Traveling with your pet isn’t the same as taking a road trip with your best (human) friend. For starters, the conversation is a little one-sided. But you also need to pack differently and take extra precautions. Whether you’re taking a four-day drive with Fluffy the cat or a quick day trip with Fido the dog, make sure you do these things first.
Get Their Docs In A Row
While you may not be asked to produce it, you’re supposed to have a health certificate issued by a veterinarian when traveling across state lines, according to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. At the minimum, “it’s a smart practice to carry a hard copy of your pet’s vaccination and vet records with you in case of an emergency,” says Melissa Halliburton, the founder of BringFido.com.
A microchip is highly recommended, since your pet could lose its collar while you’re away, says Ernie Ward, DVM, CVFT, a practicing veterinarian and author in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. As an added precaution, he also recommends attaching a temporary travel tag to your pet’s collar, with your cell phone and destination’s phone number on it.
Make A Test Run
“If your dog isn’t a frequent car traveler, it’s a good idea to take him or her on a series of short drives first, gradually lengthening time spent in the car,” suggests Ward. Start with a short, 10-minute trip and see how he does. You can do a test run with your cat too.
Don’t forget to pack a bag of supplies for your pet: extra medications, a bowl or two, plenty of water and food, leashes, blankets, a brush, toys, a litter box and litter (for a cat), and waste bags or scoopers.
Let Them Run It Out
Before you hit the road, take your dog on a long walk to run off excess energy and do any, um, business. Dogs and cats are often calmer and more comfortable passengers when they’re running on empty.
Don’t Let Fluffy Ride Shotgun
You may not be able to think of anyone better to ride up front with you, but letting your pup ride in the front passenger seat is a bad idea. “It’s safest for dogs to be contained either in a carrier, secured with a harness and seat belt or laying down in the back seat,” says Halliburton. And although it’s cute, don’t let them stick their heads out the window—pebbles, insects or something worse could fly into their eyes! “Cats will feel the most comfortable in a large, hard-sided carrier with enough room for a bed and a small litter box,” she adds. Put their crate in the back and don’t even think about letting them out while you’re driving—if not contained, they can distract drivers with all their climbing.
Watch Out For Car Sickness
Like people, cats and dogs can get carsick. How can you tell if Professor Furry Pants is one of those dogs? “Your dog may freeze in place and stiffen its muscles as it attempts to not vomit,” explains Ward. “Other signs of nausea include excessive drooling or licking of the lips and a retching noise along with throat movements that indicate he’s about to regurgitate.” Cats will have similar symptoms of drooling, vomiting or crying out. To minimize triggers, provide water but not food during the trip, and don’t feed Rex anything four to six hours before traveling, says Ward, who adds that you can follow up with his full meal once you’ve stopped driving for the day. Follow a similar feeding schedule for your cat.
Never Leave Them In The Car
Even with the window cracked, it’s a bad idea to leave your pet in the car while you pop into a store. On a 78°F day, the temperature inside a shaded car can still reach 90°F. What’s scarier: Animals can succumb to heatstroke within 15 minutes.
Stop Every Three Hours
“It’s generally recommended to stop for a break every three hours, but you know your dog’s routine best,” says Halliburton. Use breaks to take 10- or 15-minute walks—this will give Mr. Riggins time to go to the bathroom and exercise his muscles. You might want to build in stops with your cat too. They’ll enjoy a break from the motion of the car.
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By Lisa Freedman
Additional reporting by Lacey Vorrasi-Banis
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