Cold Weather Safety Tips for Traveling With Your Pet

By PetMD Editorial. Reviewed by Jennifer Coates, DVM on Nov. 17, 2022

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If you plan to travel with a pet this winter, it’s important to be mindful of cold weather safety issues. After all, frigid temperatures aren’t pleasant and can be downright dangerous—for you or your pet. If you’re considering flying or driving somewhere with your dog or cat, here are some winter travel safety tips to help ensure you reach your destination safely (and warmly!).

Make Sure Your Pet Is Fit to Travel

“Before any type of trip, you want to make sure your pet is healthy and able to take the trip,” says Dr. Carol Osborne, DVM of Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. In some cases, it might be best to leave your furry family member at home with a pet sitter, in a boarding kennel, or at your veterinarian’s office. Pets that might not be suitable to travel include:

  • Young pets

  • Older pets

  • Pregnant animals

  • Ill animals

If you’re unsure if your pet is OK for winter travel, consult your veterinarian to get an expert opinion.

“Animals that travel should be cleaned, groomed, and follow basic obedience,” adds Dr. Osborne. She also says you should make sure “that they’re courteous, not knocking people over. If you have a pet that barks excessively, that is probably not an ideal animal to bring with you.”

Before the Trip

Before you load up the car or head to the airport, there are steps you have to take for your fur baby.

Contact Your Veterinarian

Talk to your veterinarian a few months before your trip and make sure your pet is up to date on all needed vaccinations and preventive care. If you’re traveling to a different part of the country (or world!), your pet may need vaccines or parasite prevention that they haven’t had before. If you’re crossing state borders there is a good chance your pet will need a current health certificate; international travel requires even more documentation.

Airlines often require that a veterinarian sign an acclimation statement that outlines safe travel temperatures for pets that are not traveling in the aircraft cabin with their owners.

Research Where You Stay

Call hotels before you book to ensure they allow pets. Even if cats and dogs are allowed, certain hotels can have weight limits, limitations on the number of animals you can bring, or other restrictions—like not being able to leave your dog unattended in the room. It’s best to call to ahead and find out so you aren’t scrambling to find another place to stay the day-of.

Pack for Pet Safety

No matter what time of year you’re traveling, make sure your pet has a cat collar or dog collar with up-to-date contact information. If your pet is microchipped, ensure the microchip is registered to you and accurate.

Lindsey Wolko, founder for the Center for Pet Safety (CPS), a consumer advocacy organization that advocates on behalf of pet owners, advises bringing a picture of you and your pet in case you get separated.

Before you head to your destination, research and have the names and contact information of a few nearby emergency veterinary hospitals. It also might be helpful, if you are driving, to check for emergency veterinarians on your route as well.

Ask your veterinarian to print out your pet’s medical records and bring a copy with you in case you need to seek care on your trip.

Ensure Your Car Is Pet-Friendly

Car travel with pets can be dangerous. Unrestrained pets can quickly become a distraction, and when a pet is unrestrained, they are also at greater risk of serious injury in an accident.

Wolko explains that when traveling in a car with a pet, you need to properly secure your pet. If you’re driving and your pet climbs into your lap, that could distract you and potentially cause an accident. Here are her recommendations:

  • Use a cat carrier to safely secure a cat for travel.

  • For longer trips, small dogs should also go into a carrier.

  • Small or large pups can use a dog harness or carrier, depending on what product your pet prefers.

  • Larger dogs can fit into a weighted kennel that’s secured with strength-rated anchor straps.

“Acclimate your pets, prior to travel, to those products,” says Wolko. Try taking them on short drives and gradually increasing the distance. You don’t want your pet’s first experience in the harness or carrier to be on a three-hour car trip.

These test runs are also helpful because they allow you to make sure the car safety products fit your pet comfortably and securely. So when it comes time for longer trips, you don’t have to worry about your pet escaping.

It is always a good idea to have a roadside emergency kit in your car in case of an emergency. Ensure it has flares, cones or a flag—anything that will alert other drivers to your presence, Wolko says.

Discuss travel with your veterinarian a few weeks prior to leaving to allow time to try any motion sickness or sedative medications at home. Always test out medications prior to travel.

Bring Products That Will Keep Your Pet Warm

For cold-weather travel, consider providing your pet with an extra layer of warmth before you leave home. A dog sweater or—if your cat is willing—a cat sweater is a great way to help keep your pet cozy, Wolko says.

However, when choosing the right apparel for traveling with a pet, you need to keep travel safety in mind as well. Wolko cautions that knitted fabrics can snag or get caught up in a dog seat belt, canine car seat, or cat carrier, so make sure you choose something that will allow your pet to move around and relax safely and comfortably.

Some good pet products for winter travel include:

Don’t Forget the Essentials

It is also smart to pack extra pet food; you can use a storage container like the Gamma2 Travel-tainer that allows you to securely store your pet’s food and provides bowls. Having extra food and water is especially important in case you get stuck in traffic, run into bad weather, or have car problems. Extra blankets and towels can be useful, too.

Wolko says if you’re bringing pet toys, it’s best to secure them so they don’t fly out or around the car in case of an accident. If your pet takes any medication, be sure to bring some extra meds in case you end up staying away longer than planned.

During the Trip

Now you’re ready to hit the road!

Make Lots of Pit Stops

While driving, Dr. Osborne says to stop every few hours so you (and your dog!) can take a potty break. When you’re planning your trip, be sure to incorporate those break times into your overall travel time.

During those pit stops, check the sidewalks, parking lots and roads for ice-melting products. These can harm your pet’s paws, and they’re also toxic if ingested. You might want to bring along dog booties to keep your pup’s paws safe in winter. If you don’t have booties, use a product like TrueBlue paw and body wipes after each pit stop to wipe your dog’s paws clean of any ice-melting products.

“Never leave your pet unattended” at pit stops, says Wolko, as your pet could easily run off or be stolen.

Keep the Stops Speedy

Be aware of how long you spend out in the cold with your pet. Dogs and cats can both suffer from frostbite and hypothermia, which can occur if your pet is exposed to cold temperatures for too long.

When temperatures drop under 32 F, small breed dogs, dogs with thin coats, or very young, old, or sick dogs could be in danger if they spend too much time outdoors. Once temperatures drop under 20 F, all pet parents need to be aware that their dogs could develop cold-associated health problems if they are outside for extended periods of time.

At-risk areas for frostbite on cats and dogs include the ears, nose, paws and tip of the tail, says Dr. Osborne. Frostbitten areas of skin initially turn a reddish color and then become gray. To treat frostbite on a dog or frostbite on a cat, give your pet a warm bath (not too hot, around 105 F is good), wrap them up in warm towels, and take them to the nearest veterinary clinic. Don’t rub an area that has frostbite.

Signs of hypothermia in dogs include paleness of skin and strong shivering, which can be followed by listlessness to the point of lethargy. If your pet is exhibiting these symptoms, bring her inside immediately and contact your veterinarian.

When You Arrive

When you reach your destination, provide a comfortable environment for your pet. They will probably want a potty break and a chance to decompress after a long trip—just like we do.

Create a safe space for your pet with familiar smells from home. Using your pet’s favorite toys and blankets, set up their own little cozy area. Having a pen or kennel for your pet also allows you to secure them safely if you have to leave them alone.

By Teresa K. Traverse

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