Dog in CarTaking your dog along on vacation can be great fun for many families. If you hate the idea of boarding your best friend while you motor off for distant fun, including her in the vacation plans may be a great idea. But it should never be a spur-of-the-moment decision. Plan ahead to ensure you and your dog enjoy the trip.


Should Your Dog Go With You?

To go or not to go . . . that is the first question to consider. Not every dog is a natural-born traveler and not every vacation is suited to your dog’s participation. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Some dogs don’t enjoy car rides and forcing the issue can be very stressful for your dog. If your pup would pace, pant, drool and whine, they would likely be more comfortable staying home. Plus, you probably wouldn’t enjoy the car ride if your dog is stressing out.
  • What activities will you be engaged in on your trip? If you are going to parks or attractions that do not welcome dogs, leave her at home. Check with these places ahead of time to know if your dog can accompany you on your visit.
  • Where will your dog stay? Pet-friendly lodging is so much more plentiful than it used to be, and there are a numerous websites that list such accommodations (see Lodging and Travel Resources below). Some hotels only accept small dogs, so be sure to check before making reservations. Most hotels that accept dogs don’t want you leaving yours alone in the room for extended periods. And, of course, leaving your dog in your car during the summer is never an option. Boarding kennels or day cares in the destination city may be an option, but some dogs are not comfortable in a brand new place they’ve never been before. And why take your dog along if they won’t be staying with you anyway?

Packing for Your Dog

What should you take along to make your dog’s travel safe and comfortable? Use the same logic as you would use when packing for yourself. For example:

  • Take your dog’s regular food, food bowls and treats along. Measure and bag each meal’s allocation and date it, so you know you have enough. And take a few spare meals, just in case your travel gets disrupted. A trip is not the time to try out new food or special treats. The last thing either of you need is for your dog to have an upset stomach or diarrhea.
  • Take bottled water so that you can ensure a safe drinking supply for your dog no matter where you are.
  • Creature comforts are as important to your dog’s travel enjoyment as they are for you. Take along your dog’s favorite bed, toys, and chews.
  • Pack up those medications. If your dog takes a daily medication or supplement, be sure to package those up for each day, plus a few extra just in case. And think ahead on monthly preventative medications: will your dog be due for heartworm or flea treatments while you will be away from home?
  • Check to find out if your destination or stops along the way require you to show a health certificate for your dog. This may be required if you travel to Canada or Mexico. Your veterinarian can provide such documentation.
  • If you are going where you’ll be in a lot of sun, or where flies or mosquitoes may be a nuisance, pack some pet-safe sunscreen and insect repellents. Yes, there are such things. Human versions of sunscreens and repellents could be harmful to your dog if she licks it off or inhales it. Check with your veterinarian if you have any question as to the safety of a given product for your dog.
  • Remember that hot sand and pavement can burn the pads of your dog’s feet. If you can get your dog accustomed to booties, that may be a safe option for taking her along to the beach or on other outings in the heat and sun.

Safety First

Prepare for unforeseen risks. Of course you don’t want to dwell on what bad things could happen. But as the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  • Identification is critical. Microchips are so easy, and relatively inexpensive, to have implanted in dogs. Of course, you have to register your contact information and keep it current. Check now to be sure the microchip registry is accurate. Put ID tags on your dog’s collar, bearing your cell phone number. You can also take a Sharpie and write your dog’s name and your cell phone number directly on her collar. Finally, carry recent photos of your dog with you. Multiple forms of identification increase the likelihood that you and your dog will be reunited if somehow you become separated.
  • If you don’t have a pet first aid kit already assembled, put one together now! We have a special container that holds all of the possible supplies we might need if one of our pets becomes sick or is injured. It’s easy to throw in the car and doesn’t take up much space. A pet first aid kit is a must for any pet owner. For ideas on assembling your pet first aid kit, please see our blog post from September 2012.
  • Secure your dog in the car . . . for several great reasons. First, you don’t want your dog getting in the way of you driving. Your attention needs to be on the road and you don’t need your dog’s help in steering or navigating. Second, if you are in an accident, your dog is so vulnerable to serious injury from being thrown around the car. Finally, the humans could be injured if the dog is hurtled forward. If you don’t have a car with a built-in barrier, the safest containment is a crate which has been secured to tie-downs in the car. Seat belt harnesses are another option, but have not been proven as safe as a crate. Regardless of what method you choose to secure your dog, be sure she is in the back seat or inside cargo area.
  • Make frequent stops to let your dog exercise and eliminate. Be sure, however, that your dog is secure on a no-slip Martingale collar or well-fitted harness. Have her on leash before you open the car door. Too many dogs get separated from their people at rest stops.
  • Although dogs dearly love to stick their heads out the window, debris flying up off the road or from another car could inflict injury to your dog. Keep her head inside the vehicle or condition her to wear Doggles.
  • As noted above, leaving your dog in the car is never an option. In just 10 minutes, the temperature in your car can rise to over 100-degrees. Just. Don’t. Do. It. Period.

In Case of Emergency

Despite your diligent planning, emergencies do sometimes happen. These two one-time preparations will help you deal with any health emergencies that may happen during your trip.

  • Should your dog become sick or injured on your travels, be sure you have current vaccination/medical records with you. Check out some of the smart phone apps that will let you keep your records digitally. I have one called Pet Master, which lets you store a profile and information on allergies, insurance, medical conditions, and special needs, as well as photos of each of your pets. Heaven knows there have to be many similar apps available for download.
  • Research veterinary services along your route and at your destination. Save the Veterinary Resources weblinks listed below to your computer or smart phone so you can find veterinary care wherever you might need it.

Once you do the planning and preparation for your first road trip with your dog, you’ll be well prepared for all future trips. Invest some time, and a little money, now for the long term pleasure of having your dog along on vacation.

Pet Friendly Travel Resources (in no particular order)

Lodging and Travel Resources:

Veterinary Resources:
State Veterinary Medical Associations
American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Directory
Veterinary and Critical Care Society Directory