Kennel your best friend while you head to Niagara Falls? Never! You see pets these days at their own salons, at the movies, and even in the grocery stores. (Is that sanitary? We’re sure it is since you take impeccable care of your baby.) So, why wouldn’t you put your cat Fluffy or your dog Fido in the car to take them to all the exciting places you want to be? It’s not as hard as you think to travel with pets. You can even seek out dog-friendly vacations!
No matter where you’re going, we agree with you: there’s no reason not to take your pet… as long as you’ve taken the proper precautions to make sure that you and your pet will be completely safe for the ride. Read on to discover how to travel safely with your pets.
Traveling with Dogs and Cats – Pet Road Trip Tips
Taking your 🐕, 🐈, 🦔 or 🦄 on a long ride? Before you do, consider:
- Get your pet a check-up at the vet
- Pack your pet’s favorite toys, pet bed, and snacks
- Pack pet medications, if needed
- Stop often for bathroom breaks or get a travel litter box
- Give your pet a preventative flea treatment if headed to a potentially flea-infested or outdoor destination
- Ensure your pet is wearing a collar with a tag indicating all your info
- Instruct your children on how to handle the pet in the car
- Find a way to ensure your pet has water for the entire trip
- Make plans for where your pet will sleep for overnight trips. Leaving your pet in the car overnight is NOT a safe option. It could kill your pet! Ask your hotel about bringing in your pet. If they say no, find another place.
- Give your pet attention along the way!
Dog Car Seats – Why Fido Isn’t Fit for the Passenger Seat
He loves it and you love it—why wouldn’t you let your dog sit in the passenger seat… and stick his head out the window to get a whiff of all those alluring smells while he’s at it? Honestly, we can recommend two reasons why this is not ideal without precautions:
- Just like toddlers, airbags just don’t work for dogs. In fact, they can end up hurting instead of helping your pet in the case of an accident. If your car doesn’t have airbags in the passenger seat, it may be alright for your dog to ride up front—if he or she is properly bucked up. But, if there are airbags, your pet would be more comfortable in the back seat or storage area, where they’ll be safe.
- Windows Aren’t Safe, Period
- We know that every dog movie will tell you otherwise, but the fact is that allowing your dog to stick his/her head out the window is more likely to let debris and litter smack your dog in the face than anything else. Also, all that fresh air—which creates an incredible current when driving—can actually damage your pet’s lungs. Finally, there is always a risk that your dog will fall or jump out of the car. Is that risk worth the thrill or your dog’s fit? We don’t think so.
Proper Dog Car Harnesses and Cat Carriers are Critical
You’ve seen the ads promising that seatbelts can save your life. They are no less important for your pets. Many pet restraining harnesses are made to be comfortable and easy to work with, plugging directly into the existing seatbelt. And even if Fido barks and bites, better that than take a flying leap to his doom. He’ll thank you more when you arrive safely at the dog park or mall.
Also, consider: most harnesses still allow your pet to move around, which s/he will appreciate. And, with your pet properly buckled, you can now more safely risk cracking the window. The sounds and smells should settle down to enjoy these aromas. Other harnesses are like bed boxes, especially for small and medium-sized pets. These are also made with your pet’s comfort in mind.
Finally, remember that, especially if you have a dog that insists on running around the car or being free, it is far better to keep them in the seat and out from under your seat or in your face, which can be distracting and dangerous when you’re trying to drive.
Dog Beds Only… Not Truck Beds
The same principle applies to truck beds as to windows: your dog would love to hang out in your truck bed and feel the wind whipping into his face… but this still makes him a candidate to either:
- Fall out of the truck bed, which kills thousands of dogs a year, or
- Get clocked by debris from the road, which can also prove fatal, or
- Damage his lungs from the massive onslaught of moving air
Fido will tell you differently. Don’t fall for it, or your dog could fall… right out of the back. Keep your dog in the cab, where he’ll be safe and comfortable.
Dog Seat Belt Alternatives
But Fido NEEDS to move around, you say. It’s a dog’s nature, and it’s cruel to tie them up. Ok, then. We understand. And if you have an SUV or station wagon, we say that there is an alternative to harnesses that may allow your dog to move around and still stay safe: the dog gate or dog guard. As the name implies, this device is literally a guard or gate that separates the back storage area from the cabin of the car. You can really set Fido up in the back with a waterproof liner for accidents, his doggie bed, and his favorite toys for chewing. It will almost feel like a little pet hotel or his kennel. Especially if you have more than one dog, this is a relatively safe and viable option, but remember: if Fido is a feisty one and given to running around, or in the case of an accident, there is still more room for your dog to go flying, and that will still cause serious injury. It’s always best to get your dog to settle down or lie down on car trips for their safety, which is why car ride lovers work well with dog guards and gates, but not so well with those who are prone to car sickness or who won’t settle down.
Gates and Dog Guards Keep Them Safe
However, before you throw your hands up and determine that the gate or guard will never work for your restless pooch, know this: a dog can be trained to ride in the car the same way that she can be taught to shake. If you want to train your dog to become an expert car rider, take it slow. First get them used to the car without it going anywhere. Let them get used to the car’s smells and sounds, and provide a treat for them when they get in and out of the car.
Then, get them used to being in the car with the harness, if you use one, or with the gate, if you use one. Once they are comfortable with these devices, take extremely short trips—to the end of the driveway or the end of the street. Next, take progressively longer trips until the dog feels comfortable. Perhaps you could make one of your first destinations the dog park or pet store and NOT the vet. This will help your dog associate the ride with positive experiences.
Car Sick – Keeping Your Pet from Going Green
No, “going green” here does not mean caring for the environment, which is something we suggest you (and your pet) do. Here, we want to give you some tips for keeping your dog from going green in the sense of getting nauseous or car sick. Believe it or not, it is less likely that your pet’s sickness is due to motion, which is so common in humans. Dogs can often get car sickness due to stress and anxiety.
Because of this, it’s much easier to treat car sickness in dogs. Cutting down their stress is easier than changing their biochemistry. Here are ways to help with car sickness:
- Talk to your pet as you journey
- Take short trips and make your destination a fun, familiar place
- Feed your dog before the ride and provide snacks on the way
- Medication should be a last resort but can help in extreme cases. Talk to your vet before trying this option!
Leaving Fido or Fluffy in the Car: Don’t Do It
Even if it’s for “just a sec” while you make a mad dash into and out of the gas station, leaving your pet in the car is dangerous. Dogs and cats get separation anxiety, which can hurt them (and your car, if they act out aggressively). Also, the heat, as well as the cold, can be pet killers. Dogs or cats left in a hot car or a cold car are at risk of dying. NEVER leave your dog or cat in the car on a hot day… not for any length of time, not even with water to drink. The same goes for cold days, where your pet can easily freeze to death despite their fur coat. The number of “dog in car” and “cat in car” reports to police is alarming. If you wouldn’t or shouldn’t do it to your kids, you shouldn’t do it to your pets, period.
Enough About Dogs – How To Travel with a Cat in the Car
As you can expect, most things that apply to dogs also apply to our feline friends. Some cats will love the car, but it’s far more likely that she… won’t. A cat carrier is the safest and most comfortable way to travel for your cat. Even if your cat gives you that perfect stink-eye, she will be safe (and more comfortable, truly) in a small, cat-sized carrier. She doesn’t want to go in? Our cats didn’t, either. Try a top-loading cat carrier. These tend to be easier on you and your cat.
Of course, your cat will need to stop for potty breaks just like you and your dog. Take the litter box in the car. (Clean out the litter and wipe out the box first so you mitigate smells on the long ride!) Put the box on a flat surface. Take the cat out of the carrier and put her directly into the litter box. She may jump out again, and it’s ok to let her. She’ll wander back to the box when she has to go. But remember: check to make sure all doors are closed and locked with the windows rolled up before taking your cat out. Your cat’s instinct will be to try to escape. An open door or a rolled-down window will surely mean a jailbreak for your cat, and you may not be able to find her again.
There are also cat harnesses out there. While we don’t necessarily recommend them for the ride, you can put your cat on a harness for exercise on short stops. You can try to take your cat out of the car on the harness, but try it at home first. You don’t want Fluffy wiggling loose on the road, and you don’t want it to happen in the car either, especially if you’re driving. The first place your cat is likely to go is under your feet, and that means under the pedals, which would prevent you from braking. Again, the best and safest method is a cat carrier.