Traveling With Your Pet

These days, you see portable pups just about everywhere―restaurants, grocery stores, and even at the movies. Thanks to a bevy of young Hollywood types toting around their mini mutts, it has become all the rage with those that follow the trends of the moment. Dress the canine in a $1,000 outfit, and you're ready for the bright lights.

So our pets are traveling from point A to point B with us more than ever, whether for the traditional trip to the park for a game of fetch or to more extravagant places like the salon or mall.

Regardless of whether the expedition is a quick jaunt across town or a family haul clear across the continent, there are measures you can take to make sure your best pal (whether feline or canine) is comfortable and able to make the journey without too much stress.

Dogs Love Cars―Well, Some Dogs

If you have an insistent pooch, it will want to be right where the action is: in the front seat, preferably sitting up, with its head hanging out the window for quick whiffs of the city. While we may think nothing of this and the dog may love every minute of it, tongue flapping in the wind and a tail-wagging smile, there are two problems.

The Window Problem

First, no matter the distance of the trip, a dog should not be allowed to hang its head out of the window. This seems to break with tradition and your dog may pitch a fit, but you need to think of your pet's overall safety. Not only can debris or litter whack the dog, but the heavy airflow, especially if it is chilly, in general can damage the animal's respiratory system.

Airbags Are No Fun

The second problem is where the dog is perched: in the passenger seat. It is always recommended that the dog be in the back seat or storage area of the vehicle, especially if the car is equipped with airbags.

While airbags are a great safety asset to adults in the time of an accident, they can wreak havoc on tots and dogs. If your car does not have a passenger-side airbag, however, it is usually acceptable for the dog to ride along in the front seat, as long as they are properly restrained.

Restraint Harnesses

Harnessing your pooch may sound like some form of torture, but it is an excellent safety option, particularly if you have a large breed of dog. Most harnesses you will find on the market are exceptionally comfortable and allow you to connect the restraint directly into the existing seat belt.

Your dog may complain a bit, but once it figures out there is some autonomy to move about, it will quickly settle in for the ride. Roll down the window enough for it to catch its favorite scents, and life in the car should be groovy.

Some of the restraint systems even come with bed-like boxes, along with the harnesses. These are popular with mid-size and smaller pups.

Of course, some dogs will go nuts in the car no matter what, and want to be able to move about in a vehicle freely. This is dangerous and causes the driver to remove attention from the road. The last thing you want to see is a driver talking on the phone, eating a Big Mac, and trying to get a barking dog out of the front seat.

Forget Cars, Dogs Love Trucks

Although you may have a pickup truck and are under the impression that a dog and truck bed go hand-in-hand, you are mistaken. Each year thousands of dogs are killed while in a truck bed, mostly from falling out or being bonked by road rubbish. Plus, the same issues with dogs and rolled-down windows come into play. The velocity of the air mass shooting into the pup's lungs is not healthy and can cause damage over time. So, keep them in the cab.

Dog Gates/Guards

For those owning a dog and an SUV or wagon, there is an option besides buckling up the pooch. It involves installing a dog guard or gate between the back seat and the storage bay area. This allows for independence in a relatively open area, and is perfect for multiple dogs.

Lay down waterproof liner if you are worried about accidents on long trips, or toss in the dog's bed for ultimate comfort. The guards are great for dogs that are car pros and do not get car sickness. Those that do and cannot seem to get comfortable by lying down in the back may get tossed around too much, and only exacerbate the problem. A harness may be helpful for dogs with weak stomachs, because the straps make them at least feel more secure.

Preparing to Ride

Like learning to sit, roll over, or blaze after a Frisbee, a dog can also be taught to ride in a car. Many veterinarians suggest starting the process with getting the pet used to the vehicle without going anywhere. That is, letting them sniff about and adjust to the new surroundings while the car is parked. You can even associate the experience with a treat.

Then it is best to begin slowly by going for short trips to places where the dog likes to play. This way the dog puts two and two together: car equals fun and treats! If the only experience with the car is a trip to the vet's office, and all of a sudden you want to gallivant on a long trip, do not be surprised if the dog gives you some flack.

Easing Car Sickness

Most of us have had some general unease at one time or another on a boat or plane, or speeding along winding roads in a car. Our pets are no different, except their discomfort may not be directly related to the movement of the vehicle. Rather, car sickness in dogs is commonly due to duress or anxiety.

There a number of theories out there and a variety of ways to approach the problem. One way some vets recommend is car training, discussed above. Except in this case you make frequent, but short, trips throughout the day to a dog's happy place.

Talk to your pooch throughout the journey, offering plenty of comforting attention. Over time, this might ease the general stress the pup has with being in the car. Food is also a factor in some cases. Make sure the dog has had a good meal before the trip and possibly offer light snacks throughout the ride.

For long trips, if the stressed dog is a required passenger, medication might be a last resort. Again, this is something you should definitely discuss with your vet before you don anything.

Leaving Pets in the Car

Many pups tend to get serious separation anxiety. This leads to major destruction of the backyard, endless howling and whining, and some pretty red-faced neighbors. Most of the time, the anxiety comes from being left alone, and when you're traveling, your dog shouldn't be left alone for long.

Even if you think you'll just be in the convenience store for a minute, and even if you crack open the windows, the dog may have troubles.

Stats do not lie: dogs die in hot cars. So do cats, kids, and videotapes. It is a bit of a no-brainer that you would not leave your child in the car with no water on a 100-degree day! But somehow people think dogs are different than humans. They are: they have fur. You know what it is like opening the door to the car on a hot day. Imagine your dog in there with a fur coat.

The same can be said with the cold. Dogs will freeze despite the fur. So on these types of days, keep the pet at home where it can remain comfortable,

Tips for Long Excursions

If the family vacation includes a road trip with Fido coming along, there are other measures besides those listed above that you can take to ensure the pet has a great time with the gang.

  • Before a trip is an excellent time for a checkup at the vet.
  • Make sure your dog has its tags properly attached.
  • Pack all daily medications, if applicable, and, if headed into flea and tick country, ask the vet about one of the prescription preventives on the market.
  • Pack a favorite toy so they are never far from home.
  • If you have small kids, tell them to go easy on the dog while in the car.
  • Stop often for quick stretches and bathroom breaks.
  • Pack plenty of food and treats and also make sure to fill water bottles with your home tap water. You can also purchase bottled water. Tap water from the places you visit may not sit well with the pooch.
  • Call ahead to make sure any hotels or motels you plan to stay at allow dogs.
  • Give lots of cuddles.

What About Cats in the Car?

Although cats in the car seems to be an oxymoron, they also need to be made to feel as relaxed as possible. Most of the issues related to dogs can also be applied to felines as a general rule.

Some cats will hop in a car like a dog. But this is rare, and most likely, to ensure Fluffy is at least somewhat comfortable, you'll need to put her in an appropriate-sized carrier. She may not like it; she may meow to a decibel that is painful. She may even avoid you for days afterward in protest, but the carrier will safely transport her. Try a few trips around the neighborhood before the big day.

Take along a litterbox. During rest stops (which should occur every few hours), put the litterbox somewhere in your car on a flat surface, take the cat out of the carrier, and put the cat in there to do its business.

You can also try a cat harness to give the cat a little exercise during the stops. Just be sure to try it out before your trip, put it on the cat while it's confined to the car, and be on the lookout for large, cat-unfriendly dogs that may be stretching their legs at the same time.

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