Car Travel with Dogs: 10 Tips for Safety and Security

Summer is approaching, which means many of us will soon be traveling to spend some quality time with family or friends and our dogs.

By Guest Blogger, Emma Williams

But as 68% percent of U.S. households, which equates to a staggering 85 million families, own a pet, it is only natural that we’ll want to bring our furry, four-legged family members on the trip, too.

Traveling with your feline or canine companion can be an excellent opportunity for bonding, but a smooth journey does require extra planning, patience, and flexibility on your part.

Here are ten tips on how to plan a successful trip with your dog:

1.   Take a test drive

You’ve likely started planning your trip weeks in advance, and part of this includes planning for your pet. Take your companion on a short test drive to see how they react to car travel. If you notice that they are uneasy, take a series of progressively longer rides leading up to your trip. If they aren’t up for travel, it may be sensible to make alternative plans to leave your pet home with a trusted pet sitter or a close friend or relative.

2.   Choose your ride 

After ensuring your companion is ready to travel, you should ensure your vehicle will accommodate them comfortably and safely.

Small dogs and cats can travel easily in most cars, but larger pets or multi-pet families may require a bigger cabin. Convertibles and other vehicles with front-only seats are generally unsuitable, as pets should ride in the back seat or in a pet carrier or trailer that you can secure on the passenger-side floor to avoid the devastating effects airbags can have on animals.

3. Tag, chip, and vaccinate

While no one plans for their dog to escape during a trip (and it is most likely not going to happen), it’s a brilliant idea to get tags for your dog with current information.  Be sure to include your cell phone number — and a registered microchip to maximize your chances of getting them back, just in case they escape or get lost.

If your pet does not have a microchip, make an appointment with your veterinarian well ahead of the trip to have one implanted.

4.   Bring documentation

When traveling across the state or international borders, you’ll need a health certificate for your pet. Talk to your veterinarian at least a week before your trip to ensure you have the certificate and documentation for the journey.

If your furry friend is not up-to-date on required vaccines, book an appointment ahead of your travels. Make sure you bring a paper copy of your prescription medications, too, in case you need to get them filled during your trip.

5.   Research pet-friendly hotels

If you’re not staying with family or friends, be sure to do your homework ahead of time to find pet-friendly accommodation. Unfortunately, many hotels do not welcome dogs and cats (unless they’re a specialist cat hotel or dog boutique), so it’s essential to plan to avoid getting stranded en route or at your destination.

6.   Pack accordingly

Once you’re ready to travel, make sure you bring along pet food, medications, and plenty of water for the journey. Trips take a heavy toll on animals and ensuring his food stays the same will help him adjust easier on your pet.

Pack plenty of water, or consider splurging on bottles, since animals’ – especially cats’ stomachs are often more sensitive than ours to changes in what’s in their water. You should also pack an ample supply of any medications your pets take and a few of their favorite toys to help them feel comfortable while away from home.

7.   Prepare for emergencies (however unlikely)…

In addition to up-to-date tags and microchips, all pets should have an emergency kit for long trips. This includes first aid provisions such as bandages and gauze, self-adhering wrap, nail clippers, antibiotic ointment, and wet wipes. In addition, be sure to pack plenty of waste bags for dogs and a cat litter box and scoop for your kitty.

8.   Stay secure

Not only can losing pets lead to distracted driving, but they face an elevated risk of severe or fatal injury in the case of an accident. To avoid this, invest in a good dog harness or crate so that they can be strapped down. Though it can be tempting, avoid letting your dog hang his head out the window, as rocks and other debris can injure him, and he could jump out of the car.

9.   Take frequent breaks

Dogs need plenty of stops to stretch their legs and relieve their bladders, so break at least every couple of hours during road trips. Your pet will appreciate the chance to get out of the car, and a short walk will help wake you up on long hauls, too. Plan for longer travel times to accommodate extra stops when traveling with pets.

10.  Never leave your pet in the car

Never leave your dog or cat alone in the car, no matter the weather. You risk your pet getting heatstroke in the summer, but winter weather can prove equally fatal with freezing temperatures.

With a few extra preparations, you can be sure both you and your pet have a safe and comfortable journey, whether it’s to the next town or cross country.  

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