Prepare Your Pet for Car Trips

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial on Jul. 12, 2013
Prepare Your Pet for Car Trips

By Vanessa Voltolina

Looking to hit the road with your dog, cat, or both? Bringing your pet along for a trip, long or short, is a nice way to add some excitement to her day and explore new places. It may also cut down on paying for a kennel, cat sitter or dog watcher.

While it may seem like all fun and games, there is some preparation you must do before your cat or dog can feel comfortable on road trips for any length of time. Here, three steps for preparing your pet for car trips:

 1. Get the Goods (Carriers and Meds)

For traveling with a cat, a cat carrier is your best bet, and a relatively inexpensive one at that. Try a hard-sided carrier with openings on the front and even the top, since this can make it less stressful for your cat to go in and out. Before you go road tripping, allow your cat to get accustomed to the carrier by leaving it open in the house for her to explore.

Similarly to cats, prep your dog with short car trips before taking a long one. Bring your dog on short car rides around town, which will help him get used to being in dog carriers or using a dog seat belt—and reveal any tendencies to get overly nervous or carsick. If you only cart your pet to the vet, take your dog or cat somewhere fun (maybe a park for your pooch) so they will begin to associate getting in the car with receiving a reward.

For pets prone to car sickness, ask your vet about motion sickness or even sedation medications. While every pet deserves to spend time with you on the road, if traveling does make them very sick, you may want to consider bringing them along less often, and only for vet appointments and "special" occasions.

For longer car trips, remember to also have medical and vaccine records for your pet in case of emergency, pet tags (or have her micro-chipped), favorite toys, food, bowl and scooper, and a leash.

2. Plan Ahead

As you likely noticed, there’s no shortage of travel supplies available for your furry friend—collapsible bowls and special luggage are all the rage. While these supplies are helpful, most important is that you have your pet's regular dog food or cat food with you. Try to keep your pet's mealtime routine as consistent as possible, even beyond the type of pet food. If your dog eats at 8 a.m., feed him then. Also keep plenty of bottled water handy.

A larger and more pressing issue for you and your pet while traveling may be the bathroom. Namely, how and when you can get them to go while in transit. Thankfully, online pet supply stores can help out here, too. You can get yourself a disposable litter box for your cat, just be sure to use your regular cat litter in them. Changing litter suddenly can cause some cats to start going to the bathroom outside the cat litter box.

When it comes to pooches, many only feel comfortable going potty close to home, where they have previously left their scent. Before your excursion, train your dog to go to the bathroom in unfamiliar places. This may require that you have a few crash courses before you go away. A few weeks before you travel, work to develop a bathroom cue, which can be an action or phrase that indicates he should go. When he goes outside of his comfort zone or in a new location, offer praise, and maybe a few dog treats, too!

3. Speak with Your Vet

As we mentioned above, car trips can sometimes bring about a side of your pet that you've never seen before—think anxiety, nausea or both.

If this is the case for your cat or dog, discuss with your vet ways that you can help your pet during the trip. Be sure to tell your vet about specific symptoms—such as vomiting, and even drooling, which may be a warning sign that vomiting will follow soon. 

This may mean giving him medication before you go, to make it easier on you both. When it comes to nerves, anti-anxiety medications or pheromone sprays for cats, like Feliway travel spray, may help. During your discussion with the vet, also ask whether any of your pet's current meds need to be changed up while you're on the road. And don’t forget general best practices for traveling, including having a first-aid kit on hand and programming your cell phone with emergency numbers. Double up on this info to ensure that both you and your pet have the first-aid and contact info you need for safe travels.

When it comes to packing and planning for your next trip with your pet, remember that not every hotel is pet-friendly. Or, some may have specific policies or red tape around these reservations. Be sure to call ahead to confirm that the hotel is happy to take you and your pets in during your travels.

Image: dezy/

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

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