How to Travel With Your Dog: The Ultimate Guide

Janelle Leeson
By Janelle Leeson. Reviewed by Barri J. Morrison, DVM on Sep. 28, 2023
A Jack Russell Terrier sits in a dog bed in the front seat of a car.

Though there are great pet sitters and boarding facilities available, nothing beats a road trip with your pup.

These fur-filled getaways—especially the first one—take preparation. So, how can you get ready for your trip? Here's what you need to know to keep your fur baby safe and comfortable on the road.

Speak With Your Veterinarian

Dr. Jana Bryant, DVM, a veterinarian at CityVet in Las Colinas, Texas, has two large Labradors.

Her kids beg her to take the pups on every trip, big or small. According to Bryant, loop your vet into your plans before hitting the road with your dog.

Get Essential Vaccinations

“Ask your vet if your pet needs any additional vaccinations,” Bryant says. For example, if you’re traveling to the Northeast United States (where deer tick populations are highest), make sure that your dog is prepared with a Lyme vaccine and tick preventative.

For trips to the southern parts of the United States, dogs should receive leptospirosis vaccinations.

Get a Health Certificate

Dog health certificates state that your vet has examined your fur baby and they don’t appear to have any potentially contagious diseases.

Health certificates are typically good for 30 days, though some airlines require a health certificate dated within 10 days of travel.

Update Your Medical Records and Microchip ID

Ask for an electronic copy and/or a printed copy of your pup’s most recent medical records. This is also a good time to ensure your dog's microchip information is accurate, too.

Get Ahead of Motion Sickness

About half of pet parents and their dogs travel by car, and some of those pups experience motion sickness.

Signs of motion sickness include excessive drooling, licking of the paws, whining, or yawning. If this sounds like your dog, Bryant suggests asking your vet if an anti-motion sickness medication could help.

“Many puppies will grow out of motion sickness. However, we want to prevent them from feeling nauseous in the car, as it can lead to a negative association with car rides as they grow older,” she says.

Does Your Dog Need Calming Aids or Sedatives?

If your dog is easily excitable, anxious, or reactive, consider whether a trip is the best choice for them. If your pup must travel, it’s very important to consult with your vet before purchasing any calming supplements or aids.

“There are many over-the-counter supplements that aren't tested for safety or purity," Bryant says.

Your vet may prescribe medications to help your dog sleep through car or train rides.

However, your vet may not recommend giving your pup a sedative if they have any underlying health conditions before flying, such as liver or heart disease.

Alternatively, sedatives may not be allowed by the airline, as sedatives can increase the risk of issues in a pup’s ears during pressure changes, as well as lung and heart problems.

Do Your Research

Plan Your Route

Leigh Siegfried, a dog behaviorist, and founder of Opportunity Barks, maps out her route before taking a trip with her pup. She makes sure to plan a few potty stops for her dog.

While rest stops are convenient, they are often along major highways and lack green space. She recommends adding a park to your route. “Let your dog stretch, do some scent work, and really get a good amount of exercise,” Siegfried says.

Locate Emergency Veterinary Offices

Make sure to have the name and number of a few urgent care vet clinics along your route and near your destination.

If you’re visiting friends or family, they may know of a trustworthy emergency vet. If they can refer a vet, give the office a call and ask them about their walk-in policy and what documentation you should have on hand.

Bryant also recommends packing a first aid kit with a minimum of these essentials:

Understand the Rules of Your Airline or Train Agency

In 1990, Gayle Martz helped change airline policies to allow some pets in passenger cabins.

If a dog’s carrier can’t find under the seat, pet parents can purchase a seat for their furry companions.

“Destinations, airlines, and rail lines all have their own rules and regulations,” Martz says. “That's why I do my research before traveling with my pup.”

For example, dogs traveling with American Airlines must be at least 8 weeks old and cannot be on tranquilizers or sedatives. Additionally, brachycephalic breeds are not permitted to travel in cargo.

Dogs can’t be exposed to air temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit for more than four hours.

If the weather is too hot or too cold at your departing airport or destination, your dog won't be allowed to fly, even when meeting the above requirements.

Here are a few other factors to take into consideration:

  • Make a reservation for your dog. Airlines and train agencies typically have a limited number of spaces for pets in the passenger cabin.

  • Your dog must be up to date on their vaccinations. Flying internationally with a pet may require additional vaccines and/or documentation. Your pup may need their health certificate approved by the USDA’s Animal and Plant fit Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

  • Your dog must be in a carrier for the duration of the flight or train ride. However, you may need to take your pet out of the carrier while passing through security so that their bag can be scanned. “Airport security will tell you how to proceed,” she says. “It’s important to be discreet, compliant, and respectful with your pet.”

  • There may be pet fees. The amount varies by airline or train agency. Contact the company you’re traveling with to see how much you can expect to pay.

Prepare Your Pup

You don’t want to wait until the day of your big trip to introduce your dog to their travel gear.

Siegfried stresses that they should be comfortable with their gear before you take them on the road.

For example, your dog should be prepared for the confinement and limited movement of a seat belt tether before clipping them in.

The first step is letting your dog sniff and investigate their gear.

Then, put the gear on your dog for short periods in your house. Create positive associations by praising them, playing with them, or giving them a treat while they use the equipment.

Slowly work up to taking your dog outside in the gear, clipping them into their seat, or securing them inside their crate in the car.

Pack the Essentials for Your Pup

Whether you and your pooch are taking off for an overnight trip or a weeklong getaway, be sure to check off the must-haves on our dog-friendly packing list:  

  • Toys. When traveling with your dog, it’s important to pack a few items that they love and will help them feel comfortable and entertained. “I like to pack enrichment toys that I can stuff with food,” Siegfried says. Other items to consider are your dog’s favorite stuffed animal, tug toys, and a ball for playing fetch. If you’re flying, be sure to pack a few (non-squeaky) options in your carry-on.

  • Water and a travel doggy water bottle and/or collapsible bowl. No matter the temperature, water bottles and bowls are always essential. “An excited dog is typically too busy sniffing to remember to drink, so you may need to wait until they calm down to encourage them to have some water,” Bryant says.

  • Food and a travel food bowl. Using a kibble carrier (rather than lugging a bag of kibble around) helps cut down on the amount of luggage you’re carrying and will help keep your dog’s food fresh. Make sure to purchase a travel food bowl for your pup as well.

  • Medication. Your dog’s medications are essential, and they’re even more important on a road trip. Bring extra doses in case the road trip goes longer than originally anticipated or you misplace it. If your dog’s medication needs to be refrigerated, ensure your pet-friendly accommodation has an in-room or community refrigerator.  While traveling with the medication, be sure to keep those meds cool by placing them in a refrigerated backpack or cooler.

  • Treats. Spoiling your pup with a handful of treats just before a car ride or take-off isn't a great idea. However, pack high-reward training treats to reinforce positive behavior throughout your trip. Zukes, Vital Essentials, and Fruitables are all good options.

  • Bathroom essentials. You can never be too prepared for accidents, so consider throwing an enzyme cleaning solution in the car, poop bags, and a few extra potty pads in your carry-on. Grab a plastic trash bag or two for any soiled pee pads.

  • Crate. Not all dogs are trained to rest or travel in crates. If your dog is crate-trained, buy a good crate that's collapsible. This can help your pup feel at ease, especially if you’re able to use it at your destination. Add all the necessities that your dog requires to be comfortable in their crate, such as a quilted mat or a battery-operated fan if it's warm.

  • Bedding. With all the excitement of travel, your pup is sure to want somewhere cozy to nap. Travel beds are typically machine washable, quick-dry, and come with a carrying case that’s small enough to serve as a carry-on.  A portable sound machine may also help your pup get a restful night of sleep.

Find the Right Travel Carrier

When traveling with your pet, it’s important to choose a carrier that meets the size requirements of the airline or train agency you will be using.

Amtrak requires that dog carriers be no larger than 19 inches long, 14 inches wide, and 10.5 inches high, while United Airlines restricts hard-sided carriers to 17.5 inches long, 12 inches wide, and 7.5 inches tall.

In addition to regulation size, there are a few other essential features to look for in a dog carrier:

  • A leak-proof bottom to prevent accidents

  • Good ventilation to keep your pet cool and comfortable

  • Fit under the seat in front of you (depending on your pup’s size)

  • Enough space for your pet to stand up and turn around

Martz's favorite pet carrier for travel is the Sherpa carrier, which she created out of love for her dog Sherpa.

The Sherpa carrier meets the requirements of most major airlines and is even backed by the Worldwise Guaranteed On-Board™ program.

This program will refund the cost of your airline flight and your pet airline travel fee if you can't board a flight because of your carrier.

Stay at Pet-Friendly Places

Choosing the right accommodations is important for anyone, but it's especially important when your pup is in the mix.

When it comes to finding pet-friendly accommodations, there are a few tips and tricks to make the search easier.

  • Use a pet-friendly travel website or app. These include BringFido and GoPetFriendly, though Airbnb and Vrbo also have pet-friendly filters.

  • Contact the accommodation directly. Even if a property doesn't advertise itself as pet-friendly, it's always worth a call to see if they'll make an exception for your fur baby.

  • Ask your friends, family, and social media contacts for recommendations. People who have traveled with their pets before will likely have some good recommendations for pet-friendly places.

Choosing to stay at a pet-friendly accommodation while traveling with your dog ensures they’re welcome and that you’ll have everything you need to make their stay comfortable.

Even though a hotel is pet-friendly, you should still call ahead to ask what their pet policies are.

Understand the Cost and Budget Accordingly

It’s important to understand the cost of traveling with your pet, which can vary depending on your means of travel and the airline or train line, the destination, and the size of your dog.

Pet Travel FAQs

Can I travel with a dog internationally?

If you want to include your dog in your international travel plans, contact the visiting nation’s embassy or consulate to find out what their customs policies are.

Some countries (and Hawaii) require pets to undergo a quarantine period to reduce the spread or introduction of diseases such as rabies, which means additional lodging costs for the traveler.

Using a pet travel agency such as Pet Airways or PetAir can help you find a pet-friendly flight, book your tickets, and make sure your pup meets all the requirements.

If I’m traveling to a distant destination, can I travel with my dog in the car?

Pets can travel long distances by car safely if they are properly prepared. They should be secured in a crate, carrier, booster seat, or seat belt harness that’s the right size for them.

Featured Image:


USDA APHIS | Care and Handling of Pets During Air Travel—Instructions (Lesson 2). Published 2020. Accessed September 7, 2023.  


Janelle Leeson


Janelle Leeson

Freelance Writer

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