If you'll be hitting the road this summer with your dog in the passenger seat, keeping your pet safe is a top priority. In case of an emergency, the last thing you want to be is unprepared. Here's how to travel with your dog to ensure you both have a great time.
Meet with your vet before you go
Before you even Google your intended destination, sit down with your vet to ensure your pet is healthy enough to travel in the first place. “It is always wise to assess the health of a pet prior to travel,” advises Nancy D. Welborn, a veterinarian and assistant professor at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine.
You may also want to discuss giving your pet a light sedative to help calm him during the drive. Full sedation is not typically recommended as many animals lose the ability to swallow and can aspirate, says Welborn, adding that sedated pets may not have normal breathing patterns, which can put them at risk of overheating.
Nutraceuticals and pheromones can help relieve anxiety or car sickness, but Welborn warns that all of these options should be discussed with your vet.
Restrain your pet
“We always want to ensure our pets are restrained and contained,” says Lindsey Wolko, founder of the Virginia-based Center for Pet Safety (CPS), a nonprofit dedicated to educating consumers about pet safety. In the event of a crash, “your pet can become a projectile. They are just as fragile as we are.” Also? A cop could pull you over and ticket you for distracted driving if your pet is unrestrained.
Start with a CPS-certified product where your pet can’t wiggle out of it, but it’s largely based on personal preference. “You know your pet better than anyone,” says Wolko. “It really comes down to temperament.”
Don’t just assume your dog will be fine with the restraint you purchased for him. Place the harness or crate on the ground in the back seat and let your dog get acclimated, suggests Wolko. Next, take your dog for a drive around the block. The point is to gradually increase your dog’s time spent in the car. Go slow and at a pace your dog is comfortable with. In no time, you’ll both be ready for that road trip.
ID your dog
In case your pet gets lost, make sure your pet’s collar information is updated, says Wolko, who also advises microchipping your dog. Other items to pack? Bring a photo of you and your pet together to verify that you’re the owner, as well as contact information of a trusted individual who can care for your pet in case you suddenly cannot.
Pack your own food and water
Switching out your dog's food or drink can cause digestive issues. To avoid this, bring bottled water—and remember not to feed your dog while the car is moving.
Keep toys packed away
Stow your dog’s toys in a closed bag. Your dog’s toys could potentially become a projectile if you had to brake suddenly or crashed. For instance, if your dog was chewing on a toy with the car in motion and you suddenly stopped, he now faces a choking hazard. Or if you crashed, the toy could hit you or break the windshield.
Take a break
Pull over every two hours. Stretch your legs. Give your dog water. Let him walk around.
“Your pet will appreciate that stop as well,” says AAA spokeswoman Julie Hall, adding that frequent stops “make your trip much more enjoyable.”
Another tip: Rest stops are usually a better bet than gas stations since they are designed for you both and your dog will love having a place to explore. “Be sure your pet is leashed before you open the car door,” advises Hall. “Even if the dog is really well-behaved, they may become disoriented in a new or strange place.”
Lock your windows
“If you have child car locks, it’s not a bad idea to use them,” says Hall. Anndd as cute as it may appear in photos, refrain from letting your dog stick his head out the window while you’re driving. Your dog could be seriously injured if he fell out of the car or was sideswiped by a passing vehicle.
Do you own research
Never leave your pet unattended
This might seem obvious, but if you stop to get gas or use the restroom, it can be easy to forget your dog in the car. And this forgetfulness can potentially be fatal. “Never leave an animal in a parked car. The temperature in the car can soar above 100 degrees in minutes," says Hall.
In addition to overheating, someone could potentially steal your pet if he’s unattended, adds Wolko.