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The Do’s and Don’t’s of Car Travel With Pets

If there’s one thing that makes my dog do the happy-dance, it’s asking, “Do you wanna go Bye-bye?” I know…

The Dos and don't of car travel with pets

If there’s one thing that makes my dog do the happy-dance, it’s asking, “Do you wanna go Bye-bye?” I know he’s not the only one… Dogs have a kind-of love affair with the car, don’t they?  They must think of it as something magical.  Cats generally don’t have the same “affection” for cars as dogs do.  And when they do like it, it’s usually when they are free to roam around the inside of the car, laying in the back window, or curled up on the dash.  That is super cute to see, but unfortunately, it’s just not safe.  It’s great fun to take our pet with us when traveling, but there are some things we should keep in mind before hitting the road with our best 4-legged friend.

Let’s first consider where we are heading and how much time we will actually be spending with our pet.  Is it a vacation?  Will we be spending long days on the beach and evenings at dinner or out enjoying the nightlife?  So, what’s Fido going to do while we’re out and about?  Sometimes travel is inevitable, like when we’re moving, but if we want to vacation with our dog or cat, we need to be sure it’s something that they can enjoy too and not have to be confined to a hotel room.  Our pets would probably be much happier sitting out a beach trip like this, no matter how much fun the car ride there would be.  Bring them to Holiday Barn Pet Resorts instead!

Traveling with Pets: The Do’s and Don’ts

The most important thing when traveling in the car with our pet is a having a secure restraint, whether it be a car/booster seat, carrier, or seat-belt. There have been a lot of reports recently about the questionable safety of pet restraints, so this is one area where we really need to do some research.

When shopping for a carrier, it needs to be a lot smaller than the “everyday” crate we may have at home.  Our pet only needs about 6 inches of space between him and the walls of a car carrier.  They should fit snugly.  6 inches will allow them to be comfortable but keep them from being tossed and injured in a sudden stop.

Make sure the carrier is softly padded.  Placing our pet’s favorite or familiar blanket inside would be comforting to him.  One more thing –the carrier should be hard sided to resist crushing.  Securely fasten the carrier in with a seat-belt, no bungee cords, and make sure it is anchored so that it does not bounce around.

Cats should always be secured in the car with a carrier, as should very small dogs.  If we choose a car seat or seatbelt for your dog, a good harness is imperative.  We recommend a heavy duty, crash tested harness, like this one by Ruffwear.

Pet Travel Tips for Dogs and Cats

1)  Make sure your vaccinations are up to date and take a copy along with you.  Should our pet need medical attention while we’re away, not only will we have a record of his vaccinations, but we will also have the name and phone number of our current vet on the letterhead, just in case whomever is treating our dog or cat needs more specific medical information.

2)  We should always have fresh water available when we’re traveling with a pet.  Dogs, particularly, get very thirsty when traveling.   A lot of that has to do with the excitement or anxiety of going “bye-bye”.  When they’re excited, they pant, and that makes them even more thirsty.  Regardless, we should always keep fresh water on hand when we’re away from home with our pets.

3)  It’s a good idea to feed our pet a couple of hours before leaving.  That will give time for his food to settle, plus adequate time for him to do his business before getting in the car.

4)  Always place pets in the back seat.  Airbags and hard dash surfaces in the front seat can cause injury or even death.

5)  If we are traveling with a large, older dog, or one who maybe has joint pain or arthritis, consider ahead of time how we are going to get him in and out the car at each stop.  Unless we can lift him comfortably, we will probably need a portable ramp. They make many different kinds, like this one.

6)  One thing that could really upset our travels is a dog or cat who gets carsick.  If you’re not sure, a few small car trips around town before the big travel day is highly recommended.  If we find that our pet does get car sick, that doesn’t mean he can’t make the trip.  Our vet can recommend a medication for car sickness.

7)  We should always make sure our pet is wearing ID and/or is microchipped, particularly if we are traveling.  I know first hand how important this is, as my family lost our dog on the way to the beach when I was a child.  Needless to say, it was not a good vacation

8)  You just never know when you’ll need a first aid kit for your pet. We may think it’s just something else to take up more room in our already packed truck, but not having one when we need it could be the difference between life and death for our beloved pet.

9)  If traveling with a dog, frequent potty breaks are necessary along the route, especially if he has been drinking a lot of water.  It’s healthy – for us and our pet – to stop at least every couple of hours so that we both can stretch our legs and take a potty break.

Most cat owners report that their cats will not take a bathroom break while traveling.  Apparently, they prefer to wait until they reach their destination.  I would feel better about giving my cat the opportunity to potty, whether or not she chooses to do so.  Did you know that they make collapsible, portable and disposable litter boxes? Take your pick, based on how long you will be traveling and what type of resources you will have available to you.

Here’s another idea for cats… Take along a fold-up exercise pen.  That way, when the family stops to stretch their legs, our cat can too, without the fear of her running away. It’s either that or teach her how to walk on a leash.  I know, it’s been done, but it’s difficult.  Plus, cats are double… triple… maybe even quadruple jointed, right?  It’s easy for them to slip out of a cat collar or harness.  That would certainly put a damper on the vacation, wouldn’t it?

As you can see, there’s more to traveling with your pet than opening the car door and saying, “hop in”. Anytime it is necessary for me to take my dog on a car trip, I am reminded of how much it is like traveling with a baby!  You have the carrier, the food and water, towels, car seat, blankets, his bed, some toys, chew bones…  It’s a lot of stuff!  But if he has great fun with the family during the trip, then it’s all worth it.


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