How to keep pets calm on road trips
When taking your pet on a road trip, make sure they are comfortable in a car first and any harness or seatbelt you use for their safety. You don’t want them to be introduced to this for the first time when setting out on a long adventure. Ensure they have a specific place to lay down (this may be a bed or crate) and cannot free-roam the car as this can create a hazard for the driver and for them. Having a specific spot in the car to lay can also help them relax. Ensure you exercise your pet before the road trip so they can start off a little calmer and quieter, and try not to feed a meal right before you go as some pets can get motion sickness. Bring along one of their blankets they know well and/or a soft toy or bone to chew on that is familiar to them. You may also consider bringing along a natural calming agent such as pheromone collar, diffuser, or spray, and calming chews/treats. These may not work for all pets, but sometimes help support them during brief times of stress.
Special considerations for puppies, kittens and older dogs.
Puppies are likely still in the process of potty-training, so a crate in the car is a good way to continue this process while on the road. Plan stops in advance but be prepared to stop early to let your pup relieve themselves if they begin to get antsy and need a break. Kittens (and cats) will need a little box area for the trip, again why a crate is extra helpful! Kittens are small and easy to lose in a car if they roam, so it’s important to keep them confined during the time on the road and only let them out when safely in an enclosed space so they cannot escape. Older animals may get uncomfortable on long trips, so make sure they also get enough bathroom breaks, time to stretch their legs and have plenty of cushion to lay on so they can be safe and comfortable during the trip.
Resources for road trips
- BringFido is a helpful site where pet parents can find pet-friendly accommodations all around North America. This can be used to find places to stay with your pet for your trip. They help ensure you are booked in a pet-friendly room and also share any associated fees or limitations when bringing a pet. It’s a lot easier to find a pet-friendly hotel here than looking at each hotel’s individual pet policies! BringFido also includes a list of pet-friendly restaurants, patios, parks, and other attractions.
- EmergencyVetUsa is a very simple site, but it serves its purpose by providing a search feature for the nearest 24-hour veterinary emergency services in the event you need to take your pet to the vet while on a road trip. It’s hard to know where to go when you are in an unfamiliar place and your pet is sick, and this site can help you find the nearest location for help.
- The Red Cross also has a Pet First Aid and Emergency App that is a must for all pet owners. It contains information for basic first aid, CPR, and other resources that every pet parent should review and have on hand. Be sure to always bring a pet first aid kit on a road trip so you have supplies on hand if needed
Planning and preparation
Plan stops along the way that are a safe distance from the road and have an area where your pet can relieve themselves. You’ll also need to plan meals for your pet and yourselves. It’s never a good idea to leave your pet unattended in a vehicle for an extended period, and weather may not allow this at all (i.e. very cold or hot temperatures that could be dangerous to the pet), so it’s important that you plan meals to accommodate watching your pet too. You also need to plan any overnight stays as not all venues are pet-friendly. It’s more challenging to find an accommodation with a pet, so making reservations ahead of time is a must.
Tips for staying in a hotel
You will need to check a hotel’s pet policy in advance of booking for your road trip. Some hotels have weight limits, number of pet limits, type of pet restrictions, or even breed restrictions. With the current conditions and coronavirus, some hotels have changed their pet policies, but many are still accepting pets. However, because this can vary greatly based on the local regulations and is changing frequently, it’s best to reach out to the hotel directly if anything is unclear.
Recall, or training your pup to come when called, is an important and potentially life-saving command. Spend some time with your pup in advance of your trip in case your pup gets loose somewhere or they're spending time off-leash hiking, camping, rafting or participating in another activity during your adventure. Not only does it keep your pup safe, it can help build your bond with your dog and is a great way for them to earn attention and rewards from you.
- Start practicing recall in a safe, non-distracting environment and make it easy for your dog to learn
- Once trained, your pup should come quickly over to you when called, but this takes time and practice
- Use something your dog enjoys as a reward (food is the most common)
- You can use your dog’s name and a verbal cue (like here or come), but make sure to only say each of these once and distinctly
- Reward/reinforce this behavior a lot! Make it fun and exciting for your pup to come to you when called – that’s how you’ll be able to build it into a reliable behavior.
- Practice calling from short distances when your dog is not distracted
- Slowly increase the distance you call your dog from
- As you go into more distracting environments, increase the value of the rewards (for example, going from a regular treat to cheese or chicken)
- Use a long line for safety if you practice in a space that is not fully enclosed
- Long lines can also be great for adventures with your pup where their recall is getting good, but they aren’t ready for that type of distracting and wide-open environment
Managing both kids and pets on a road trip
Pets and kids should each have their own space when traveling in the car on a road trip. It can be difficult to monitor what’s going on behind you and can be too distracting and dangerous for the driver if a roaming pet and child are together. Having children properly strapped in (whether they are of car seat, booster seat, or just seatbelt age) and pets either secured in a seatbelt harness or crate is ideal. It’s also important that a child is not in charge of taking the pet on a bathroom break or opens the car door when stopping for a rest as traveling pets may be overly excited or nervous and a child may not be able to properly guide and care for the pet when visiting new environments.
Things not to do on a road trip
- Blasting music can be jarring for a pet and make it difficult for them to relax. Remember, they have sensitive ears!
- Don’t unbuckle your pet’s seatbelt harness until you have them secured on their leash. This helps prevent accidental loose pets.
- Road trips tend to be full of snacks, so make sure your pet doesn’t have access to your human snacks.
- Preparation is key! Know your route, stops, overnight stays, and what you’ll do in case of an emergency.
- Make sure your pet has a properly fitted collar and harness and tags and microchip have your current contact information.
- Keep hydrated! It’s easy to forget to drink water during a road trip because you’re just sitting, but it’s important for you and your pet to stay hydrated. Offer water to your pet at least once per hour and during stops.