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How to travel safely with pets

A road trip checklist for dogs and cats.

A long distance road trip can be a fun adventure, especially if you take your furry family members along for the ride. According to the Travel Industry Association of America, 76 percent of pet owners prefer car travel with pets compared to air travel. However, a road trip with pets can have its stressful moments. Use this handy checklist below to ensure that your next road trip is safe and comfortable for you and your pets.

Make sure pets are healthy to travel

Before you hit the road, consult with your veterinarian to make sure pets are healthy enough to travel. A long car ride can take its toll on senior pets or pets who suffer from chronic health conditions. Take into consideration your pet’s age, breed, and medical history. It might be easier to leave pets at home with a trusted pet sitter or board them at a kennel. Before traveling, update vaccinations and make sure pets are chipped and/or have an ID tag (in case they get lost).

Just like humans, pets can suffer from motion sickness. If your dog or cat has issues with car sickness, ask your vet about medication. Keep motion sickness medication on hand just in case your pet gets car sick. For anxious, skittish pets, anxiety/sedation medication can keep them calm and relaxed. To help pets prepare for a long car ride, take them on short trips to get them used to the motion of the vehicle.

Keep pets safe at all times

When traveling with pets, don’t let them roam inside the car. Secure dogs with a safety harness, car seat, or put them inside a safety-certified travel crate. When traveling with cats, use a roomy, ventilated cat carrier designed for travel. Make sure crates and carriers are secure in the car so they don’t move or roll over on your pet.

Don’t allow pets to hang out of car windows and don’t leave them alone and unattended inside a vehicle. On hot days, the inside car temperature can soar to more than 100 degrees, which is deadly for pets. If pets are in crates or carriers, make sure they have proper air ventilation and are warm/cool enough depending on the weather. On warm days, use car window shades so pets aren’t in direct sunlight and are protected from the heat.

Stay on track with home routines

Animals are creatures of habit and they don’t like their daily routines disturbed. To maintain their regular schedule while on the road, feed pets around the same time they are fed at home. Exercise and feed pets a few hours before you leave so they aren’t hungry or restless during the first leg of your trip. Take regular bathroom and exercise breaks (see tips below).

Animal behaviorists suggest training dogs to respond to verbal cues such as “time to go to the bathroom” so they aren’t afraid to eliminate in unfamiliar places. Some dogs only feel comfortable going to the bathroom in familiar territory at home. The last thing you want is for your dog to be painfully uncomfortable because he won’t eliminate. For cats, place thick, absorbent puppy pads inside carriers and, during rest stops, encourage them to use a disposable travel litter box.

Take regular breaks while on the road

When traveling with pets, it’s recommended to take 15- to 30-minute breaks every few hours. This allows pets to take regular bathroom breaks and stretch their legs outside. This is also a good time to feed pets and give them water.

Make sure pets are leashed when taking them outside. For cats, leash train them before the trip so they can walk around outside and enjoy the fresh air. Pets are curious by nature and like to explore new territory so keep an eye on them at all times. Plan accordingly and map out pet-friendly rest stops and dog parks along your travel route.

Pack all the comforts of home

Be prepared! Make road travel as comfortable as possible for pets. Pack a separate bag for pets so you aren’t frantically searching for their favorite toy among your suitcases.

Here are some travel items to include:

  • Food and treats
  • Bottled water
  • No-spill food and water bowls
  • Favorite toys
  • Beds and blankets
  • Disposable litter box, litter, and scoop (for cats)
  • Plastic bags
  • Protective clothing
  • Brush
  • Flea comb and tick remover (if outdoors)
  • Vet-prescribed medication

Book pet-friendly accommodations

Before you leave, make reservations for pet-friendly lodging. If you plan to sightsee along the way, choose attractions that allow pets. Eating on the road with pets can be tricky so plan meals accordingly and/or pack food from home. Some restaurants allow leashed pets to be in outdoor dining areas but check with the restaurant first.

Don’t forget to research 24-hour vet hospitals along your route. Minor emergencies and injuries can sometimes happen while traveling so it’s best to be prepared. Bring along a copy of your pet’s medical records and jot down a list of medications they take.