Are Your Furry Friends Part of Your Travel Plans?
According to a 2016 TripAdvisor survey, 56 percent of Americans travel with their pets—and I’m one of those people. Because I do animal rescue, some of those dogs and cats weren’t actually my pets when we took our first road trip…did I mention that I’m a foster failure, too?
But I digress. The important point here is that many people love to take their animals with them when traveling, which means that they might also benefit from some advice from a person who has driven a lot of miles with dogs and cats, and has the smelly car to show for it. Speaking of…if you’re a person who loves a pristine vehicle, you’re probably best to leave your best friend at home—I’ve had far more ‘accidents’ in my car than outside of it.
Is Your Furry Friend Really a Traveler?
Traveling isn’t for every pet. Some people believe their pets will gradually adjust to traveling, but they may not; some animals just flat-out don’t like to travel. This is why numerous short trips are a good way to test the water. You’re better off finding out if your pet is a traveler on a short jaunt to the park instead of on an 8-hour drive to Poughkeepsie. If your pet is shaking, hiding, panting heavily, acting listless or throwing up, being in a car may not be not ideal for that particular animal; consider hiring a dog or cat sitter instead. But if your pet looks forward to getting in the car, great!
Nine things to know about traveling with your pet
If you decide traveling is for your pet, here’s what you need to know:
- Limit food intake before long trips. While your dog may be used to a big breakfast, you don’t want to feed him a lot before getting on the road. An upset stomach is 1,000 times worse in an enclosed mobile space—and if he gets sick, as my Australian Shepherd, Izzy, is wont to do, you’re going to drive a lot of miles with the windows wide open to try to get rid of the smell.
- Limit water intake, too. You should always give your animals water, but if you limit the amount you can decrease the need for numerous potty stops.
- Make a safe place in the car for your pet. For some animals, this means putting a crate in the car with all of their toys and blankets. For others that don’t move around so much, it can mean putting their dog bed on a seat, and putting pillows in the footwell so that if the dog does get up, he or she won’t fall into that empty space if you hit your brakes. Familiar smells are good, so bring things that they sleep with at home to make them more comfortable.
- Take lots of breaks. Plan to add an hour or two to your schedule when traveling with pets. Stop a lot for exercise or potty breaks—but make sure to pull off somewhere safe! Stopping beside a highway is asking for an accident to happen; use rest stops, or the back of parking lots for pit stops; stay as far away from the road as possible.
- Always keep ID on your pet. I’m a big believer in two collars—one with ID that includes your phone number, rabies tag, license tag, etc., and another one that attaches to a leash. This way, if the leash breaks or the collar snaps off, the dog’s ID stays on the animal. You should also have your pet microchipped; it’s inexpensive and an easy way for your pet to get returned to you if they get lost. Just be sure to keep that information up-to-date; a microchip is no good if the phone number or address isn’t accurate.
- Consider a seatbelt, especially since it’s the law many places. Since 2012, some states require pets to be restrained in a vehicle. Be sure to check the laws of the states where you’ll be traveling.
- Act like you’re traveling with a 2-year-old. Baby wipes? Check. Snacks for distraction? Check. First-aid kit? Check. Something to clean up spills or throw-up? Check and check.
- Always leash your pet before getting out of the car. Don’t try to put a leash on an excited dog when it could get loose and bolt into traffic. Check that their collar is tight enough that they can’t twist out of it, and always have a photo of your pet handy (on your phone is fine) in case they do escape and you need to alert police, shelters and local rescue groups.
- Take the temperature into account. I shouldn’t have to say this, but NEVER, NEVER leave your animal in a hot car. Cracking the window isn’t enough—the temperature inside a car is far hotter than the air outside, and it only takes a few minutes for your pet to dehydrate, become permanently impaired, or even die. If you’re traveling somewhere hot and sunny, take sunscreen for your pet’s sensitive nose; and remember that dog’s footpads do burn, so check the temperature of asphalt on your bare feet first—if it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for them.
With a little preparation ahead of time, traveling with a pet can be a really fun experience—and you’ll both enjoy the journey.