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Prepare Your Pet For Travel By Car

Updated: Mar 21, 2021

Taking your dog along can make the family vacation more fun for everyone, if you plan carefully. Here are some trip tips to make traveling with your dog enjoyable.

To keep your dog healthy as you travel, bring along a supply of his regular food. Don’t forget bottled water and be sure to bring any medications he needs.

Before Driving: Feed your pet lightly before beginning the trip, about one third of their normal amount. Save the remainder and feed it once you've reached your destination. Get your dog used to the car by letting him sit in it with you without leaving the driveway, and then going for short rides.

Pack food and water: Make sure he has plenty of water at all times. Packing bottle water is a good idea because he might not like the water that is available and to ensure that he doesn’t get an upset stomach. If your dog has an easily upset stomach, a probiotic nutritional supplement can help manage diarrhea that comes with stress from things like traveling. You use one per day (or the recommended dosage), starting at least two weeks prior to the trip, during the trip, and once you return home.

Talk to your veterinarian before you leave for remedies or suggestions, like this one, of what to do if such a stomach or digestive problem does occur. Pack a few days’ worth of your dog’s food, even if you’re sure you’ll be able to purchase more at your destination.

While Driving: Keep the car well ventilated. Always make sure that air is being circulated frequently. Restrain your pet, using a pet seat belt or secured carrier. If the dog is in a crate, make sure that fresh air can flow into the crate. Do not let your dog ride with his head sticking out of an open window. This can lead to eye injuries. Never let your dog ride in the back of an open truck. This is extremely dangerous and can lead to severe injuries or death.

Car rides are boring for everyone, so instruct your children not to tease or annoy the dog in the car. Bring games and toys or treats to make sure your dog doesn’t get bored, provide him with a few new toys — and a couple of old favorites. You might want to include a puzzle-type toy to keep him occupied.

A crate is an excellent way to keep your dog safe in the car and is required for airline travel. It can also keep your pet from getting into trouble in a hotel or at your host’s home. Crates are available from most pet supply stores. Look for these features when purchasing:

  • Large enough to allow the dog to stand, turn, and lie down.

  • Strong, with handles and grips, and free of interior protrusions.

  • Leak-proof bottom covered with absorbent material.

  • Ventilation on opposing sides, with exterior rims or knobs to prevent blocked airflow.

  • “Live Animal” label, arrows showing upright position, with owner’s name, address, and phone number.

  • Stock the crate with a comfortable mat, your dog’s favorite toy, and a water bottle, and your dog is ready to go.

Rest Stops: Stop frequently for exercise and potty breaks. Be sure to clean up after your dog. Make sure your dog has a sturdy leash and collar. Before you leave home, teach your dog to relieve himself on multiple surfaces — not just grass! Having the ability to potty on different terrains, such as concrete, mulch, and gravel, will alleviate his discomfort as well as the possibility of accidents while you’re on the road or otherwise. Bring a supply of bags to clean up afterward.

Never, ever leave your dog unattended in a closed vehicle, especially during warm or cold weather. A car parked in the sun can quickly become overheated and shade moves. Additionally, your pet can become a target for theft. If you must leave the car, designate a member of the family to stay with the dog or contact a local kennel or veterinarian for their day rates.

Identification: Don't allow your pet to run loose at rest areas. A pet can become lost, run into traffic, or get involved in a fight with another animal. In the event that your dog gets away from you on your trip, you can increase the chances of recovery by making sure he can be properly identified. The collar should have identification tags with the dog’s name, your name, and your home phone number, as well as proof of rabies shots. If you plan on being away for more than a few days, consider purchasing a second identification tag giving the location and phone number of your vacation spot.

Lodging: Find out in advance which hotels or motels at your destination or on your route allow dogs. Many do not or have size restrictions. If your dog is allowed to stay at a hotel, respect other guests, staff, and the property. Keep your dog as quiet as possible. Do not leave the dog unattended. Many dogs will bark or destroy property if left alone in a strange place. Bring games and toys or treats to make sure your dog doesn’t get bored, provide him with a few new toys — and a couple of old favorites for entertainment. Ask the management where you should walk your dog, and pick up after him. Do not leave any mess behind. Remember that one bad experience with a dog guest may prompt the hotel management to refuse to allow any dogs. Be considerate of others and leave your room and the grounds in good condition. Puppy-proof the vacation home (or room). Before you let your dog have free run of the home away from home, make certain it’s safe for your dog to explore. Be sure that electrical cords are out of reach and that previous occupants didn’t leave anything on the floor or under furniture that could be potentially harmful to your dog.

Remember, it’s a vacation. Traveling can be stressful, but a calm owner usually has a calm pet. Our animals pick up on our stress, so if you’re nervous and uptight, your dog may show stress and anxiety, too.

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