Does the low price of gas these days have you planning a road trip with your dogs? Just last month, I drove from northern Virginia to Asheville, North Carolina, with my two pups, Autumn and Rocket. It was our first road trip together, and I was both excited and scared. To prevent any problems along the way, I put together a packing to-do list with help from AAA director of public relations and fellow pet parent, Heather Hunter. Use it for your next trip!
Before you leave, consider getting your dogs microchipped. I recently had my two long-haired Chihuahuas chipped, and it was an affordable $45 per pet, at least at my vet’s office, and done during a single visit. I then registered the chips. If your pups are chipped but you have since moved or changed your contact information, be sure to update it with both the microchip registration service and your vet. Update their tags, too, and make sure the collar fits well and has no tears or other damage.
“Even if you’re on the most pet-friendly vacation, there may be times when you have to leave your pet in the hotel room,” Hunter says.
To prevent your dogs from dashing out if a maid or other member of the hotel staff opens the door, place them in a crate when you leave the room. Some hotels even have policies that require you to do so. Be sure to check with your hotel about this before you go. If you need help finding a pet-friendly hotel, check out: Bringfido.com, Pet-friendly-hotels.net, Petswelcome.com, or Gopetfriendly.com. AAA’s mobile app also lists hotels where pets are welcome. Also, check out Dogster’s lists of pet-friendly hotels, including hotel chains.
According to a AAA survey, about 52 percent of drivers admit to being distracted by petting their dogs, and the risk of an accident increases when you take your eyes off the road for two seconds or more. Ask your vet about which pet carriers would be best for your furry friends, suggests Hunter.
The options are plentiful, but essentially can be boiled down to a harness, secured crate, or car seat. Which you choose will depend on your personal and safety preferences. Hunter uses harnesses for her larger dogs because she likes that they are strapped in when she opens the car door. Be sure to look for harnesses that have been crash-tested, such as Sleepypod and Solvit, and to carefully examine test results to ensure they are appropriate for your dog’s size.
Solvit sent me two booster seats to review, and I was very happy with them. The company’s seats are sized based on weight, which gave each of my fur babies plenty of room to move around. I loved how they could lay down, a nice perk during long hours in the car.
I also liked the soft, fleecy cover and how the seat includes an interior strap I can attach to my dogs’ harnesses. One of the booster seat’s straps hangs around the headrest, and another is secured around the seat for extra security.
Bonus tip: Hunter also suggests dogs new to road trips take a few test runs. “Make sure your pet is acclimated to car travel,” she says, recommending a few quick trips around town to see how your pet does. When driving Autumn and Rocket in short bursts before our trip, I was pleasantly surprised how they did. They both initially shook, but eventually quieted down. Rocket seemed to even sleep during our last jaunt. Autumn started to whine a little, but she remained calm overall. This gave me an excellent preview as to what they would be like on our longer trip.
Book a pre-trip appointment with the vet if your dogs are due for any vaccinations. Be sure to stock up on medications, too. You’ll want to ask for extras just in case you lose their meds or run out. Fortunately, my pets don’t take any medication, and I had just taken them to get chipped and examined to make sure they were in good health. My vet’s office emailed me my pets’ shot records to keep handy.
For minor cuts and scrapes, consider putting together a first aid kit. Pack it with essentials such as scissors, bandages, a thermometer, and hydrogen peroxide. For a more detailed look at this, check out How to Make a DIY First Aid Kit for Dog Travel. I have a small first aid kit that has bandages and other basics for my fur babies that I brought along.
You don’t want to run out of food when you’re on the road. “Have plenty of what they’re used to. Bring more than what you’re used to,” says Hunter.
To avoid carsickness, don’t feed your furry friend right before you leave, suggests Hunter. Instead, give your dog plenty of time to digest a meal before you take off. If your dog is prone to carsickness, you’ll probably want to feed him when you arrive at your destination and not during travel breaks. Medicines and natural products also may be able to help. Talk to your vet about what might be best for your pet. Thankfully, my pets don’t get sick in the car. They just get a little nervous.
“Favorite toys are always great [to pack], too,” says Hunter. Little comforts of home can make your pet feel more comfortable. I brought my dogs’ favorite blanket.
Hunter uses a collapsible bowl for her trips, but feel free to bring your regular bowls if that’s more convenient. Since my dogs have small metal bowls and were in sensory overload during our trip, I stuck with their own to keep it consistent.
If you’re not sure exactly where you’ll be stopping each day, research animal hospitals along the way. “Planning is key,” says Hunter.
Are you planning your first road trip with your dog? Tell us where you’re off to! If you’re an experienced road traveler with your pups, share tips in the comments, please.
Read more tips about traveling with dogs:
About the author: Teresa Tobat is a writer, editor, and pet parent. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter and check out her dogs on Instagram. She’s hopelessly devoted to her long-haired Chihuahuas and always daydreaming about her next destination.