Pet Travel 101: What Every Savvy Dog Owner Should Know

Allan Halprin for Vetstreet

If you're like most pet owners, you want to take your fuzzy family members with you just about everywhere — including on vacation.

Whether you’re flying or driving, there’s a lot you need to know. From car carriers and airline requirements to motion sickness and anxiety, read on for all of the basics when it comes to traveling safely and comfortably with your favorite companion. 

How to Prep for Your Trip

A few common sense measures will go a long way: Make sure your dog is wearing a collar with an ID tag that's securely attached,” says Dr. Lori Teller, DVM, DABVP, CVJ, who practices out of Houston, Texas. “Ideally, the tag will have your cell phone number or the numbers of your destination or emergency contact. So if Fluffy gets loose while traveling for some reason, the person who finds her can contact you.”

You should also take measures ahead of time to get your dog a microchip that’s registered with up-to-date contact information. Collars can slip off, so a microchip may be the only way to truly reunite you and your pet.

When it's time to pack, don't forget to bring along your dog's own food, dishes, leashes, blankets, baggies to pick up waste, and washcloths to wipe off her feet in case one of your rest stops involves traipsing through puddles or mud.

Dr. Teller also offers some invaluable tips once you're on the road: If you're driving, take frequent breaks to let your dog stretch her legs. Offer her plenty of water, and “try to maintain her usual feeding schedule as best as possible,” advises Dr. Teller.

Finally, never leave your dog locked in the car, especially if it's hot outside. When dogs are left unsupervised in a vehicle, they can fall victim to heatstroke and even theft

Ways to Handle Motion Sickness

If your dog gets queasy when you hit the open road, she’s not alone: It's estimated that 1 in 6 pets suffers from motion sickness, which can occur in a car, plane, train or boat.

Luckily, you have options to explore before your next vacation. “A lot of pet travel is about advanced planning,” says Dr. Jason Nicholas, The Preventive Vet. “Most dogs associate the car with the vet. So get them in the car, and drive them around on short, quick trips they’ll enjoy. You’re trying to make the car a very good experience for them. Most dogs will respond favorably.”

If your pet still gets sick — and you haven’t ever used a harness in the car (see the section below) — it might help, not to mention that it's a safer way to drive with your pet. “I’ve had a lot of clients say that once they started restraining their pets, the motion sickness stopped,” says Dr. Nicholas.

But if your dog continues to experience motion sickness symptoms — like excessive drooling, panting or frequent swallowing (all signs that can precede vomiting) — you may want to try a motion sickness drug developed just for dogs.

“It’s more expensive than Benadryl, but it’s a lot less expensive than cleaning up vomit in the car,” says Dr. Teller. Bottom line: If you think your pet could benefit from the medication, talk to your vet.

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