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Car Travel With Dogs – 10 Easy Tips

Nicole Cosgrove

We often grow so closely attached to our dogs that it’s hard to imagine a trip or vacation without them. Instead of leaving our beloved pets with a sitter, it’s sometimes a lot more manageable to bring them along for the ride. With that said, traveling can be a stressful time for both you and your pet when you aren’t prepared ahead of time. When you come up with a travel strategy in advance, the journey becomes a lot more enjoyable.

Whether traveling for pleasure or necessity, there are some crucial steps you must take to prepare for your dog’s needs while you’re gone. Taking your family pet on the road with you makes the experience more fun for everyone involved, but you want your dog to be as stress-free as possible until you reach your next destination.

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Preparing to Travel with a Dog

The vet’s office isn’t just for yearly checkups and emergencies. Always take your animal to the vet for a checkup before going on a trip. The vet will make sure his vaccinations are up to date and supply you with a health certification if you’re traveling by plane. On top of that, veterinarians are equipped with tools and advice for traveling with pets, and they may bring up some valid points that you would have missed if you didn’t make the appointment.

You should always be prepared for a road-trip emergency and have a 24-hour hospital in mind at your final destination. If traveling by car, look up a few animal hospitals on your route so that there is always an option in case anything goes wrong.

The last thing you want to deal with is a lost dog in unfamiliar territory. Make sure both your dog’s leash and collar have tags with the dog’s name, your name, number, and proof of a rabies shot. Give all the information to your vacation host as well so that they can pass along the details if necessary. Have an up-to-date photo of your dog with you and have a copy of their health records on hand.

Dog in a car window
Image Credit: Andrew Pons, Unsplash

Tips for Traveling with a Dog

Preparing for a big trip is already anxiety-inducing, and the stress only gets worse when you have one of your most beloved family members hitting the road with you. Keep these traveling tips in mind if you are thinking about taking a short trip.

1. Keep your Dog Restrained

We have seatbelts to keep us safe, and your pet should have a security measure in place as well. Dog crates are a smart way to keep your dog secure and protected while on a road trip. They are also easy to move in and out of buildings and you can keep your dog out of trouble if staying in a hotel.

Only use large enough crates that your pet can still stand, sit, and lie down. Try to get a crate with a leak-proof bottom that you can fill with absorbent material in case they have any accidents in the car. Ventilation is highly important, and there shouldn’t be anything blocking the holes that allow air to flow into the crate.

To make your dog more comfortable, throw in a few of their favorite toys, a comfortable mat or bed, and a water bottle in case they get thirsty.


2. Get Them Accustomed to Travel

It’s not a wise idea to take your dog on a 10-hour road trip if they’ve never been in your car for longer than 15 minutes. The experience will be a lot better for all involved if you take them on short trips a few months before the big vacation.

Set your car up so that your dog is traveling in the same way that it will be for the final journey. On each short trip, gradually increase the amount of time you spend in the car. Eventually, your dog will grow accustomed to the travel, and the longer trips will be a breeze.

Frenchie in a car
Image Credit: Jeppe Mønster, Unsplash

3. Stop to Feed the Dog

Trust us when we say it’s never a good idea to feed your dog while the car is moving. If some sudden car sickness comes on, you’re one turn away from stopping to clean up vomit. It’s gross, but it isn’t the first time this has happened.

Give your dog a meal 3 to 4 hours before you hit the road. Whenever it is time for them to eat again, always pull the car over and stop to let them eat and take a bathroom break before resuming.


4. Don’t Leave the Dog in the Car

This should go without saying, but do not ever leave your dog in a car unattended. Temperatures lower than 35°F or higher than 70°F are a serious safety concern for animals. It is a sure way to make your dog overheat, and it could have deadly consequences. On top of that, a passerby might view your choice to keep the dog in the car as a poor one and break your window in order to free them.


5. Pack a Bag for Them

Humans aren’t the only family members who should have luggage on this trip. You should be prepared for any situation, and there are a lot of essential items to have stashed in one safe place. Include your pet’s most recent immunization and health records, food, water, bowls, and medications. It’s also smart to come prepared with cleaning supplies and waste bags, as well as a few toys so they don’t get bored. Last but not least, a pet first-aid kit is a wise investment if you haven’t already bought one.

Dog in yellow car
Image Credit: Nicholas Byrne, Unsplash

6. Have a Way to Identify Your Pet

You might consider getting your dog microchipped if the vet hasn’t already done so. Aside from a collar that could somehow come loose, microchips are embedded into the dog’s skin. If your pet were to get loose and someone took him in, most places would check for a microchip so that they can get in contact with you about their whereabouts.


7. Don’t Let Them Stick Their Head Out the Window

It seems like a fun idea to let your dog feel the breeze blowing through their fur, and we won’t deny that it’s cute, but this puts your pets at major risk. They could get struck by other passing cars, thrown from the vehicle if in a crash, or fall out of the car while it’s moving at high speeds. Your number one concern on your trip should be safety for all, and that includes your furry friend.


8. Have Lots of Water on Hand

You don’t want your dog drinking from an unfamiliar source on the side of a parking lot. It’s a lot less stressful if you have a case of water in your car that you can grab whenever your dog is feeling thirsty. This way, they get a freshwater source and you don’t have to go searching for somewhere they can get a drink.


9. Protect your Car

With shedding fur, long nails, and anxiety at an all-time high, it’s a good idea to invest in some car seat covers or mats that protect your car’s interior from damage. You never truly know how your dogs will react while traveling and the last thing anyone wants is to pay for repairs.


10.  Ask your Vet for Medicine

Some dogs travel better than others and, if your pet has a lot of anxiety, your veterinarian may be able to prescribe some helpful medication to ease the anxiety while you’re gone. These medicines work wonders if you have a nervous dog and it makes the trip a lot more enjoyable for you too.

Dog in a trunk
Image Credit: Halie West, Unsplash

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Conclusion

Traveling is exciting, stressful, and demanding all at the same time. The only way to make the ride go as smoothly as possible is to prepare, prepare, prepare! Envision the entire trip and try to think of every situation that could happen. You want to be able to handle whatever life throws your way, and if you’re already one step ahead, you’re going to experience a much better car ride than if you winged it from the beginning.


Featured Image Credit: Emerson Peters, Unsplash

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.