Road Trippin’ with Your Pet

A successful road trip with a dog or cat begins long before the day of travel. For the most part, dogs care most that they are with their humans, and “place” is not as important. Conversely, we often think of cats as “place-oriented” beings who would rather stay in their own space than move out of their comfort zone. In reality, all of our furry friends can enjoy extra pets and cuddle time at anyone’s house to which they are invited! Moreover, both dogs and cats can be lively travel companions if we take the time to create a positive experience for them.

Vehicle Safety 101

It is important that pets be appropriately restrained inside the vehicle. For larger dogs, there are several well-designed “doggy seat belts” for restraint in the back seat. Alternatively, you may want to consider either a crate or cage set up and secured on the back seat or in the rear compartment of a van or SUV.

If you have a small dog or cat, teach him or her that his carrier is a great everyday place to hang out. Have the carrier open and available at all times in order to make it as inviting as possible. Feeding your pet in its carrier can create a positive association. Practice entry and exit from the carrier to make it as routine a process as possible.

For cats, once she is used to her carrier, place the cat inside, close it up, and walk around the house with her. Be sure to reward her with a treat when she exits. Remember, the carrier needs to be a happy space. Once she is comfortable with an in-house walkabout, move her to the travel vehicle. Simply start it up, run the engine for a bit, then take her back into the house. Once this sequence has occurred a few times, take a quick drive around the block, then back home, into the house, out of her carrier, and give a treat for her good behavior!

If you travel with open windows, make sure the opening is too small for your pet’s head to fit through. It is easy for a dog to be injured by a flying insect or a piece of gravel if his head is hanging out the window. Set the child lock on power windows so that your dog cannot accidentally open or close a window on his own by stepping on the button.

Prepare Appropriately

For overnight accommodations, confirm that your dog or cat is welcome at the hotel/motel you have chosen. Gather together medical documents including vaccination certificates, recent lab-work, rabies vaccination tag, as well as any medications they take. Take along their regular food. Using his or her own familiar food and water dishes will contribute to comfort levels, but be sure they are non-breakable. Also, take along some water from home. Sometimes water in different parts of the country has a different mineral content and may contribute to stomach upset or loose stool!

For a cat, take along a small supply of the litter she is used to. You may want to use a plastic dish pan as your travel litter box. Do not forget a litter scoop and some plastic bags for litter disposal both on the way and during your stay with relatives. If you have the space for a large dog kennel for travel, you can place a small litter pan right in the carrier with the cat for bathroom use during travel. The only limits to her accommodation are the space in the vehicle and your imagination.

Be sure to have your pet wear identification during travel and consider a microchip for permanent ID if he or she does not already have one. Their collar should be snug enough not to slip over their head. Make sure to attach a leash to the collar before opening the door of the vehicle any time you stop.

Comfort Comes First

On the day of travel, withhold breakfast from your pet. Traveling on an empty stomach minimizes the risk of nausea and vomiting. Feed a small meal when you arrive at your evening destination. Offer water at any rest stops you make during the drive. For a cat, line the carrier with an absorbent “puppy potty pad” in case your cat needs to urinate or defecate during travel. Carry extra pads as well as a couple of zip-lock food bags, some paper towels, and a few disposable gloves for any necessary cleanup and containment of a mess.

Never, ever leave your pet alone in the car. The interior temperature can rise to a dangerous level within a very short time, causing heat stroke. In addition, your veterinarian can prescribe a very effective medication to prevent the nausea and vomiting associated with car sickness if needed. It is best given ahead of travel, and it can be used several days in a row if needed.

Stress-Free Considerations

Most of the time, both dogs and cats travel quite well with no need for any medication. Some however, do experience stress when traveling. Consult your veterinarian to create the best travel plan for your dog if he does not travel well. Strategies to de-stress dog or cat road trips include:

  • A Thundershirt® which swaddles the dog much like swaddling an infant and can reduce anxiety.
  • A pheromone calming collar to contribute to lowering anxiety.
  • Medication prescribed by your veterinarian: Buprenorphine (cats only – brand names: Buprenex®, Simbadol®); trazodone (dogs only – brand name Desyrel®), gabapentin (brand name Neurontin®), and alprazolam (brand names: Xanax® and Niravam®) are examples of medications that are sometimes used to reduce the anxiety that some pets experience when traveling. Test the medication at home as a “dry run” ahead of your trip in order to know how your dog will react to the medication.

Stay-at-Home Options

As much as most of us enjoy taking our pets on vacation with us, it’s not always possible. Always leave your pet with someone you know and trust, including a friend or family member, reputable dog sitter or boarding facility. Ensure all vaccinations are up to date, and supply all necessary medications and food as well as comfort items such as beds and favorite toys. For a list of pet sitters and boarding facilities that we recommend in our area, please visit our resources page.