Americans love to drive their animal friends with them about town and on family road trips. Now that dogs fit in purses, pigs act like dogs, and even cats are learning to love the leash, there’s no reason to leave the family favorite at home. In fact, a survey of AutoTrader.com visitors who have a dog reveals 75 percent take them in the car once per month or more, and 53 percent take their dog in the car at least once a week.
AskPatty has done plenty of research into traveling with animals, and offers the following tips to help you prepare your pet and your car for a safe and smooth car trip. Whether your trip is long or short, we’re sure you’ll find something helpful here.
1. DON’T: Let your dog ride loose in your car.
Keep your pet in the back seat in his crate or with a harness attached to a seat buckle. Lauren Genkinger, president of Adopt a Golden Atlanta, recommends not allowing your dog in the front seat to avoid driver distraction and injury to the animal if there is a sudden stop or accident and the airbag goes off.
If you choose a crate, make sure it's large enough for your pet to stand, sit, lie down, and turn around in. Always secure the crate so it won't slide or shift in the event of a quick stop. And P.S., it's smart to get your pet used to the carrier in the comfort of your home before your trip.
2. DON’T: Allow your pet to ride with his head outside the window.
He could be injured by flying objects or debris flying into his eyes, and some dogs have even jumped out of the window of a moving car. "Turn off power windows in your car when your dog is in his harness, as they can be accidentally opened with a simple press of their paw,” Genkinger adds.
3. DO: Practice mini trips.
Although some dogs gleefully bound into the car, others seem to hate car rides. Before embarking on a vacation with your pet, it is always wise to get him used to moving vehicles. Start by driving him around a block or two. Reward him each time he manages to stay calm after the short ride. Gradually prolong the ride. If a blaring siren passes by and he remains calm, reward him immediately with a tiny food treat and praises.
4. DO: Make car trips fun.
Avoid his first “bon voyage” to veterinary clinics. Certainly do not make going to the vet the only time your dog rides in the car. Take more pleasant trips to places like parks and beaches. Set him up for fun moments, not despair and sickly environment.
5. DON’T: Feed your furry friend in a moving vehicle.
Even if it's a long drive, make sure you schedule regular food, water, and potty breaks. Your pet's travel-feeding schedule should start with a light meal three to four hours prior to departure. While many dogs travel best with an empty stomach, others respond better after eating a light meal -- especially dogs that have one meal per day.
6. DON’T: Leave your animal alone in a parked vehicle.
On a hot day, even with the windows open, a parked automobile can become a furnace in no time, and heatstroke can develop. In cold weather, a car can act as a refrigerator, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death.
7. DO: Be sure you have Pet ID!
Make sure your pet has a microchip for identification and wears a collar with a tag imprinted with your home address, as well as a temporary travel tag with your cell phone, destination phone number, and any other relevant contact information. Canines should wear flat (never choke!) collars, please.
If you're traveling across state lines, the ASPCA suggests you bring along your pet's rabies vaccination record, as some states requires this proof at certain interstate crossings. While this generally isn't a problem, it's always smart to be on the safe side.
Be sure you bring a photo of your dog with you or have some on your cellphone, in case you need to identify your dog as your own.
8. DON’T: Let dogs ride loose in pickup truck beds.
The hot metal can burn a dog's paws, the sun and flying debris can hurt the dog, the dog can accidentally be thrown out of the truck if the brakes are suddenly applied, and the dog can jump out if scared or upon seeing something interesting to chase. Instead, use a crate to create a safer space for your dog if you can't fit the dog inside the truck cab.
9. DO: Protect Your Car's Interior!
If you travel frequently with your pet, you may want to invest in rubberized floor liners and waterproof seat covers, available at auto product retailers. You can even have them custom-made to fit your specific car model. This will help keep your car interior clean and fresh-smelling -- and hair-free!
10. DO: Bring a complete traveling kit, including water.
In addition to travel papers, food, spill-proof water bowl, leash, a waste scoop, plastic bags, grooming supplies, medication, and a pet first-aid kit, pack a favorite toy or pillow to give your pet a sense of familiarity. Hollow toys you can stuff with food are ideal for quiet time in the car, campsite, or hotel.
When it comes to water, the ASPCA suggests you bring your own: Opt for bottled water or tap water stored in plastic jugs. Drinking water from an area he's not used to could result in tummy upset for your pet.
The ASPCA has a downloadable PDF here that’s full of additional educational tips for taking road trips with your dog.