by Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM
Many dogs love to ride in the car, but some dogs, and most cats, do not. Even
pets who enjoy the car may not do as well on very long trips. Air travel may get
the trip over faster, but it can be extremely stressful for your pet. Traveling
with pets can be a hassle, but good preparation will ease the stress for
General Travel Info:
All traveling pets (even close to home) should wear a collar or harness with
current ID tags. If you haven’t already done so, consider micro-chipping your
pet. (Rumors about microchips causing cancer are greatly exaggerated). Be sure
the chip is registered and kept up-to-date in an appropriate database, and bring
the chip number and registry contact information with you in a separate pocket
If you will be crossing state lines on your trip, you are legally required to
have a current domestic health certificate for your pet(s). This requires
examination by an accredited veterinarian within a certain time frame (typically
10-30 days). Each state has its own rules, so be sure to ask the states you’ll
be traveling to (or through) for their requirements. A list of state
veterinarians, with contact information, can be found online at the
Vet World website.
If you’re traveling outside the U.S., a special USDA-issued international
health certificate is necessary. It’s best to contact that country's consulate
or embassy for the most up-to-date information. Most countries require a current
rabies vaccine; many require a microchip; and some impose a quarantine. A list
of consulates can be found online at the
U.S. Department of State’s
Travel in Car:
Do not feed your pet within 8-12 hours of departure, to help prevent
carsickness. (But just in case, be sure to have a non-toxic cleaner handy to
quickly remove pet messes.) Allow a moderate amount of water up to an hour
For pets who aren’t fond of the car, there are many effective holistic
remedies, such as flower essences, herbs, pheromones, and homeopathics, for both
Ideally, try the remedy out ahead of time, to make sure your pet tolerates it
(some pets may do better with a particular form or taste). A side benefit: a few
“practice” car rides will help your pet get used to the idea.
The safest place for traveling pets is in the back seat, in a safety harness
or carrier. Pets loose in the car can cause risky distractions and interfere
with the driver, which could result in an accident. Harnesses designed as
“doggie seat belts” provide safety during the trip, and prevent your dog from
getting loose if someone unexpectedly opens the door.
Cats should be kept in a carrier while the car is in motion; many cats
actually prefer it, because the smaller space makes them feel safer. Always make
sure the cat is well secured before opening the car door. Some cats can be
trained to walk with a
harness and leash,
but this is not something to try for the first time the day of the trip!
You might want to check out the
Four Paws Safety Seat Adjustable Support Harness or
3 in 1 VestHarness.
Make “pit stops” every 2 hours to exercise dogs on-leash. If the drive will
last more than 12 hours, plan to stop at a
pet-friendly motel ).
If you’re traveling with cats, who can slip through the tiniest cracks and slink
into inaccessible spots under furniture, you may want to ask for a
handicap-accessible room. You can set up the extra-large bathroom with bed, litterbox, food and water, and presto! You’ve got a quiet, safe retreat for your
Never leave your pet unattended in a hot vehicle! Any direct sunlight, even
on a relatively cool day, can quickly heat up a car’s interior. On a hot day,
even parking in the shade isn’t enough. If you must leave your pet in the car
for a short period of time (less than 10 minutes), be sure to leave all of the
windows partially open (not just a tiny crack). Better still, add a
battery-operated fan that affixes to a partially opened window.
Dogs and cats regulate heat primarily by panting; they do not have sweat
glands throughout their skin like we do. Heat builds quickly in a vehicle; and
temperatures over 100oF mean your pet cannot get rid of heat by panting. A pet’s
body temperature can rapidly rise to dangerous levels. If you still need
convincing that this is a serious problem, take an outdoor thermometer in the
car with you a few times—you’ll be shocked. For more information on warm weather
safety, please see our article, "Top
10 Summer Safety Tips for Pets."
You may also want to consider bringing plenty of water from home or enough
gallon containers of bottled water to last the trip. A change in water sources
can sometimes cause tummy upset in sensitive pets.
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The information is not intended to be a substitute for visits to your local veterinarian.
Instead, the content offers the reader information and opinions written by our staff,
guest authors, and/or veterinarians concerning animal health issues and animal care
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