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Traveling with a Pet Soon? Read This First.

By: Bridget Clerkin December 13, 2018
There’s a lot that goes into traveling with a dog or cat companion. Set yourself and your fur-child up for a comfortable ride with these pet-friendly road trip tips.
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In the ancient days animals had no choice but to travel, with huge herds roaming the earth in search of food, water, and shelter.

Today the path to those resources is much shorter for some of our favorite furry and feathered friends. But for all the convenience they’ve gained through canned dog food, cat scratch towers, and bird houses, they’ve lost out on the ease of moving around.

Still, humans continue to move around plenty—and more people than ever are deciding that their pets should go the distance with them.

In 2016, more than 2 million animals took to the skies. The growing number of “emotional support” animals (ESAs) in the country has only inched that number up, with United Airlines alone reporting more than 76,000 therapeutic creatures flew with them last year—a 77% increase from the previous year.

All told, 37% of pet owners last year took their animal on the road—quite a jump from the 19% who chose to do so a decade ago.

But while planes are often the most convenient vehicles for jet-setting humans, the experience can be especially traumatic for an animal—whether they’re allowed to sit in the cabin as emotional support, or required to be stowed away in the cargo hold. And, unfortunately, reports of airline-related animal deaths are not hard to come by.

Such concerns are a big reason why so many people choose to transport their animal by car. And while the concept certainly introduces its own set of concerns and complications, there are some steps you can take to make the process as easy as possible.

Planning Ahead

Before you even hit the road, there are a number of helpful tactics you can take to prepare for your multi-species journey.

Just like anything else, practice helps make perfect: According to Alabama-based veterinarian Dr. Jamie Jones, bringing your animal on a series of shorter trips beforehand can help dividends in getting them used to the idea of the car. This concept is especially beneficial for cats and other animals who may not travel in automobiles frequently, she said.

Jones also shared that if you have the luxury of time and foresight before the trip, you may also want to begin prepping your pet medically.

Step one is ensuring all the animals that will be traveling with you are up-to-date on their shots and medications. Step two is being ready to prove it, should the need arise.

An all-purpose travel kit should be assembled for each pet involved as well, with food, water, bowls, leashes, grooming supplies, treats, medications, and even something cuddly or a familiar toy to help ease the animal’s anxiety.

“I would keep a copy of the animal’s medical records with you, so in case you get pulled over or someone asks, you can prove they’re up to date on all their shots,” Jones said. “And if you’re going to drive across international or even some state borders, you may need a health certificate—which is something you might have to look into well in advance of your trip.”

The information could also come in handy in case of a medical emergency on the road, Jones said.

For more minor accidents, she recommends bringing a “clean-up bag” that includes paper towels, cleaning supplies, plastic bags, pooper-scoopers, spare towels, and other hygienic tools that may be useful on the road.

An all-purpose travel kit should be assembled for each pet involved as well, with food, water, bowls, leashes, grooming supplies, treats, medications, and even something cuddly or a familiar toy to help ease the animal’s anxiety.

But it’s not just the pet whose needs should be thought of in advance.

If your trip is going to take more than one day, you’ll have to look ahead for hotels that are pet-friendly. And meals should also be premeditated, Jones said.

“I would plan to eat your meals in the car,” she said. “If you’re traveling and you stop at a restaurant, you’re not going to want to leave [your pet] in the car while you go have lunch. Either get take-out or bring food with you so you don’t get stuck in a situation where you have to leave them in the car in the parking lot.”

On the Road

DogCar

Once you hit the road, there are a few other ways to make sure the ride is as smooth as possible for everyone involved.

A safe mode of transporting your furry friend within the car is crucial. Jones strongly recommends getting each animal a carrier—or, in the case of dogs, at least ensuring they’re buckled in. In fact, some states require such restraints by law.

Keeping a dog’s head and limbs safely within the confines of the vehicle—and preferably in one place—is not only less distracting for drivers but can also help prevent injuries from flying objects they may encounter out the window.

Any carrier intended for a cat should be big enough to include a small litter box, Jones said. (She recommends using Tupperware for the job.) And dogs should be taken out of the car every two hours to not only prevent accidents but give them—and you—a chance to stretch.

“Dogs and cats are obviously different,” Jones said. “But with dogs, you have to stop every couple of hours to take them out. Take a break, let them relax and use the bathroom, and offer them some water.”

There are a number of more specific options available to help with both anxiety and carsickness as well, though you’ll have to discuss those possibilities with your vet beforehand.

If your animal isn’t seeming particularly hungry or thirsty, that’s not necessarily cause for concern, Jones said. Riding in a car for any amount of time can still cause a pet plenty of anxiety—and carsickness—and they may not be acting like the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed creature you know and love.

“They might be a little off their game,” Jones said. “They might be a little bit either hyper or quiet or not want to eat as much. That’s all pretty common.”

Common aids like pheromone sprays, which can help induce relaxation, are available over the counter in many pet stores.

According to Jones, there are a number of more specific options available to help with both anxiety and carsickness as well, though you’ll have to discuss those possibilities with your vet beforehand.

“There are supplements; there are anti-anxiety medications; there are anti-carsickness medications. You can do a combination of things,” she said. “But that should all be decided on a case-by-case basis, depending on your animal and his or her medical history and needs. You can talk to your vet ahead of time, and they should be able to recommend the most appropriate type of treatment.”

Still, perhaps the most important thing to remember to help your animal doesn’t need a prescription.

Show them some love,” Jones said. “A treat, a pat on the belly, or some nice pets and hugs go a long way.”

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