Over the river and through the woods, it’s that time of year for family travel, including with our pets. Traveling with your pet takes planning and can be fun. Since we moved away from my home state, our dogs have needed to travel more frequently. They were experts and the 20-minute jaunt around the interstate to Grammy & Grampy’s house on Sunday afternoons, but an eight-hour road trip across three states is a different journey. How to travel and travel happily with your dogs is a bit of a learned skill.
Preparation is key for a safe and satisfying trip for everyone. As you get ready to embark on your next family road trip with Franklin and Francis in tow, I’ve outlined for you the points you should keep in mind.
Healthy For The Long Haul
First things first, off to the vet you should go. No matter whether when, where, and how long you are traveling it is a good idea to get your pet a check-up with their veterinarian. Not all pets are suited for travel. Pets can get motion sickness just like humans. Aside from that a pet’s temperament, age or disease state may dictate they should not travel.
- Make sure they are up-to-date on vaccinations and be sure to ask if additional vaccinations are appropriate depending on your destination.
- Keep a copy of the vaccination records with you as you travel.
- If your pet isn’t microchipped it can be inserted at this check-up
- Traveling internationally or flying? a recent health certificate signed by the veterinarian is necessary
When I was in practice, we often had pet parents wait until the last-minute (sometimes on the way to the airport) because they forgot. Be kind to your veterinary staff and make the appointment well before the day of your trip.
Dogs should be secured in the car. I often see pet parents driving around with their small toy breed on their lap between them and the steering wheel of their car. Let me be clear, this is not safe. Air bags are designed are to deploy in less than 1/20th of a second. Because air bags deploy very rapidly, serious or sometimes fatal injuries can occur if the driver or passenger is too close to – or comes in direct contact with – the air bag when it first begins to deploy.
If humans can be seriously hurt or killed your pet can be as well. Picture a 15-pound French Bulldog on your lap, between you and their airbag, they are too close. When the airbag deploys, there is a great chance of this being a fatal accident for him or her.
Keys for Safe Pet Travel
You love your pet and want to keep him safe no matter the length of the trip you will want to:
- Provide proper restraint from a harness or crate. Unrestrained pets will become projectiles in the event of an accident. Even a small fender bender can cause your pet to fall and injure themselves.
- Having the right restraint for your pet is critical to their safety. Check out an interesting 2016 Rossen Report from NBC’s Today show. The issue, pet products are not defined as consumer products by the CPS division so they bypass regulations. Basically, the majority of the options tested for pet safety didn’t perform as they should. Make sure to do your research and find the right restraint for your pet.
- Consider the location of your pet in the vehicle.
- Know emergency contacts. numbers and addresses for local emergency veterinarian for your destination as well as along your route. In an urgent situation you would be at the mercy of wireless service to find out what hospital is closest to your location.
Practice, practice, practice. If your pet is a novice traveler, be sure to help them acclimate to the unfamiliar situation: movement of the car, being comfortable in their crate or wearing a harness, new noises. As I’m a brachycephalic breed mom, I recommend if you use a crate, have an external fan for the crate as well as cooling off the car in the summer before placing Percy the Pug in the crate.
Pets should always have identification. It is not only important on a daily basis at home but doubly important when traveling with your pet. A sturdy flat collar that won’t slip off over their head is the first step.
Top things to remember for your pets Identification:
- Keep your pets’ identification up-to-date and readable. If your pet escapes, you want to make sure he/she will have the best odds of being returned to you.
- They should have an ID tag with at least their name and your phone number. Including additional contact numbers or a special tag for your travel destination is also helpful.
- Permanent identification is a basic need for every dog and cat. Collars can come off. There are safety collars (very popular for cats) called “breakaway” collars. This allows for a pet who may be stuck, by the collar, to pull hard enough to free themselves but leaving the collar and ID tag behind. Microchips are an essential back-up option to proper external identification. Microchips should never replace the first line ID of a collar and tag.
Your Dog’s Travel Pack
Pets have woobies too. Feeling “at home” is easier for our pets when they have their own bedding and favorite toys. Pack his/her regular food as well as some tap water from your home or bottled water. Travel can induce stress related diarrhea so it is important to keep them on their every-day food. It’s better to transition to local water gradually as something different in the local water of your destination could cause stomach upset. Key things to keep in during the road trip:
- Plan potty breaks
- Stick a few waste bags in the glove box for easy access
- Water bowls and treats are easily accessible
- Keep the necessities bag in a location that you can easily access
- Water, food, and treats keep handy as well
- Toys to occupy a bored pup
- Bring a towel for dirty feet, and if it rains to dry them off
Confirm your desired lodging is pet friendly. I’m a Hilton Gold Member and have traveled often with my dog and know the properties that not only are pet friendly but have an easy exit to green space. My trick for finding out about the area immediately around an unfamiliar hotel, Google it! Before booking a new place, I use Google Maps to check out the street level view and “drive” around the block. This will allow you to see where there are actual green spaces around the hotel and what small parks may be nearby as well.
Create a safe place for your dog and one that stays clean:
- Doggy proof the room. Move items that could get damaged from your dog’s height (head or tail).
- Use a collapsible crate. They are a dream to pack and move. If you are leaving your dog in the room unsupervised for any length of time, a portable crate is the way to go.
- Pack a large extra sheet if you co-sleep with your pet.
- Lint roller. And always tip housekeeping (even when you don’t bring a pet). Set a towel down’ under food and water bowls do minimize the risk of soaked or dirty carpets.
Taking your dog along can make the family trip more fun for everyone. Keep these tips in mind and plan ahead. Road trips with Rover in tow are the stuff of great family memories.
Cover image: Tim Mossholder
References:  https://www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/air-bags