As the weather warms and summer nears, many families are thinking about their family vacation. Families with pets, especially dogs, often choose to travel by car or recreational vehicle so the entire family can enjoy the experience together. In this article, we’ll look at some of the ways you can maximize the fun and minimize the hassle for everyone when driving cross-country with your pet.

Any road trip should be a relaxing and enjoyable experience for everyone, with a little preparation you can make sure it’s fun for your pet and easier on you too. First, if your dog is not used to riding in the car, practice taking short trips around town, or around the block to start, if necessary. Increase your pet’s exposure until you are taking them on multiple-hour trips around your area. At this point, the pet should be able to tolerate riding in the car for long distances. If your dog gets carsick, speak to your vet about medicines to help control nausea. After you get your dog comfortable riding in the car for longer periods, it’s time to think about what to bring for your pet on your road trip. I’ve been lucky to travel with my own dog, Justice, on a 13-hour road trip down the east coast. The first thing I did was to prepare a list of what we would need. You’d be surprised how easy it is to forget something as simple and necessary as dog food. Here’s a list of items you’ll want to include on your packing list for your pet.

  • Food – Make sure you have enough for your entire trip. Include a few days extra in case of last minute change in your itinerary. Most dogs have sensitive stomachs and your dog’s brand of dog food might not be available everywhere you will travel. A pet with tummy trouble traveling in a car can add a completely new level of stress.
  • Bowls – Remember to bring both a food and water bowl. Many seasoned travelers also like to have a travel bowl of water available in the car or RV at all times, so they don’t have to stop. There are many types of travel bowls available. Some dogs may have difficulty eating in a moving vehicle, but most should be able to drink as needed.
  • Water – While water is readily available, it’s important to have enough to last your dog for each leg of your journey. In hot, humid or dry environments, both people and pets need to drink more water. If your trip will take you through these regions, pack water accordingly.
  • Dog license, pet tags and microchips – Laws regarding dog licenses differ therefore, it’s a good idea to have your dog licensed in your area and have a personalized tag with your pet’s name, your name and cell phone number at least. If your dog runs away from you while traveling, these things will help make sure that your pet is returned to you safely. Keep a small picture of your dog with you to show around or to make copies in case it gets lost while traveling. Many pet owners now use microchips as a permanent identification. There are also GPS tags available in many pet supply stores that you can attach to your dog’s collar; please sure to make sure it works and all information is correct before you leave.
  • Vet records – Some areas require that you show a current rabies certificate before crossing state lines or when taking a pet into a hotel room. Make sure to bring a complete shot record for your pet when you travel with it.
  • Collar and leash – Virtually every city and town has some form of leash law. When traveling, I never let my dog off leash except in fenced dog parks. I always bring an extra collar and lead, in case one goes missing or breaks.
  • First Aid kit – Insurance companies, police and automobile associations recommend keeping a first aid kit in your car, consider including extra items for your dog, including any medications your pet needs as well as any instructions regarding dosing schedule.
  • Toys, comforts and distractions – Dog toys, bones, snacks and their own dog pillow for a familiar, comfortable sleeping space can be important to help your pet feel safe and secure in unfamiliar surroundings. Some dog owners I know bring portable, even collapsible cages for their pet. This can help keep them safe both inside the vehicle and outside.

When vacationing/traveling with your furry friend, taking the time to prepare and pack ahead of time will help reduce stress. There are a few other things to consider while traveling with your pet. Your dog will need frequent exercise and toilet breaks; exactly how much depends on the dog. Plan for stops every 3-5 hours (actual time will vary based on your pet) to walk your dog and give him time to bathroom and eat. If your dog does eat, be sure to walk him again before getting back in the car.
Some dogs enjoy a car’s air conditioning while others like a little fresh breeze on their face. Whichever makes your dog comfortable is fine. You never want to open a car window far enough for your dog to get any part of their head outside of the car, not even the tip of the nose. Not only can they jump or fall out, it is more dangerous in case of an accident. It also exposes your pet to exhaust fumes, smoke, dust and even larger debris, which can damage eyes, nose, mouth, throat and lungs.

As much as you love your pet, not everyone is going to so, be a courteous pet owner and keep your pet under control and as quiet as possible. Most importantly, whenever your dog makes a mess no matter at home or away, always clean it up immediately.

You want to have memories that will last forever when traveling with your family. Keeping your family and your dog happy and safe will only enhance those memories. For more information on pet travel, please visit http://www.dogfriendlyhotels.org/.

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