Reviewed and updated for accuracy on January 10, 2019, by Katie Grzyb, DVM
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 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.
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. Pets that might not be suitable to travel include young pets, older pets, pregnant animals or ill animals. If you’re unsure, consult your veterinarian to get an expert opinion. In some cases, it might be best to leave your furry family member at home with a pet sitter.
“Animals that travel should be cleaned, groomed and follow basic obedience,” says 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.”
Make Preparations Before the Trip
You’ll want to call the hotels you’ll be staying at to ensure they allow pets before you arrive, suggests Dr. Osborne. Certain hotels will have weight limits, restrictions 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 won’t have to find another place to stay.
You’ll also want to make sure your pet has a cat collar or dog collar with accurate contact information for you. If your pet is microchipped, you will want to make sure that the microchip is registered to you and has your most up-to-date information listed.
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. Providing emergency contact information of a trusted friend or relative can also be beneficial in a situation where you’re unable to speak or are unconscious.
Before you head to your destination, it is also important to research and have the names of a few emergency veterinary hospitals at your destination. 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 veterinary care for your pet while on your trip.
Pack Products That Will Help Keep Your Pet Warm
If the temperatures will be cold, 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, says Wolko.
However, when choosing the right dog apparel or cat apparel for traveling with a pet, you need to keep in mind travel safety as well. Wolko cautions that knitted fabrics can snag or get caught up in a dog seat belt, dog car seat or cat carrier, so you will want to make sure you choose something that will allow your pet to move around and relax safely and comfortably.
Additional products that can be helpful in keeping your pet warm in colder weather include the K&H Pet Products microwavable bed warmer, Aspen pet self-warming pet bed and Snuggle Safe dog, cat and small animal microwave heat pad.
Ensure your Car is Pet-Friendly
Car travel with pets can be quite dangerous. Unrestrained pets can quickly become a distraction, and when a pet is unrestrained, they are also at greater risk of serious injury if an accident were to occur. Wolko explains that when traveling in a car with a pet, you will want to properly secure your pet.
Wolko says, “First and foremost, we want to prevent distraction.” If you’re driving and your pet climbs into your lap, that could distract you and potentially cause an accident. And if you do get into an accident, you don’t want your pet to fly out of the car.
Wolko’s organization, Center for Pet Safety (CPS), certifies a handful of travel products for dogs and cats. CPS advises using a cat carrier to safely secure a cat for travel. For longer trips, Wolko advises that small dogs should also go into dog carriers. Small or large dogs 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.
CPS has a list of CPS certified products for traveling with a pet. Those products include the CPS-certified Sleepypod Clickit sport dog safety harness, Sleepypod Air In-Cabin dog and cat carrier and Sleepypod mobile pet bed and carrier. Currently CPS only certifies up to 90-pound dogs for harnesses. Kennels have been strength-rated up to 75 pounds.
“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. If you plan to have your pet in a harness for the drive, a practice run also allows you to make sure your pet is comfortable and that the harness fits your pet comfortably.
It is always a good idea to have a roadside emergency kit in your car in case of emergency. Ensure it has flares, cones or a flag—anything that will alert other drivers to your presence, says Wolko.
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.
Other Items to Bring on Your Trip
It is also smart to pack extra pet food; you can use a cat or dog food storage container like the Gamma2 Travel-tainer complete pet feeding system that allows you to securely store your pet’s dog food or cat food and provides you with bowls for water and food.
Having extra food and water is especially important in case you get stuck in traffic or bad weather or have car problems. Extra blankets and towels can be useful, too.
Wolko says if you’re bringing dog toys or cat 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 prescription pet medication, be sure to bring some extra meds in case you end up staying at a destination for longer than planned.
Consider Paying for Roadside Service
If you’ll be taking a long road trip, a membership to a roadside service organization like AAA can be a lifesaver if you get stranded with a flat tire or have car problems. Consider investing in a membership if you don’t have one already. And if you do have one, ensure that it’s not expired and that you have an updated ID card before you hit the road.
Pit Stops and Pet Safety During the Trip
No one likes getting into a freezing cold car during the winter months. Before setting off on your trip, consider starting your car and letting it sit for a few minutes to warm up before putting your pet inside.
While driving, you’ll want to stop every few hours to take a potty break, says Dr. Osborne. When you’re planning your trip, be sure incorporate those break times into your overall travel time.
While making those pit stops, be sure to check the sidewalks, parking lots and roads for ice-melting products or deicers, which can not only harm your pet’s paws but are also toxic if ingested.
When you come back in from a walk, spritz your pet’s paws with water to avoid ingestion or irritation. Signs of ingestion include excessive drooling, depression and vomiting, says Dr. Osborne. You can use pet wipes like TrueBlue paw and body wipes on the paws to remove allergens and other substances after walks.
At a pit stop, “never leave your pet unattended,” says Wolko. “Pet theft is on the rise.” Plus, your pet could potentially run away.
Wolko says it might be good to have Frisco giant training and potty pads handy, especially if your pet is prone to accidents.
Cold Weather Safety Issues
If you are planning on spending outdoor time with your pet on the trip, you need to 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.
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 and wrap him or her up in warm towels, says Dr. Osborne. Don’t rub an area that has frostbite, says Dr. Osborne.
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. If you suspect your pet is seriously ill, consult a vet as soon as possible.
When You Arrive
When you finally reach your destination or the hotel room where you’ll be staying, you’ll want to 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.
It is helpful to create a safe space for your pet with familiar smells from home. Using your pet’s favorite toys and blankets form home, set up a dog pen or cat pen like the EliteField 2-door soft-sided dog and cat playpen to create a cozy area for them. Having a pen or kennel for your pet also allows you to secure them safely while you are out and about.
For cats, you will also want to get their cat litter box set up pretty quickly. The Cat's Pride Kat Kit litter trays offer a transportable and disposable litter box option so that you don’t have to worry about trekking around your cat’s normal litter box. Make sure that you also have extra cat litter with you.
By Teresa K. Traverse
Image via iStock.com/Chalabala