Travelling with Pets in a Car

Whether you’re a cat or a dog person, you can agree: our beloved pets are like family members. So, when a new adventure has you moving across the country, of course you’re going to want to take your little buddies along.

This is easier said than done, however. Whether by car or by plane, a long trip is a scary and stressful thing for pets to go through. Preparation is key to making sure your trip goes as smoothly as possible—which means your pet can get out of the car or plane sooner.

Here are some important things to know while planning a long drive with your furry friends.

  • If you don’t often drive with your pet, start out by taking them on short car trips for practice. If you have a new harness or cage you’re planning to use, do test runs with that as well so your pets are comfortable with it before the big day.
  • Do feed them the morning of the big trip, but try to take their food away at least an hour before you hit the road. This will help make sure they don’t have to go to the bathroom immediately upon departure—and it can ease the risk of upset tummies.

Tip: Is your pet travelling in a carrier? Placing a familiar-smelling towel or blanket in with them can be a big help to their nerves.

  • Pets aren’t made to be cooped up for hours on end! Plan out your route so that you can stop every couple of hours and let them stretch their legs, whether in the car or in a safe spot off the road. (And you’ll want to limit the overall driving per day—a 16-hour driving marathon may be bearable for a human, but it can be tough on your pet.) Letting pets roam free in the backseat can help them stretch out, but be cautious—sneaky cats might find their way up front and under the pedals, which could cause a disaster. You’ll want to block them from getting past the backseat area so they can’t mess with the controls or get up on the dashboard.
  • That said, even if you grant your pets freedom in the back of the car, some may not actually use it. Like people, different pets have different feelings about travelling. Some will be bouncing around, looking out the window, while others will react to the stress by simply hiding themselves away for as long as the car is on the road. (This is another reason not to spend too much time on the road per day—some pets will flat-out refuse to eat, drink, or go to the bathroom until they’re safely back on unmoving ground.)
  • Even if you let your pets roam in the backseat, make sure they always have some kind of restraint in place (like a leash or a harness). If an accident happens, you won’t necessarily have time to get them securely leashed before you have to leave the car.
    For small pets, put them back in their carriers before ever opening the car door—even if you’re just stopping for gas. Even if it seems like your pet is napping, you don’t know what the sound of an opening door will do—an opportunistic cat can go from “lounging” to “escaped” in seconds. The last thing you want is to lose your pet somewhere in the middle of your journey, where they won’t be able to find their way home.
  • It can be dehydrating in the car, so having some water accessible for your pets is a good idea. That said, some pets will not be interested in doing much other than hiding while the car is in motion, so you may need to encourage them to drink at rest stops.
  • Take it easy on the music—your pet’s ears are much more sensitive than yours. Keep that volume low!

Tip: While some music can be bothersome to animals, the sound of a person’s voice often has a calming effect. Try a podcast—not only are they good entertainment, but that gentle voice might just soothe your meowing or yapping beast.

  • What about stopping for the night? While some hotels have pet-free policies, many will actually allow pets for a rather low additional cleaning fee (often around $15–$30 for the night). However, you don’t want to be driving around looking for a place to stay with a hungry, stressed-out pet in the back—so it’s imperative that you take the time to locate the pet-friendly options on your route and book your rooms in advance.

Is your destination too far away for a car trip? Check out the second part of this series: Taking the Plane!

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