Traveling by Car with Your Pet

We all have things we like to have with us when going on a car trip — food, drinks, tablets, music, and sometimes, our dogs. If your next driving adventure includes family members of the furry kind, these tips are for you.

  • Before hitting the road, consider your dog’s health, age, and personality, and plan with any unique individual needs in mind. Make sure you pack enough food, water, medication if applicable, and your dog’s preferred bed and toys.
  • Consider any restrictions you and your dog may face. Are the hotels in your itinerary pet-friendly, and will your dog have to spend long hours in the room? Are there any activities that include dogs?
  • Before your departure, take your dog to your veterinarian to get a health certificate and proof of vaccinations. Different states have different regulations, so it’s best to take your dog’s records with you in case they are required. Let your vet know where you will be traveling in case there are communicable diseases of which you should be aware. Also, if you are going to be hiking in wilderness areas, inquire about Lyme disease.
  • Most dogs love to ride in the car, but if yours is not accustomed to traveling, take him or her for mini-trips beforehand. Of course, once they get used to the car, they’ll want to go everywhere with you!
  • Just like people, many dogs are susceptible to motion sickness. To help your dog overcome it, feed him or her lightly before the trip, about one-third the usual amount of dog food.
  • It’s also a good idea to exercise your dog before the drive, so he or she will be less excited or edgy, and more inclined to rest. A hyper dog can be a big driver distraction.
  • Your vacation route should be planned with your dog’s needs in mind. Rest stops should be included every four to six hours so your dog can do his or her "business," get some exercise and work off energy. Water should be offered at each stop; don’t offer your dog food or water while the car is moving. Be sure to carry paper towels to clean up potential accidents in the vehicle, and poop bags to use wherever you stop.
  • During your trip, your dog should always wear a collar with valid rabies and license tags. Unless your mobile phone number is on one of the tags, keep an extra ID tag with a friend’s contact info on your dog’s collar; that way somebody can be available to receive any calls should your dog become lost.
  • Before traveling with your dog, review the road rules for any state you will be driving through. Many states have rules that require you to restrain your dog, or don’t allow a dog to sit on the driver’s lap. Comfortably restraining your dog during travel will help increase safety - not only for you and your dog, but for your passengers and other drivers on the road.
  • Some experts recommend crating your dog during travel. This is arguably the safest option, as the crate will provide an extra layer of protection should the car get into an accident or even stop short. Make sure that the crate fits in your vehicle first, and be sure to secure it. If your dog is not used to a crate, take some time before your trip to make it more familiar.
  • A harness is another option. If you’ve never put your dog into a car harness before, take some test drives with him or her in it before your trip to ensure that it’s secure and comfortable. It will also help your dog get used to being in it.
  • And most important of all: never leave your dog for an extended length of time in a car. Even on a cool day, with the windows cracked a few inches, a car in direct sunlight can heat to more than 120 degrees F in less than 10 minutes. Your dog could become dehydrated, or worse.
  • Published:
  • Updated: 8/17/2018: 2:16:19 PM ET
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