7 tips for travelling with your pets

Dog sticking its head out car window

The most memorable trips are the ones where you get to bring every member of the family with you—including the furry ones. But if you’ve got a four-legged friend who isn’t used to life on the road, you may need to do a little prep work to ensure that your journey isn’t too harrowing for them (or for you). The experience of travelling with your non-human family members can be made more manageable with a little planning and some special care. You’ll know the extra effort was worth it when you have a furry buddy to help warm your sleeping bag on those cool nights at the cottage.

1. Keep them comfy

Some pets love travelling, hanging their heads out the passenger-side windows, ears flapping in the wind. But if your pet isn’t used to riding in a car, they will likely need to travel in a carrier. Make sure you’ve got a properly sized crate or case for your pet with lots of ventilation and access to food and water. Dr. Ted Morris, a veterinarian in the Toronto area, recommends getting your pet used to driving in cars in advance. “Make it a positive experience by giving them a treat or reward, and make sure to take lots of little trips with your pet before the big travel day,” he told the CBC.

2. Keep them happy

No one knows your pet as well as you do, which means you know what you can do help make their trip as enjoyable as possible. If your pup (or cat, or bunny, or parakeet) needs her favourite blanket in order to sleep, be sure to have it on hand. If she gets freaked out by loud noises, keep your “hot road trip bangers” playlist turned down. If she seems afraid, make sure to give her lots of love and attention. And bring treats!

3. Take bathroom breaks

You may be able to stop in at the next gas station to use the facilities, but your pet has no such luxury. Make sure to keep an eye on your animal for signs of needing to go—if she seems antsy or is giving you an intense but meaningful stare, she may just be trying to tell you something. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so make sure to take dogs out for quick walks on a regular basis. If you’re travelling with a cat, you can also take pit stops with a harness and leash, but your other option is to bring a portable litter box and let your kitty be master of her own destiny.

4. Know how to spot (and prevent) motion-sickness

Just like people, pets can get nauseous from the rocking and bumping of a vehicle in motion—and as with people, the results can be pretty messy. Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent in-car accidents. First off, getting your animal used to the car before a long trip is a good idea. Short trips will help her body get used to the motion of a vehicle. Your pet is also less likely to get sick if she is facing forward in the car; connecting the motions he feels to the visual sight of the car moving can help reduce nausea. If your pet has a serious tendency to get car-sick, you can also talk to your vet about medications to reduce queasy feelings.

No matter how much you prepare, it’s good to keep an eye on your pet and watch for signs of car-sickness. Yawning, panting, whining, and excessive drooling may mean it’s time to take a break.

5. Be prepared with natural remedies (and maybe a few unnatural ones)

We’ve already covered motion-sickness, but what can you do to help your animal with the anxiety and fear that may come with traveling? There are actually a number of tricks you can use to help calm a jumpy animal. Many dog owners have had success with anxiety vests, which are tight garments that put constant, gentle pressure on the pooch, giving them a feeling of security, as though they’re being swaddled. And believe it or not, cats often respond well to aromatherapy. You can try plant extracts like Lavender to calm your kitty down (though be sure to use only cat-friendly types). There are also products like Feliway that mimic “safe-feeling” cat hormones, helping to calm animals.

Dr. Moris also says that you can use certain drowse-inducing medications with pets, including Benadryl and Gravol. There are also prescription drugs, if your pet has a bad case of anxiety. Of course if you’re going to give your pet dugs, make sure you talk to your vet first.

6. Plan pet-friendly activities

While the journey itself is often the biggest stressor for pet owners, it’s also important to plan what to do with your animal once you reach your destination. Make sure that wherever you’re heading—friend’s cottage or campsite—allows pets. Are you planning to take public transit? Anticipating buying pet food or accessories while you’re there? All of these things need to be checked out in advance. Google is your friend.

7. Laugh

Face it, the best part of having your pet around is all the hilarity she brings into your life. Try not to lose the sense of fun and adventure you have with your pet just because you’re crammed into a car for eight hours. Go on walks, take play breaks, and check out nature together. Oh, and make sure to bring your camera.

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