Car Travel with Pets
By Dr. Karen Burgess
Restraint while traveling
Safety for your pet and human passengers should be the number one concern when traveling together in a car. The safest place for a pet to be is secured in a carrying cage ideally in the back region of the car. When auto accidents occur, injuries often result from loose objects becoming projectiles. Loose animals can also become a dangerous distraction while driving. Free roaming pets may also inadvertently get loose when a car door is opened. A cage protects all involved. Seat belt harnesses while available and better than nothing have not been shown to be protective in safety studies.
Preparation for car travel
The more effort made to prepare for car travel the better likelihood of success. Determining well in advance that a pet experiences motion sickness or is frightened by travel can allow ample time to address and even correct these issues.
Now, even if future travel is not anticipated
Acclimating your dog or cat to the car in a stress free time can lay the groundwork for potential future travel. Leaving your carrier out for general exploration is a good idea. Periodically put a treat or special toy in the crate for your pet to discover. Feeding your cat or dog in the crate can also help create positive feelings. Periodically take your pet to the car and let them get in and out of it giving verbal and treat rewards simultaneously. Assuming your pet is not showing signs of distress start taking them for short rides (ex. pull out of the garage and then back in, pull out of the driveway and then back in, drive around the block, etc.) always providing rewards. If your pet becomes nauseous, contact your veterinarian to discuss potential treatment options moving forward.
Continue desensitizing your pet to the vehicle. Ensure that you have proper identification in the form of a secure collar and tag. Contact your microchip company and confirm that all contact information is up to date. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to update vaccinations, obtain health records, and a health certificate if required. Check supplies of medication (flea/tick, heartworm, etc.) and obtain any necessary refills. Research your destinations finding appropriate lodging. Determine where emergency veterinary hospitals are on your route in case urgent care is required.
Check supplies of dog food necessary for travel. Consider whether bottle water would be helpful to bring. Pack your pet’s carry bag including food, dishes, leashes (bring an extra), plastic bags for cleanup, toys, bedding, litter and pan for cats, medications, medical records, and first aid kit.
Day of travel
Do not feed your pet prior to travel. With dogs plan on taking several breaks to allow your pet to stretch, eliminate, drink, and possibly snack. Always leash your dog prior to opening the car door. Identify pet friendly break spots and always clean up after your pet. Never leave a pet unsupervised in a vehicle. The temperature inside a car can be life-threatening within minutes during warmer weather.
What if a pet experiences motion sickness?
Motion sickness can have medical and psychological origins. Slow desensitization can dramatically help. In addition there are several over the counter and prescription medications available for motion sickness.
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