Traveling, as exciting as it is, can be exhausting. Especially when you’re trapped in a car with dogs for hours on end. Some animals love the car and are excellent travel companions. Others are anxious balls of nerves. If done incorrectly, traveling with your dog can add stress and discomfort for everyone involved. 

When you’re traveling, you want to make the decisions that keep your pet safe and comfortable. If you’re a first-time pet traveler, don’t worry! We’ve got everything you need to know about traveling with your pup right here. We’ll help you figure out where to start, remind you of things you need to know while traveling, and load you up with all the tips and tricks. 

Here Are the Things You Need to Do Before You Travel

Before you leave, take them to the vet

Your dog may be perfectly healthy, but before you take them on an extended trip, it’s best to schedule an appointment with the vet to make sure they’re in shape to travel. While some dogs love tagging along on trips, it’s really stressful for some animals. You’ll want to have the vet confirm they are both physically and mentally healthy enough to travel. Your vet will also be able to give you tips on ways to relax your pet if they get anxious or uncomfortable. 

Taking your dog to the vet will also ensure they’re up to date on all their vaccinations. Having accurate and updated health records is required for your pet to get on a plane. 

Get them used to the car ride

If you have a nervous pup who isn’t a fan of the car, a long road trip can seem pretty daunting. We suggest that in the weeks leading up to your trip, you slowly introduce your dog to more and more time in the car. Start with a series of short drives and slowly extend the length of the drive over time. This will help your dog feel more comfortable in the car. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t a sure solution that will immediately put your dog at ease. However, it can help them at least become familiar with the car and their place in it. 

Pack a doggie travel bag

A doggie go-bag is essential for long journeys. To keep things as consistent as possible, make sure you pack their regular food. You also want to make sure you include water and any medications they need. 

Within their doggie travel bag, you’ll want to include copies of all their health information, along with any medications. You’ll want to include everything you can think of — vaccination records, dog tags, health records. In addition to having a collar and leash with your information on it, you’ll want to pack a picture of your dog just in case they get away from you while traveling. 

Things to keep in your doggie travel bag:

  • Health records
  • Their normal food and water
  • Their favorite toy for familiarity
  • A leash and plastic bags
  • Grooming supplies
  • Any medications they take
  • A first aid kit

Things to Know While Traveling

Make sure they have the right setup

How your dog travels in the car will vary by the dog and their comfort levels. If your dog prefers a crate, make sure the one you get is well ventilated and big enough for your dog. The crate should be big enough for them to sit, stand, lie down, and turn around. A crate that is too small will just make your dog more anxious, so it must have the proper size. Having the right size crate is not enough; you also need a good way to secure it. That way it doesn’t move or shift when you hit the brakes. Some people use seatbelts, but if you have a larger dog, creativity may be required. 

If your dog doesn’t travel comfortably in a crate, you should teether them to the back seat. Some dogs might like to have their normal bed with them. But remember: It’s not safe for your pup to be in the front seat because of the airbags. And if they are moving all around, they can distract you while driving. The best place for them is in the back seat. There are seat and floor covers that you can invest in to make sure your dog is comfortable.

Options to keep your dog secure in the back seat:

How to handle a car sick dog

There are two main reasons for your dog getting sick in the car — physical and psychological. Physically, your dog might suffer from motion sickness. It’s an inner ear thing, nothing you’re doing. One option is to lower your windows a bit to equal out the pressure and reduce their nausea. If you know your dog is prone to car sickness, it’s a good idea to feed your dog a light meal three to four hours before you leave. Pro tip: Never feed your dog in a moving car. That will increase the chance they will get car sick. You’ll be much better off adding time to your drive and pulling over for them to eat. 

Signs of car sickness: yawning, whining, drooling, vomiting, uneasiness, or licking lips. 

It’s also a good idea to bring your water for your dog or stick to bottled water. Drinking from a hose or puddle on the side of the road is a one-way ticket for a stomach ache. Psychologically, car-related anxiety is also common in dogs. Trips to the vet or previous sick experiences might make your dog weary of the car. 

How to Get Your Dog to Fall Asleep in the Car

If your dog is anxious in the car, you’ll do just about anything to get them to fall asleep. It’s easier for everyone involved if they nap. Try things that will help reduce their anxiety, like Thundershirt® or pheromone calming collars. 

The best traveling dog is a sleepy dog. If you’ve tried everything and nothing is helping your dog, anxiety medication may help. Dog sedatives reduce brain activity and allow them to stay calm in the car. Of course, your first instinct should not be to give your dog medication. It should be a last resort if the road trip causes trauma to your dog. 

You should talk to your veterinarian before you give your dog a sedative. Medications like trazodone, gabapentin, and alprazolam reduce anxiety in dogs. If your vet prescribes them for the trip, you should do a “dry run” before you travel, so you know how your dog reacts. Keep an eye out for the side effects of the medications. 

Too Long, Didn’t Read?

Okay, we know that was a lot. Traveling with your pet requires a lot of planning and care. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. Once you know what you’re doing, it’s like second nature. Here are the high points you should keep in mind: 

Tips for flying on a plane: 

  • Take them to the vet first to make sure they can fly.
  • Remember to use a USDA-approved shipping crate.
  • Make sure their crate has proper identification.
  • Inform the flight attendants that you’re traveling with a dog. That way, if your flight is delayed, your dog is taken care of. 

Tips for road trips:

  • Let your dog get used to car rides with a series of short drives in which you extend the time they are in the car. 
  • Make sure the crate you use is appropriate for your dog and well ventilated.
  • Pack a pet travel kit that includes a leash, food and water bowl, plastic bag, vaccination records, and first aid.