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Safe road tripping with pets

How to transport your furry family members

Last updated: May 2014

 

Now that good weather is here and the snow shovel has been safely stashed away, you may be thinking road trip. And if you're like many of us, you probably have pets who like to go along for the ride.

We got thinking about things that make for a good road trip with pets, from choice of vehicle, to the right accessories, to things to bring and trip planning. Here are some tips for safely and enjoyably taking the critters on the road.

Pick the right ride

 

The first step is to choose the right car, SUV, or minivan. Start by narrowing your choices to one of our Recommended vehicles. That ensures you begin with something that's reliable, scored well in our testing, and performed well in government or industry crash tests.

A hatchback or small wagon is perfect for smaller pets. They have room for some extra gear or a carrier, and allow sufficient space for your pet to stand up and stretch its legs. Larger dogs tend to mean bigger vehicles, especially if they're part of a larger family. SUVs are a good choice, and come in a variety of sizes to meet your needs. Minivans provide the most room, and have a lower load floor than most SUVs that makes it easier for the pets to get in and out—especially as they get older.

Whatever size you choose, keep in mind that vehicles with tie downs in the cargo area make it easy to safely secure a crate. Many wagons, SUVs, and minivans have this feature. Chances are, you'll want to keep the pets off the seats or cover them, but it's still a good idea to avoid cloth seats. Some carmakers like Subaru and Volvo offer optional plastic liners and pet barriers for the cargo area, and plenty of others are available through pet stores or on the internet.

Aftermarket add ons

Volvo cargo mat/pet guard

If you don't want or aren't in the position to take on the added expense of a new car, there are lots of companies that make products to make traveling with pets safer and easier. Keep in mind that none of these products have been tested in our labs. All can be found in pet stores or big box outlets, or online from suppliers like Drsfostersmith.com, Barkbuckleup.com, Frontgate.com, Ohmydogsupply.com, or Solvitproducts.com.

Pet barrier

Available in a variety of sizes for wagons, minivans, or SUVs, a barrier gives your pet some room to move, but keeps them safely contained behind the rear seat and off the upholstery.

Harness/restraint

According to Barkbuckleup.com, a 60-lb dog traveling at 35 mph can turn into a 2,700 pound projectile in an accident. For the safety of your pet and your family, look for a harness that lets your pet sit or lie down, but will keep them restrained in an accident.

Cargo area mat or liner

Mats and liners help protect carpets and make cleanup easier. Look for one with a 2-3 inch lip around the edge to keep spills contained.

Mat/travel bed

If you have a pet bed at home, you can bring it along to help keep your pet comfortable and make them feel more secure. Or get one just for your car. Beds for the cargo area are one option, as are hammocks that fit over the rear seat area.

Water bowl

A resealable container is fine, but you can find ones that are collapsible, spillproof, or both. One cool model from BarkBuckleUp.com fits in a cupholder.

Loading ramp

Smaller and older dogs can more easily get in and out using a ramp, and it makes loading easier on your back, too. A variety of models and sizes are available. Telescoping or foldable models provide extra length without being too long to fit in your car.

What to bring

Pack all your supplies in a zippered tote. If you travel often with pets, some of this stuff can just be stored in the tote at home. If you have more than one pet, the best bet is to bring a separate tote for each one. That way, you can keep their food, medications, and toys organized. Some suggestions for the tote include:

  • Pet friendly guide book - For tips on lodging, pet stores, emergency services, and pet friendly parks along the way. Also check out websites like petfriendly.com and petswelcome.com.
  • Collar ID Tag - Get one with your pet's name, your name, and your telephone number. A cell number is best for the road, or you can tape a local number to the collar. Bring along your own vet's number, too. Permanent microchips for tracking are also available. Ask your vet.
  • Pre-packaged food - Bring along your pet's usual food, and prepack each meal in a Ziplock bag. Familiar food is good for your pet on the road, and can save money over buying as you go. Packing by serving is less messy and more convenient. If you have more than one pet, label each one's food separately, and always bring spares in case you get stuck.
  • Biscuits, treats, toys - A favorite toy or two relieves stress.
  • Water in resealable plastic container - Any plastic bowl will do, but a number of sources offer specialty travel bowls.
  • Dog towels - if your dogs like to swim, bring along some old towels. They're also handy if the pooch takes an unexpected mud bath. Your friends and hotel staffs will thank you.
  • Leash, and maybe a longer run - It should be obvious, but don't forget the leash. A longer run is good if you're going to be tying the dog outside.
  • Documentation of shots - Don't leave home without them.
  • Medications - Don't forget any pills, ointments, or anything else you give your pet at home.
  • Plastic bags - For cleaning up after your pet.
  • Litter and box - If you're traveling with a cat.
  • Pet carrier - For cats and smaller dogs.
  • Cleaning supplies - in case there's an upset stomach or "accident" on the road.

Plan ahead

As much fun as it can be for both the pet and the family to bring Fido or Snowball along on a trip, traveling with animals generally requires a bit more planning. If you're staying in hotels, make sure they're pet friendly before you book. And keep in mind that some hotels and motels that say they allow animals may have weight limits. If you have a 200-pound Mastiff, make sure you let your hosts know ahead of time.

While on the road

  • Stop every couple of hours to let your pet take a break and have some water.
  • Never let your pet ride with its head out the window - eye, ear, and head injuries could result.
  • Don't leave a pet in the car unattended in the car without leaving windows a few inches open. Open the sunroof if you have one. And never, ever leave a pet in the car on hot days.
  • Always put your pet on the leash before opening the door or tailgate to let them out.

Pet friendly vehicles

Some carmakers including Subaru and Volvo cater to animal lovers with special equipment packages. These save you the trouble of locating components separately, can be included in your financing, and are covered by the manufacturer warranty.

Vet tips

Dr. Ernie Ward is veterinarian, lecturer, and author based in Calabash, N.C. Dr. Ward gave us some of his own tips for traveling with pets.

  • Make a travel litter box. For trips over 6 hours, provide a litter box for cats. This can be made from a small cake pan or small cardboard box filled with litter.
  • Give your dog a new toy for travel. The novelty of "new" will entice your dog to pass the time playing with its new toy.
  • Exercise your dog prior to a long trip. A tired dog will be less anxious and nervous due to the stabilization of the brain chemicals responsible for stress.
  • Take your dog for a walk as soon as you arrive at your destination.
  • Bring recent vaccination and medical records. Should your pet become ill, these documents can save valuable time and expense.
  • Bring a photo. It's a good idea to carry a recent picture of your pet. The easiest way is to take one with your phone, or bring a print. If you get separated from your pet, a picture is really worth a thousand words.

Dr. Ernie's tips to combat motion sickness

Many pets experience nausea, anxiety and stress when riding in cars. Both natural remedies and conventional medications are available. To calm a nervous stomach, try these suggestions:

Remedies

Tea or powder mixed with dry food is good for dogs or cats.

Curing Pills

A Chinese herb found at high-quality health stores. A medium dog would take about ¼ vial mixed in warm water every three to four hours.

Lavender Oil

Try a few drops on a cloth in the car or crate.

Melatonin

May help some dogs and cats with travel anxiety.

Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP)

A calming pheromone derived from a compound secreted in mother's milk to relax nursing pups.

Feliway

A similar product for cats.

Medications

Dramamine or Meclizine

A 20 pound dog should be given about 50-mg an hour before travel.

Benadryl

Helps many stressed pets. Small dogs and cats should receive 12.5-mg every 4 to 8 hours and larger dogs should be started at 25-mg.

Cerenia

1 dose lasts 24 hours.

   

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