The family trip to the beach just wouldn’t be the same without your fluffiest family member. While the car ride for you might be full of relaxation and anticipation, your pet might find it stressful—or even terrifying—if they’re not used to the backseat of your car.
There are ways to let Fluffy tag along while still ensuring her comfort and safety. Here’s what veterinarians recommend, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association:
1. Use a secure, comfortable, and appropriate carrier.
When it comes to pet carriers, it might seem like “the bigger, the better,” but having several feet to move around in might not be the best option. Pet carriers should allow *just* enough space for your pet to easily shift positions. A carrier that’s too big for your dog or cat might cause them to be thrown around while the vehicle is in motion.
If traveling by plane, you’ll need to be much more vigilant about your carrier choice. Planes require soft-sided carriers, which are more flexible and easier to store. The carrier also has to fit under the seat in front of you. Check your airline’s website to find the exact maximum dimensions for pet carriers allowed on your flight.
2. Your pet should wear a harness with an ID tag and be on a leash.
Sure, you want your dog to run off some of his energy, but a rest stop in another state is not the ideal time to let your dog run freely in a field. Imagine spending a full day of your vacation time doing rescue efforts to track down Fido.
You have two goals: prevent your pet from getting lost, and be able to find them quickly if you do. Here are ways to make sure your lost pet can be returned to you quickly:
Make sure their ID tag contains your phone number.
Consider microchipping your pet before the trip.
Carry a clear and recent photo of your pet to show people or even make posters.
3. Make plans for food and water.
One way to make your pet more comfortable during the ride is to ensure their needs are being met. Stick to their usual feeding schedule as much as possible (although it’s not unusual for a stressed cat to reject the offer).
Pack more food than you think you’ll need, and make sure it’s somewhere you can easily access it (not buried under three suitcases in the trunk). For water, consider using a small container with a lid. That way, you can easily take out water whenever your dog or cat needs it, and then store it afterwards without having to toss unused water or deal with spills.
4. Make frequent stops every two to three hours.
Look for rest stops that are pet-friendly (not all of them are, unfortunately). Take pets to designated pet areas to exercise and do their business—while on a leash, of course. For cats, this is a great time to take out the litter box and see if they’ll go. Once again, it’s not unusual for a stressed cat to reject this offer, but make the option available whenever you can.
Be extra careful with food breaks during the summer. If you’re stopping for grub, make plans with what you’ll do with your pet while you eat. When outside temperatures are in the 70s or higher, cars can become dangerously hot, rising 20 degrees in just 10 minutes. For pets locked inside, this can be fatal.
If possible, opt for drive-thru restaurants so you can get food without turning off the car with your pet inside. Another possibility is getting the food to go. Have one person stay in the car with your cat or dog while others go inside to order food. Have a picnic outside with your pet in a nearby park.
5. Know and accommodate your pet’s health status.
Before long trips, visit your veterinarian for approval to travel. They might be able to catch unknown health risks that would make travel too dangerous.
If your pet’s health is less than ideal, don’t take the risk: Make arrangements for your beloved pet to stay at home with a responsible friend, family member, neighbor, or trusted pet sitter.
Otherwise, pack your pet’s meds, and make sure your pet is up-to-date on flea, tick, and heartworm treatments. Know the contact information for a veterinarian at your destination, just in case.
Get more tips for a drama-free trip for you and your pet: