Traveling with Pets
In many cases, traveling with pets is not as difficult as traveling with children! All it takes is common sense and planning ahead. The information below applies to cats and dogs. Check with your veterinarian for specifics if you have a more exotic pet.
Is Your Pet Ready?
Before traveling with any pet, consider the animal’s overall health and whether it is comfortable being confined in a vehicle or RV. Here are some general guidelines:
- Don’t plan a three-week road trip with a pet that has never traveled! Start with short car trips and build up to overnight, weekend and so on.
- If car rides mean going to the vet, take your pet to the park or other fun places, so they become accustomed to the fact that getting in the car means pleasant experiences are coming.
Consider leaving your pet at home if it:
- Is prone to carsickness or anxiety.
- Has an illness that is not easily managed or might infect other animals.
- Misbehaves or is destructive.
- Barks, howls or otherwise demands attention if left alone.
Stop about every two hours to exercise your pet. This will be a healthy break for you, too. Don’t wait for the animal to become restless or anxious before you stop, and when you do, be sure to allow adequate time for the animal to relieve itself and get necessary exercise.
Always carry a rabies certificate with you. Many campgrounds (virtually all national parks) and officials at the Canadian and Mexican borders won’t admit pets without proof of vaccination against rabies.
Provide a cozy crate. Dogs and cats naturally feel more secure when they have their own space. Loose pets are potentially dangerous; even unexpected braking can cause them to fall off seats or fly through the air. When you pack, leave ample space around the crate for air circulation.
Buckle up. Whether your pet is crated or not, buckle him up. Pet stores sell harnesses that work in conjunction with lap and shoulder belts. These are most effective with pets that weigh 25 pounds or more. Smaller pets do best in a crate buckled to the seat or firmly attached to the floor.
Attach a leash or harness BEFORE you open the door. This applies to both cats and dogs. In the confusion and excitement of a strange place, pets often dart into traffic or run off.
Take a litter box for your cat. Few cats will relieve themselves at the end of a leash, so take a litter box when you travel. One way is to simply pack the cat’s home litter box in the back of the SUV, and let kitty go to it when it feels the urge to purge. Another way is to have a crate big enough to put a small litter box at one end. Your cat will feel more at home if you don’t start a trip with fresh litter. Let her use it a couple of times before you pack up.
Water, water, water! When you’re traveling with a pet, always carry a gallon of fresh water. Even though your pet may love to travel, excitement and stress can cause dehydration. Also, a pet may not immediately take to unfamiliar water at a rest stop or campsite. Give him a drink every time you stop. Pet stores sell traveling water dishes that are difficult to tip or spill Try freezing a small dish of water ahead of time and let your pet lick the ice when she is thirsty.
Get temporary ID tags. If someone finds your pet, they can’t reach you at home if you’re on vacation. Temporary tags can provide the phone number of your campground, cellphone or a friend or relative who is usually at home.
Take your pet’s normal food. Changing diet on a trip can cause distress or illness. Animals generally eat less when it’s hot or they’re stressed from traveling.
Bad hair day? Long fur may look hot, but it often helps insulate the animal and keep it cooler. A trim is fine, but unless your pet usually has a buzz cut, don’t do it just because it’s hot outside.
Courtesy is Rule #1
Not everyone loves animals, even friendly ones. That’s one reason your pet must be leashed in public places and campgrounds. ALWAYS clean up after your pet, even if it doesn’t appear to be required, or other people don’t. Carry a bag and small shovel, or try this:
- Place one plastic grocery bag inside another.
- Place your hand inside both bags.
- Scoop up waste with your bagged hand.
- Turn the bags inside out to enclose the waste.
- Tie the handles of the outer bag over the inner bag and discard.
Leaving Pets in Your RV
If you plan to leave a pet in your RV while you sightsee or shop, leave the air conditioning on, especially if your unit is parked in the sun. It is unwise to leave an unattended animal in an expandable trailer. They can cause very expensive damage to screens and can also escape.
Traveling with Pets Checklist:
- Favorite toys
- Collar with temporary ID tags (should be worn at all times)
- Bed, carrier and/or crate
- Food and water bowls
- Regular brand and type of food
- Pooper Scooper
- Litter box
- Proof of rabies vaccination
- Current health statement from vet
- Medical records
- Fresh flea collar
- Tick repellent
- Tie-out rope
- Fresh water
- Treats to reinforce good behavior
Keep Your Pet Safe
NEVER leave your pet unattended in a hot car or RV. Dogs, in particular, have far less tolerance for heat than humans do. Because they only sweat between their toes and by panting, dogs and cats overheat quickly. Even on a comfortable day, the inside temperature of your car can break 100 degrees in just a few minutes, especially in the sun.
If you must leave your pet alone, park in the shade, leave at least two windows open for air circulation (but not far enough to allow the animal to jump out). Provide a bowl of water and return within five minutes. When it’s time to eat, use a drive-through or consider eating in shifts, with a family member staying behind with your pet, preferably outside the car.
Dehydration & Overheating
If your pet appears heat stressed (excessive panting, staggering, shaking), take it immediately to a shady place and gently pour water over the animal’s head and body. Provide water to drink, but don’t allow the animal to guzzle; this can cause vomiting and greater dehydration. Remove the bowl after a few laps and wait a couple of minutes before letting the animal drink more.
While plain water will replace most electrolytes, an electrolyte-enriched drink such as Pedialyte (found in the infant section of grocery and drug stores) will help your pet recover from lack of water more quickly. You can also give your dog a sports drink such as Gatorade to replenish electrolytes. Many dogs like the sweet taste... cats, not so much.
Dehydration is a consequence of lack of water, overheating, stress, vomiting or diarrhea. Symptoms include dry mouth, sunken eyes, loss of elasticity in the skin and extreme exhaustion.
To test for dehydration, life the skin along your pet’s back. It should snap back into place when you let go. If the skin stays up in a ridge, your pet is dehydrated. This is an emergency. Take the animal to a vet right away.
Prolonged exposure to cold (especially if the animal is unaccustomed to severe weather) can be dangerous. The feet and face are especially prone to cold. Consider outfitting your dog or cat with appropriate protective gear, sold in most pet shops. Pay attention to your pet’s communication about what they can and cannot tolerate.
Avoiding Car Sickness
Like young children, young dogs and cats are prone to carsickness. Not feeding your pet for six to eight hours prior to traveling will help keep its stomach calm. Giving water is fine.
Pets are less likely to get carsick when they can see passing scenery; try to give them a window seat and open the window enough to let in fresh air. This also helps calm the stomach.
Over the counter Dramamine is an effective motion sickness preventer for cats and dogs, as well as people. If your pet is prone to carsickness, ask your vet about administering this medication.
- Watch for drooling; it is often the first sign of queasiness.
- Frequent rest stops will help keep carsickness at bay.
- Be sure to stick with your pet’s regular food and don’t feed him for several hours prior to travel.
At Your Destination
When you travel with an animal, ALWAYS make reservations ahead of time so you can be sure the campground you choose allows pets. Campground policies vary. Some restrict the number or size of pets, and most have specific rules for the handling of animals. Check on these policies ahead of time to avoid surprises or disappointment.
Your pet will welcome opportunities to explore with you, but use common sense and courtesy. Keep him or her leashed, and clean up after them. In tourist areas, well-behaved pets are welcome in many shops, but always ask first. To be safe, shop in pairs, so one person can wait outside with the pet while the other shops. You won’t be able to take you pet in restaurants, but you may be able to keep him with you if there is outdoor seating. If you do, shorten his leash so he can’t interfere with other diners. Better yet, pick up sandwiches and eat in a park.
Many dogs love to swim, so be sure to carry a spare towel. Do not let your dog swim in stagnant water or in fast water where there is current and/or rocks. Do not let your dog swim in campground swimming pools. On beaches, observe posted rules. Monitor your dog carefully, and clean up after her. Don’t let dogs or cats drink saltwater. It can make them sick and causes dehydration. Always carry fresh water with you.
On the Road Together
Pets bring joy and fullness to life at home and on the road. Dogs, in particular, would rather be with their owners than anywhere else. Teach your dog or cat (or both!) to travel well, and you will reap the rewards of their special companionship wherever the road leads you. The most important things to remember are to take along water and leave nothing behind.