Essential Checklist for a Road Trip With Dogs

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial on Jul. 3, 2018
Essential Checklist for a Road Trip With Dogs

Image via Soloviova Liudmyla/

By Deanna deBara

With the beautiful weather and longer days, summer is the perfect time to hop in the car and take a road trip. But if you're going to embark on a road trip with dogs, there are certain things you need to consider to ensure a great dog-friendly vacation for both you and your four-legged friend.

Do Your Research

If you want to go on successful road trips with dogs, the work starts long before you get behind the wheel.

Before you travel with dogs, make sure to research your route and find plenty of pet-friendly accommodations and activities along the way. Not only will ensure your pup has a great time, but it’ll also give you more time to enjoy the ride (since you won’t be spending hours on the side of the road frantically calling hotels to try to find a place that will accept your dog).

“Plan and prepare your trip ahead of time so you don’t find yourself in a frenzy at the last minute,” says Dr. Carol Osborne, DVM of Chagrin Falls Veterinary Center and Pet Clinic in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. “Call your hotel and [make] sure your pet is welcome. Check out websites dedicated to traveling with pets (like Trips With Pets). Look for vacation ads in pet-related magazines and newsletters [or check out]...the Dog Lovers Companion, [which] offers a series of books with inside information on where pets are genuinely welcome.”

Source as many pet-friendly accommodations, restaurants and attractions as you can before you travel with a dog.

The more you know about where you’re going—and your dog-friendly vacation options along the way—the better your road trip will be. Also, make sure to look up a few veterinary offices along your route—that way, if you need vet support on the road, you’ll know who to call.


Get Your Dog Ready

Once you’ve decided where you’re headed out on your road trip, the next step is to make sure your four-legged travel companion is ready for the journey—and that means proper training.

“Train your pet to travel in his kennel so he feels comfortable. This will be invaluable training and will make the entire traveling experience less stressful to your pet—whether you’re going across the country or across town,” says Dr. Osborne. “The kennel size should be large enough, so your pet can stand up, sit down, turn around and lie down comfortably.”

While it’s important to get your dog comfortable in the car, you also want to make sure he’ll be comfortable making plenty of stops along the way—even if those stops are in busy environments.

“We worked on lots of mat and relaxation training to help teach our Border Collie to calmly lie under tables in chaotic environments. This made it much easier to bring him everywhere!” says Kayla Fratt, an associate certified dog behavior consultant at Journey Dog Training. She has spent the last three months on a road trip across the US with her dog, Barley, documenting the journey on ElPerroTambien. “The biggest [key to success on a road trip] is to ensure that your dog is calm and polite in a lot of situations—whether it’s long car rides, remote trails or bustling coffee shops.”


Pack the Essentials

When you’re traveling with your pup, it’s important to pack all the essential dog supplies.

“Bring your pet’s food, water and vet records. It’s also a good idea to remember his or her leash and collar, along with proper ID tags (place your name, current address and phone [number] as well as the destination address on the ID tags) and a pet first aid kit,” says Dr. Osborne.

“As a professional dog trainer by training, I will always say this: Have treats and toys with you. Always. Start to think of bringing toys and treats like bringing a leash and a poop bag—you just need them. Bring whatever it is that makes your dog happy, and that will vary from dog to dog,” says Fratt.

You’ll also want to pack anything you need to make the car better equipped for road trips with dogs (like a car seat cover, dog seat belt, or dog car barrier).

So what essentials should you make sure to pack before you hit the road?

  • Collapsible dog travel bowls for food and water
  • Dog food
  • Water
  • Current veterinary records (including general health and vaccination records)
  • Dog first aid kit
  • Collar or dog harness
  • Leash
  • Treats
  • Toys
  • Dog poop bags
  • Crate or carrier for your dog
  • Dog ID tags with your contact information
  • Car seat cover
  • Car barrier

Stick to a Normal Exercise, Sleep and Food Schedule

When you’re on a road trip, it’s easy to get caught up in the day’s activities—but if you want your dog to have as much fun as you’re having, it’s important to try to stick to his normal routine.

“Don’t neglect your dog’s exercise or sleep on the road. It’s easy to drive for 14 hours and forget that your dog is probably quite energetic after that,” says Fratt. “On the flip side, it’s also easy to hike for 10 hours and then go to a bar and then visit friends and then realize your dog has been go-go-going all day and is probably about to collapse.”

“Try to stick to your pet’s routine diet as much as possible and avoid rich, fatty foods,” says Dr. Osborne. If your pup does get into some not-so-good-for-him road trip snacks, don’t beat yourself up—just give him a little downtime to recover. “If indigestion does occur, a general rule of thumb is to withhold food and water for about 4-6 hours; most pets recover and are fine.”

It’s important to make sure your pup is getting plenty of exercise during long stretches of car time. He should also have plenty of rest after long periods of activity, and plenty of the nutritious dog food he’s used to enjoying at home.

Keep Tummy Issues at Bay

Canine tummy issues tend to be one of the most common concerns on road trips with dogs.

Long drives in the car can make your dog feel a little queasy, so you’ll want to have something on hand to soothe his stomach if you notice he isn’t feeling his best.

“[For an upset stomach, try] warm peppermint tea. It tastes good and soothes an upset stomach—for you and your pet,” says Dr. Osborne.

Be sure to consult with your vet before trying peppermint or other holistic options for motion sickness, as too much peppermint can cause GI upset.

You can also strap your anxious traveler into his dog safety belt if the drive gets to be too much for him. “Try a pet safety belt. They help reduce motion sickness,” says Dr. Osborne.

Be Aware of Your Environment

One of the most important things to keep in mind when you’re traveling with dogs is your environment. If you’re traveling to a new area, you need to be aware of any potential risks to your pet’s safety.

“Keep in mind that different parts of the country are at higher risk for different diseases and parasites. For example, Colorado [where we are from] has very few biting insects, so we weren’t used to medicating [our dog] Barley for fleas and ticks,” says Fratt. “However, we had to pull out the big guns for parasite control prior to going to Wisconsin in the early summer!”

No matter where you are traveling, you will want to talk with your veterinarian ahead of time to discuss heartworm medicine for dogs, flea and tick medicine for dogs and other precautionary measures you should take while traveling with dogs. This is especially important in terms of vaccines, as certain parts of the country are more susceptible to certain diseases.

Traveling with dogs can be challenging at times, but it’s also a great opportunity for you to bond with your four-legged friend on a dog-friendly vacation. So take the steps necessary to ensure you and your pup have a good time—and then kick back, hit the open road and enjoy!

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health