A few years ago, I decided to take a two-week vacation relaxing and visiting friends as I drove California State Route 1. I usually leave my dog, Parker, a white, wiry-haired Chihuahua-Terrier mix, with my parents when I travel.
I didn’t want to leave my pal behind for such a long trip though. Parker loves running wild in nature, so I knew he would enjoy a trip up California's coast. I decided to take him with me, and I learned a lot about how to plan a pet-friendly vacation along the way.
Before you take your furry friend on your next road trip, make sure you know how to plan it so that everyone can enjoy.
The American Kennel Club reports that one in three pets get lost during their lives. If that happens to you, getting your pet microchipped increases the likelihood that you’ll be reunited with your pet. Microchips have unique ID numbers that shelters and vets can scan. Once you register the number with a national database, the microchip is associated with your contact information so the shelter or vet can reconnect you with your missing pet.
Your vehicle has seat belts designed for humans, not animals. If you’re involved in a collision, your dog could get seriously injured; an unrestrained pet can also become a projectile that poses danger to you.
Make driving safer by getting a harness that keeps your dog in place. The most effective type of harness wraps around your pup’s chest and attaches to your car’s seat belt. Make sure the harness you choose fits your dog well, so they can’t slip out during a jarring collision.
You can also buy straps that connect your dog carrier to your car’s seat belt. That way, if you have an accident, while your pet might get jostled around, it will stay constrained to the carrier.
“Keeping your dog restrained also helps prevent them from bolting out of the car when you open the door at each stop along the way,” adds Nikita Singhani, DVM, veterinarian at West Chelsea Veterinary in New York City.
Many dogs don’t like riding in cars. Some get motion sickness that makes the experience unpleasant. Others get anxious and associate the car with trips to the vet or groomer.
Beginning a month or so before your vacation, start teaching your pet that getting into the car doesn’t always mean something bad will happen.
Start by taking short rides to neighborhood drive-thrus that give dog treats (Starbucks Puppuccino, anyone?). Your furry friend will quickly learn to associate the car with rewards.
As your pet grows accustomed to riding in the car, you can start taking longer trips, like to a dog park on the other side of town.
Associating the car with positive experiences before your trip can result in less anxiety for your pet during your vacation.
And if that doesn’t do the trick, talk to your vet. “Your vet can prescribe motion sickness or anti-anxiety medication if you feel like your dog needs it,” says Dr. Singhani.
When you get bored in the car, you can turn on your favorite music or podcast. Pets don’t have that option, so you need to have these essentials on hand keep them content.
It's best to pack the same food your pet eats daily, so you know it won’t upset their stomach.
Use the same strategy when packing treats. Treats can distract your pet while traveling, but only bring dog treats that your pet has eaten before without difficulty. Just use them sparingly to reward good behavior and prevent anxiety.
You also need to pack water for your pup. Keep it in the cooler so your pet has a refreshing drink when needed.
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These personal items can help homesick animals feel safe and comfortable. You already know which ones your pup loves the most. Bring them out when your furry friend shows signs of distress or unhappiness.
Does your dog take any medications? Triple-check to make sure you packed it.
Don’t laugh — you know you’ve put clothes on your pup before. If you plan to visit a cold destination, pack a few sweaters or jackets to keep your pet warm. If you think that you might go swimming during vacation, bring a life jacket to keep your pup safe.
When Parker and I drove up the California coast, I brought T-shirts, sweaters, coats, and a life vest. Since temperatures can fluctuate significantly in California, we needed options for all weather conditions.
“Since you’re going to unfamiliar places, make sure you have a really good harness and leash on your pet, and use it especially when you stop at rest stops when there are other pets around,” says Dr. Singhani.
Consider investing in a harness with reflective strips on it, or putting LED lights on your pet’s collar and leash.
Don’t bring your dog along just so you have someone to snuggle with at night — make your pup a part of your plans. Be sure to choose a pet-friendly destination and schedule activities both you and your dog can enjoy, like:
Visiting dog parks
Exploring hiking trails
Taking long walks in new places
Enjoying food at a pet-friendly restaurant
Trying new ice cream flavors
Going to the beach
With the right planning, you can make a vacation fun for you and your dog. Just make sure that you consider your pet’s comfort, safety, and entertainment. And take plenty of pictures to share with your friends!