a dog sticks his head out of a traveling car

5 Tips for Road Trips with Your Pet

Heading off on a long road trip with the whole gang? Don’t forget the four-legged members of your family! Taking your dog or cat along can avoid the expense and worry of boarding your pet at a kennel. And even though your pet will be away from the comforts of home, at least your furry friend won’t have to suffer the anxiety of being left among strangers.

Here are a few easy tips for keeping your pet (and yourself) happy and healthy on long road trips.

  1. Safety Considerations

    Dogs should never be let loose to roam freely about the car while you are driving. A short stop or accident could turn your dog into a projectile that could seriously injure both of you. Keep your dog restrained in a dog seat belt, behind an SUV pet barrier, or secured in a crate. A carrier or crate is a good idea to keep your cat comfy, too, although she will certainly appreciate being out for a while so that passengers can play with her and give her attention. By the way, never leave your pet alone in your vehicle. Not only is your pet likely to panic, but even brief exposure to heat or cold can be deadly.

  2. The Trial Run

    Most pets are creatures of habit. Being in strange places can be unsettling for them. Before embarking (or em-meowing) on a long car trip, take several short trial runs around town with your pet. This will help your pet get used to the motion of the car and the feel of being in the carrier. Creating positive associations with riding in the car will reinforce your pet’s good behavior. A great way to do this is to end your trial runs with a visit to a dog park, a hike in the woods, or with plenty of cuddles and treats. Train your dog to eliminate waste (develop a command phrase) at each trial run destination. Many dogs will only eliminate in familiar places unless trained to do so on command.

  3. Comfort In the Car

    If your dog or cat will be riding behind a pet barrier, bring along their bed from home to provide the comfort of familiarity. If your pet will be traveling in a crate, be sure to provide blankets and plenty of soft bedding, preferably a fluffy old sweatshirt that you’ve worn recently (and therefore bears your scent). Don’t forget to bring along your pet’s favorite food and any necessary medications. To keep your pet occupied during a long trip, bring as many cat or dog toys as you can manage, both old favorites and some new ones. A chew toy with a hollowed out center that you fill with peanut butter or soft cheese can keep your dog occupied for hours.

  4. Take Lots of Breaks

    Stop every two hours for potty breaks and exercise. When outside your vehicle, always keep your pet on a leash. Yes, you can even walk your cat on a leash! Be sure that your leash is easily accessible and ready to go the moment you stop. As pets do get loose on occasion, be sure that your dog or cat has a microchip tracker and is wearing tags displaying your name and phone number.

  5. At the Hotel

    In planning your itinerary, call each proposed hotel in advance to ensure that pets are welcome. For kitty, set up the cat bed and litter box first thing upon arrival in your room. To acclimate your dog to your hotel room, require him to stay put while you unpack and get settled (even if this means keeping your door open and securing the dog just outside). Your activity and your scent all over everything is far more likely to keep your dog calm than if he is permitted to bounce around the room.

Last Updated: April 30, 2015