Summer Road Trips With Your Pet

by Bruce W. Little, DVM

Summer Road Trips With Your Pet

As summer gets into full swing increasingly people will be traveling for vacations, reunions, picnics, parties, and appointments. And many of your pets will be traveling with you. The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimated that 44.2 million people traveled more than 50 miles away from home over the recent Independence Day weekend and a huge number of them, approximately 37.5 million or 85%, traveled by car. Since the 4th of July came on a Tuesday, it became a four-day weekend for many travelers and the price of gasoline in some parts of the country is at the lowest point in several recent summers. That is a lot of road trips for summer travelers, and in many cases, their pets. There are an estimated 67% of American households that own a dog or cat. And 63% of those households consider their pets to be members of the family. So, when Mom and Pop plan a trip for any of dozens of occasions, the pets are included in those travel plans.

Planning for a trip in the car, no matter the distance, requires extensive planning if the dog or cat are included in the travel plans. There are dogs and cats that cannot withstand the rigors of any type of travel due to illness, injury, or temperament. If this is the case, discuss with your veterinarian various options such as hiring a reliable pet-sitter or leaving your pet in a clean well-managed boarding facility. If your trip includes an over-night stay in a hotel, call ahead and make sure the pet is welcome, and under what rules or circumstances. Many times, “pet friendly” does not mean what one thinks it should mean. Some hotels or road-side motels have outside runs or kennels in which they demand the pet is housed. Also, if your road trip includes spending some time with family and/or friends in their home, check with them if it is permissible to bring your pet as well. Many times, people will have their own pets that cannot stand the interruptions to their space. Do you have readily available copies of your pet’s vaccination and heartworm records? Be sure to include an ample supply of medications and heartworm preventative to last the entire trip? Include food and water bowls, and waste bags that are stored in an easily accessible place in the car. Take along your dog’s food to which it is accustomed, and feed at regular feeding time according to their home schedule. It is usually best to feed dry food on the day of travel if your pet is willing to eat that type of food. Place a bag of dog and cat treats in a convenient place inside the car to offer a peace treaty to your pet should it become agitated or anxious. Take along a plastic jug or two of cool water from home and introduce them to the new water supply gradually. Do not feed your cat anything on the day of travel unless it is small treats to calm its anxiety if that is a problem.

Any road trip that includes your pets should include a medical check-up by your veterinarian to ensure all vaccinations and parasite control medications are up-to-date and in place. If you will be traveling to a location that has a prevalence for diseases such as Lyme disease or Canine Influenza, your veterinarian can decide as to whether your pet needs a series of vaccinations or booster vaccines to protect them against diseases and parasites that may be a problem in the areas of the country to which you may be traveling. Some of these vaccinations require a series of vaccinations 2 or 3 weeks apart, so you must make these plans early to get your pet protected. All pets should have a permanent identification method in place in case they stray off or are picked up by strangers who may or may not have bad intentions. I prefer a microchip identification that is implanted by your veterinarian for permanent identification. You must register your dog’s name and address with the microchip company’s registration data base. It is also recommended to keep a picture of your pet in case it gets lost. Many states, national and state parks, camp grounds and hotels require a certificate of health issued by your veterinarian if you are going to be traveling across state lines and in to these facilities on your trip. Your veterinarian can advise you of this need depending where your trip takes you. Plan if these parks, hotels, and camp grounds allow pets on their property and under what conditions.

Does your dog or cat like to ride in the car? Many do, however, there are those who simply cannot stand the acceleration and motion of a car ride. If you are blessed with a dog or cat that does not like car rides, you must acclimate that pet to the nuances of a car ride far in advance of the trip. Start out by feeding the dog or cat treats while sitting in the car or in their crate inside the car. Play with them around the car by tossing toys into the car and reward them with a treat if they willingly enter the car to play the game. These initial introductions to the car should come without the engine running or the car being put in motion. Once they begin to accept the fact that the treats are given them while inside the car, begin to take the pet for short rides around the block or to fun destinations; such as, the dog park or play area. Take it for a few short rides so it will feel confident that a car ride does not mean a trip to the veterinarian or some other unpleasant destination. It is important for the pet to experience the car ride without any challenging circumstances that may increase their anxiety. Motion sickness can make dogs anxious because they expect to get ill. If they do vomit do not scold, or punish them for doing so. Clean up the mess and continue with the training. If your pet does get car sick consult with your veterinarian about other travel methods or medications to make them more comfortable. There are products on the market such as drugs, nutritional supplements or pheromones that can eliminate or reduce the effects of car sickness.

Cats, small dogs, and puppies should always travel in a cat carrier or crate while traveling in the car. This gives them a secure feeling and prevents them from crawling under the driver’s feet causing a distraction to the driver. Pets should never travel on the lap of the driver and should always be confined to a cage or secured with a tether, or a harness attached to the seat belt or other accessories to secure pets during car travel. Dogs riding in a car should not ride in the passenger seat if the car is equipped with airbags. If the airbag is deployed for any reason, it may suffocate your dog. If your dog is too big to fit in a crate it should be tethered or otherwise restrained. A dog that must ride in the back of a truck bed should be confined in a protective kennel that is fastened to the truck bed. These accessories are available at most pet stores. You may have to spend some time while still at home in acclimating them to the harness by placing it on them and taking them for walks and playing in the yard. Dogs should never be allowed to travel in the car with their head out the window because particles of dirt or other debris can enter the eyes, ears, and nose, causing injury or infection. And never allow your dog to jump out of a car through an open window. I am aware of a 4 ½ month old puppy who recently jumped out of the window of a moving car after seeing a strange dog at the dog park. The result, a fractured left rear leg resulting in veterinary emergency clinic fees, x-rays, and surgery to pin the bones in place at a cost of well over $3,000. Don’t allow your dog to place you in this unfortunate position.

When traveling by car, pack a simple pet first-aid kit that includes assorted bandages, gauze sponges, antiseptic cream, antidiarrheal medication that is recommended by your veterinarian, and the telephone numbers of your veterinarian, a 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital in the area that you will be staying, and the pet poison control hotline at 1-888-426-4435. Perform a daily health check on your pet when away from home. In unfamiliar surroundings, your pet’s appetite, energy, and disposition may change. Watch for unusual discharges from the nose and eyes, excessive scratching or biting of any body part, abnormal elimination, or excessive water consumption. Visit a local veterinarian if you are concerned about any physical or behavioral changes in your pet.

Each time you reach your destination along the route of your family road trip, there are new opportunities for even a well-adjusted pet to become anxious, or worse yet, change its behavioral attitudes. New and strange destinations, new family members and new pet mates, both human or animal, along with new environments, noises and smells may upset the normal behavioral personality of your pet. You should create a quiet environment or sanctuary for your pet to take a break from it all by going into its cage or crate and take a break from their new surroundings. Put them inside their crate in a quiet out-of-the-way place with some calming music to let them relax. You should strive to keep the pet’s routine as normal as practicable including mealtimes and exercise. It will make for a better road trip for the two-legged family members as well as the four-legged members, and a successful and fun trip for all!

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--Bruce W. Little, DVM