So naturally, some couples can’t imagine their wedding day without their beloved companions. So if great-aunt Marge—whom you’ve only met once—gets to attend, why not Fido?
Having pets at your wedding can provide comfort on a day filled with nerves, and it certainly makes for some sweet photo ops! But it does involve additional logistics to ensure the safety of your pets and your guests — so is it worth inviting the fur babies?
We asked wedding experts to chime in, and the resounding answer is clear: yes, but with reservations. Here are their top tips to ensure it’s a stress-free experience for all.
Know your pet’s experience.
Above all else, you need to consider your pet’s personality and its capacity for new settings, particularly with a lot of stimulation. You don’t want to put your pup in a stressful situation so that you can get a cute picture!
“Being in a big crowd and mostly separated from their owners is stressful for most dogs,” explains Maureen Cotton of The Soulful Wedding. “As a wedding officiant, I have seen so many stressed-out dogs at weddings and the couple is usually unaware. Your pet needs to be socialized around big crowds and okay with care from strangers to enjoy the day.”
If your pet isn’t comfortable in busy environments, that doesn’t mean you can’t get your sweet photo op, as Cotton suggests. “If you are not sure, treat them to a great pet sitter for the weekend instead,” she says. “Plan to involve them in an engagement photoshoot to celebrate their special place in your lives, instead of risking a stressful day.”
Think about how you’ll feel.
You also need to consider how it’ll affect you to have your pet(s) nearby, even if they are generally good in crowds. Will it lift your spirits, or will it push you into parent mode?
Janice Carnevale of Bellwether Events encourages couples to “consider your mindset. Is having your pet around a true source of comfort? Or will you be additionally stressed if you are worried about how the pet is feeling or behaving on the wedding day?”
You and your partner shouldn’t feel tied to your pet’s care on your big day — otherwise, you’ll find yourself missing out on great memories while checking in on your friend or taking them for potty breaks.
Be proactive to mitigate risks.
Every venue has a distinct set of rules for bringing pets onsite, so that should be your starting point. Kelley Nudo of Momental Designs confirms that “[t]he first step is to ask the venue if pets are permitted.”
“Understand the liability that comes with bringing an animal to a venue,” adds Meadows Event Center’s Patricha Pike. “Keep in mind there may be guests who are allergic. Check with the venue manager regarding pet policies, including additional cleaning costs.”
If all is a go, Nudo recommends taking your pet to visit the venue before the wedding. This will “allow them to explore and get comfortable with this new environment, so it is not quite as unfamiliar to them on the wedding day,” she explains.
If having your pet at your wedding is a non-negotiable, be sure to consider this in the early stages of planning as you select the right venue!
Hire a pet sitter.
If having your pet onsite is a must, so is a pet sitter. Not only will it free you up from constant care, but it will also ensure your pet is in good hands, whether it’s stressed, hungry, or tired.
Caroline Robert of Caroline’s Collective confirms as much, sharing: “When it comes to pets on the wedding day, I highly recommend hiring a pet sitter to take charge of your pet for the day. Since the pet often needs to be taken out and eventually taken home, this task is best not delegated to a friend or family member that is important to the day.”
There are many professional pet sitting companies, including those that exclusively serve weddings. However, if you already have a dog sitter on call, make sure to provide clear instructions as suggested by Pawfect for You’s Veronica Silghigian.
“I recommend they create a written timeline for them to follow,” she says. “Are there any transport instructions? Do you have an outfit that the pet needs to be dressed in? If the pet will be present for the ceremony, where will they stand or sit during the ceremony? At the front with the couple or with the sitter in a seat? Be detailed so the sitter isn’t asking a lot of questions during the day.”
Pack the necessities.
Even if you have a sitter onsite, it’s up to you and your partner to ensure your furry friend has everything they need to feel as comfortable as possible. Only you know which blanket calms them down or which toy gets their attention!
As Rock Paper Coin’s Katie Mast reminds, “packing a bag for yourself is stressful enough but don’t forget you need one for your pet too! Food, bed, toys, snacks, water, and a crate might be all things you need to bring onsite for your pet!”
And don’t be afraid to overpack. It’s better for your onsite sitter to have more treats or toys than they need than not enough!
Show up early.
It’s best to give your pet some time to acclimate to the venue before guests show up and cause a stir. Dogs, in particular, may need to blow off some steam before they’re calm enough to sit for photos, so pad the timeline accordingly.
“It’s always best the pet arrives a little before portraits so they can walk around and release some energy before being photo-ready,” explains wedding photographer Jessica Feiden. “Make sure to share the timeline with your dog sitter and discuss logistics with your wedding photographer and planner.”
When it comes to pet care and timing, communication is key to ensure you can check off all of the boxes while still putting your little one’s well-being first.
Give them something to do.
Most animals don’t do well when they have nothing to do. In fact, boredom can cause some pups to act out — so give them a job instead!
“If you have your pet attend the wedding, include them in the ceremony by having the flower girl or ring bearer walk them down the aisle!” suggests Sandy Brooks of Timeless Event Planning. “Just be sure to plan who will be watching them throughout the ceremony.”
Or, if you don’t want to worry about your dog in a busy ceremony space, consider switching up your first look as Megan Estrada of NSWE Events recommends: “We’re all about the first look … but how about trying it with your pet? We have a strong suspicion they’ll be pretty happy to see you, dolled up or not! Just make sure Fido has clean paws before he jumps on your dress, please.”
Skip the reception.
Whether your fur baby has a role in your ceremony or not, industry pros agree that the reception is not a place for animals.
“While dogs enjoy the ceremony, they will likely be overwhelmed by crowds and loud music at the reception,” shares The Wilburton’s Tajlei Levis. “Ideally, have a pet sitter bring your pet back to your guest room, or a familiar place. They won’t care if they miss the festivities.”
Angie Johnston of Sapphire Celebrations agrees, adding that “[t]he amount of time the pet is at the celebration should be limited to the bare necessities. There are a lot of people, new smells and new sounds that can stress out the pet, so limiting their exposure is going to be a good thing.”
Since you can’t pick up and leave, be sure your sitter knows when and where to take your pets after they’re finished. “Make sure you have a plan to get your dog back to a dog-friendly hotel, AirBNB, or your home (if your wedding is local),” says Marissa McLeod of Treasury on the Plaza. “Designate a caretaker for your pup. They will need lots of love, attention, and potty breaks, but this shouldn’t take you away from your special day.”
Ideally, they should be taken to an offsite space to await their newlywed parents after the celebration ends. Otherwise, they could be spooked by the sounds of the reception even if they’re not there, as Laura Maddox of Magnolia Celebrates explains.
“The loud noise of the amplified music can be hurtful to their ears and the confusion of having so many people around but being unable to be a part of the action can cause many dogs and cats to have some anxiety issues,” she reveals. “This coupled with a fear of them getting loose always leads me to advise that they go somewhere peaceful during the dinner and dancing portion of the evening.”
Celebrate them from a distance.
Not all pets can—or should—attend their parents’ weddings. Some have passed on and live in our hearts, whereas others aren’t equipped to handle a large-scale event. Either way, there’s no reason you cannot honor your little loves in other ways!
Wedding photographer Bobbi Brinkman shares a fun idea: “Several of our couples have made life-size photo cut-outs of the pet and glued them on sticks and then stuck them in the ground up by the couple as if the pets were sitting right there watching. These cut-outs also make for fun photos with the couple after the ceremony.”
And don’t worry — you can still get those perfect photo ops! Consider “schedul[ing] a separate session with your wedding photographer to take photos with your pup on a different day in your wedding attire,” encourages wedding photographer Jenna Brisson. “That way, it’s just the three of you and your photog, relaxed and stress-free.”
Or, if your pet is with you in spirit, you can commission an artist to include them in your wedding experience. “Couples are having their pets painted into their wedding photos,” explains Sam Nelson of EVL Events. “Couples will give the painter one of their wedding portraits and then have the pets painted in as if they were truly there. It’s a beautiful way to incorporate them without having them physically there.”
Renee Dalo of Moxie Bright Events offers up a few more ideas, sharing that her “clients name specialty drinks after their cats, use photos of their dogs in their table number design, and use a slideshow of pet photos as a dance floor backdrop.”
The possibilities are seemingly endless for honoring your favorite pet(s), including “a prop in your photo booth like a cutout of them or photos you share in a guest book,” recommends Jamie Chang of Mango Muse Events. “You could name your table or tables after your pet or pet-related things. You could have a cake made to look like your pet, or have them included in your cake topper.”
Whether your pet will play a role in your wedding or celebrate your love from afar, there are countless ways to honor your four-legged friends on the big day! After all, many of them signify the love and commitment exchanged between newlyweds. So it only makes sense to include the little ones in one way or another!
Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.
We’ve partnered with OFD Consulting to bring you this great advice from their collective of wedding professionals.