Whether you’re traveling for the holidays, a wedding, or just the weekend away—how often have you decided that it would just be too hard to take the dog (or the cat) along for the vacation? While some pets might be happier staying at home with a pet sitter, others would love nothing more than to spread out in the backseat and join you on the open road.

Be Prepared

Traveling anywhere, with anyone, requires a bit of preparation. When traveling with your pet there are a few things you’ll want to remember—both for safety and to make them feel comfortable on the road:

  • Regular food
  • Bottled water
  • Food and water bowls
  • Litter and litter box, for cats
  • Collar and tags (though your pet should already be wearing these), and leash 
  • Grooming supplies—a brush and water-free shampoo or wipes should do it
  • First aid kit, and any necessary medication
  • Their favorite chew toys or blankets from home

Safety First

Free-roaming pets can jump into the driver’s lap or out of windows, or can even become projectiles in the event of a crash. Kennels or puppy seat belts offer protection to pets of all sizes, and should be part of your packing checklist. 

If using a kennel, strap the kennel in so that it stays in place in case of accidents or high speed maneuvers. If going the harness/seat belt route, you can check out your local pet supply store or talk to your veterinarian for suggestions. Unfortunately, most auto pet harnesses haven’t been safety tested, though in 2013, Subaru sponsored a pet safety harness crashworthiness study. When fitting your pet to an auto harness, keep in mind its effectiveness in the event of a crash. During a 30mph collision, a dog can exert force up to 20 times their bodyweight, and many dog harnesses are not equipped to handle that amount of force. 

While there are a variety of harnesses available for dogs, the same is not true for cats. Many would be safer—and more comfortable—in their own kennel. If your cat is especially uncomfortable even in the kennel, consider leaving her with a pet sitter. If that isn’t an option, try laying a lightweight sheet over the kennel. Many cats are comforted once the foreign stimuli of watching trees and cars whizzing past through the windows is removed. If you’ll be traveling long distances with a cat, consider investing in a dog kennel so they can have access to the litter box when you stop at rest stops. Keeping your cat contained will ensure they don’t become an escape risk the second a car door opens.

Whether your pet is in a kennel or a harness, the back seat is the safest spot for them. Front seat airbags are not meant to keep pets safe, and your pet could be seriously injured if the airbag deployed while they’re hanging out in front. 

And heads hanging out windows can be just as dangerous. While your dog might enjoy the breeze, she could be injured by flying debris or bugs, or even fall or jump out the window. Keep the window up far enough to keep heads inside. If your pet loves the breeze too much to stop, watch the window height, and consider investing in doggles, protective eyewear for dogs.

Travel Buddies

While your dog or cat might make a great travel companion, consider bringing along a human friend as well. You can tag team rest stops, share driving duties, and be sure your pet is safe and not alone in the car. You’ll want to leave the air conditioning, or heat, on depending on weather conditions and having a human friend along for the ride also helps ensure that your keys are safe in the ignition while you head into the gas station. 

Sharing the pet duties, and driving responsibilities, with a friend or family member ensures that both your and your pets are in the best of hands when you’re not behind the wheel. You’ll also not need to worry about your pet being left alone once you’ve found a Fido-friendly hotel. Some pet-friendly hotels offer pet-sitting services, but you’ll want to check beforehand, along with any breed restrictions, pet fees, or kenneling requirements while you’re there. 

With a little preparation, and likely a few extra pit stops, you and your pet can have your own adventures on the open road. Do you have a pet travel tip to share? Let us know!

By Rachel Leisemann Immel