With the holiday travel season upon us, and this being my first year of owning a pet as an adult, I’ve been learning all sorts of lovely things about traveling with pets. Oh, hurrah.
We’re traveling from San Francisco to Seattle and back this year for the holidays, and we have a 1-year-old rescue dog with us. We felt weird about sedating her and flying, so we’ve chosen to drive the whole way. Here are a few pointers for long car trips and travel with pets.
1. Know your pet. Our dog happens to hate kenneling. She liked it for about a month, when she was still fairly new to us, but as she’s gotten older (and more fond of us), she prefers being with us, and prefers not to be stuck in enclosed spaces if she can help it. So, instead of kenneling her, we’re going to have one of us ride in the back with her (just to ensure she doesn’t leap over the seats and cause an accident). Since we’re renting a car for the trip, we’re covering all of the seats in clean blankets or towels, to cover any accidents and the foreseeable shedding and muddy paws.
2. Purchase supplies ahead of time. We know we’re going to have at least two very long days in the car, but that’s no excuse for neglecting the amount of food, water, and entertainment our dog needs. We purchased some cheap toys that will be good for tug-o-war, and we’re saving them for the trip so that they’re new and keep her interest. We also picked up some of those soft-sided food and water bowls that are so good for travel; this way, we can feed her in the car. Pro tip: introducing her to the bowls ahead of time ensured that she wouldn’t need to have the containers be an excuse for her to be weird about eating or drinking while we’re on the road.
3. Factor in frequent stops on your drive. The anxiety of traveling may mean your furry friend needs to stop for potty breaks more frequently than she needs them at home, and anyway avoiding pee-smell in the car for your trip is worth the extra short stops. Pick rest stations (which usually have designated areas for pets), and for safety’s sake clip the leash on before you open any car doors.
4. Keep safety in mind. New experiences, locations, smells, people, and whatnot can spell a lot of panic and confusion for your dog, so keep the leash on whenever you’re out of the vehicle, and make sure you don’t allow your dog to run off to chase cars, people, or other animals. Especially when you’re on the road, it can be so risky to try to track this one down.
5. For the really anxious dog, talk to your vet about methods of sedation. Your pet probably doesn’t need to be fully sedated for an entire drive, but I’ve had more than one friend recommend baby Benadryl for easing the dog into the trip. Again, talk to your vet about concerns and dosage.
6. Warn whomever you’re staying with about your pet’s quirks, and make sure they’re really okay with them. Plan on escaping for a lot of walks, which offers two benefits to your stay with relatives or friends: first, it will give them some time without your pet in the house, which is helpful for frazzled nerves with a particularly vocal pet, and second, it will give your pet enough exercise that they’re more likely to curl up and nap a lot when they are in the house.
7. Bring spare treats, chew toys, blankets, and other home comforts for your pet. Traveling can be a strange and uncomfortable experience if they’re not used to it, and you want to try to ease their sense of anxiety as much as possible. I’m trying to keep in mind that the last two times my dog was in a car were when we had her spayed, and when we adopted her; in other words, really stressful times full of lots of big changes. I am also trying to keep in mind that we’re taking her to a colder climate, so we picked up some extra doggy sweaters for her. But then, let’s be honest: I treat my dog like a spoiled child. Not everyone is into the dog clothing.
All in all, try to be understanding of your pet’s anxiety level and wariness about new situations. Animals look to you to set the tone for changes, so keep your cool. And be sure to prepare the people you’ll be spending time with about any needs or expectations you have for your visit. It’ll make for a happier, more restful holiday travel season for you and your loved pup.