Let the dogs out!

Tips and products that make it easier to take pets with you

ShopSmart: June 2010

Dogs love to hit the road. Cats, not so much. But they'd probably rather be soaking in the sights and smells of a good road trip than be camping in a kennel. And you'll also be happier if you don't have to face a kennel or pet-sitting bill when you get home. However, animals can complicate your trip, too. So it's important to plan ahead, take the right stuff along, and outfit your vehicle to provide a safe, comfortable space.

Your first priority when you're on the road is to keep your pet-and your family-safe. According to BarkBuckleUp.com, a 60-pound dog in a car traveling at 35 mph can turn into a 2,700-pound projectile in an accident. And keeping your pet comfortable will pay you back with a more enjoyable drive.

Here are some take-alongs and tips that can help avoid projectile pets and other problems. We haven't tested the products in our labs, but they're generally recommended by animal experts. All can be found in pet stores or big-box outlets, or online from suppliers like BarkBuckleUP.com, Drsfostersmith.com, Frontgate.com, Ohmydogsupplies.com, and WeatherTech.com.

Handy accessories


Think of this as your pet's safety belt. Look for a harness that lets your pet sit or lie down but will keep him 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- to 3-inch lip around the edge to keep spills contained.

Pet barrier

This separates the rear cargo area from the passenger area, safely containing your pet behind the rear seat. Barriers are available in a variety of sizes. Pick one that's sturdy and fits securely enough not to become dislodged in a collision.

Mat/travel bed

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

Loading ramp

These ramps make it easier for dogs to get in and out of vehicles. Telescoping or foldable ramps provide extra length without being too long to fit in your car.

Other good extras

"Pet friendly" guide book

For tips on lodging, emergency services, and pet-friendly parks along the way. Also check out Web sites like Petswelcome.com and Petfriendlytravel.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 vet's number, too.

Prepacked food

Familiar food is good on the road and can save money over buying as you go. Pack each meal in a resealable plastic bag.

Biscuits, treats, and toys

A new or favorite toy or two relieves stress.

Water bowl

Any plastic bowl will do, but a number of sources offer specialty travel bowls that are collapsible, spillproof, and/or resealable. A cool model from BarkBuckleUp.com fits into a cup holder. And don't forget a container for carrying water.

Dog towels

They're handy for swims or an unexpected mud bath.

Leash or run

It should be obvious, but don't forget the leash. A longer run is good if you're going to be tying a dog outside.

Medical records

Should your pet become ill, they can save valuable time and expense.


Don't forget any pills, ointments, or anything else you give your pet at home.

Pet photo

Bring a print or take one with your cell phone. If your pet gets lost, a picture can be worth far more than a thousand words.

Litter and box

Your cat will need litter and a box for trips longer than 6 hours. In a pinch, you can make a litter box from a cake pan or box.

Plastic bags and cleaning supplies

They are especially handy if there's an upset stomach or "accident."

Road tips

Prevent fast getaways

Always put your pet on the leash before opening the door or tailgate to let him out.

Take regular breaks

Stop every couple of hours to let your pet have some water and get a little exercise.

Think twice about leaving a pet in a car

Never leave a pet in the car on a hot day. The cutoff point is when the outside temperature reaches 60º F. If the temperature is suitable, open the windows a few inches and the sunroof, too, if you have one.

No wind in the face

Letting your pet ride with its head out the window looks like fun, but eye, ear, and head injuries could result.

Plan your stops

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 might have weight limits or charge you an extra fee.

Pet-friendly cars

Plus helpful dealer options

If you're buying a car, you can make your life a lot easier by choosing one that works well for you and your pet.

A hatchback or small wagon, for example, is good for smaller pets. The cargo area provides room for a carrier or extra gear and allows your pet to stand up and stretch its legs. Some good choices are the Volkswagen Golf, Hyundai Elantra Touring, and Mazda3, which comes in a hatchback model.

Larger wagons, SUVs, and minivans will probably work better for larger dogs, especially if you have a family to haul around, too. Minivans provide the most room, and they're lower to the ground than many SUVs, which makes it easier for the pets to get in and out.

Wagons that our auto testers recommend include the Mazda5, Volkswagen Jetta, and Subaru Outback. Good SUV picks range from the smaller Subaru Forester and Honda CR-V to the larger Chevrolet Traverse and Ford Flex. Our top minivan choice is the Honda Odyssey.

Whatever you choose, look for tie-downs in the cargo area, which make it easy to safely secure a crate or anchor a restraint. And if your pet will be lounging on the seats, try to avoid cloth upholstery.

Some automakers cater to animal lovers with special options. They include accessories, such as those shown below, and Honda's extensive Dog Friendly package ($995) offered for the Element SUV. The package includes a soft-sided kennel and cushioned pet bed for the cargo area, a 12-volt DC fan to help clear odors, all-season rubber floor mats, a spill-resistant water bowl, and an extendable ramp that stores beneath the bed. But we don't recommend the Element because it didn't score well enough in our tests.

Dealer accessories may be pricier than ones you'd buy yourself, but they can be included in your financing and are covered by the factory warranty.

Dealer accessories

Subaru dog guard/compartment separator

What it's good for This divider ($250 to $335) keeps a dog safely contained in the cargo area. The metal frame bolts to the car for a secure fit. It includes an opening to accommodate the center shoulder belt and is designed not to interfere with the side curtain air bags. It's available for the Forester, Outback, and Tribeca.

Volvo cargo mat/pet guard

What it's good for Volvo's vinyl cargo mat ($95) helps keep the rear cargo area clean and dry. Spills are contained by a lip along the edge. The steel cargo barrier ($325) attaches to the built-in fixtures in the vehicle's interior to keep a pet secure in the rear. Volvo says it's rated to withstand a 5,000-pound load. It's available for the XC60, XC70, and XC90.

Sick puppies?

Many pets experience nausea, anxiety, and stress when riding in cars. Exercising your dog prior to a long trip helps stabilize the brain chemicals responsible for stress. Plus there are various natural remedies and conventional medications that can help calm a nervous stomach:

Natural remedies


Either tea or powder mixed with food is good for dogs and cats.

Curing pills

This is a Chinese herb found at high-quality health-food stores. A medium dog would take about a quarter of a vial mixed in warm water every 3 to 4 hours.

Lavender oil

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


It may help some dogs and cats with travel anxiety.

Dog appeasing pheromone (DAP)

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


This is a product similar to DAP, but for cats.


Dramamine or Meclizine

A 20-pound dog should be given about 50 mg before starting the trip. One dose should be enough for most road trips.


Small dogs and cats should receive 12.5 mg every 4 to 8 hours, and larger dogs should be started at 25 mg.


One dose lasts 24 hours.

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