By Dr. Dan Carey, Bayer Veterinarian

Be it a road trip, a cross-country move, or even just a short trip to see friends or the vet, it’s almost inevitable that your cat or dog will need to be in a car at some point. Follow these tips as you prepare for and set off on your journey to help ensure a safe and comfortable ride for your pet.

man in car with dog

Get Ready

First things first, head to the vet. A lot can happen on a road trip, and you’ll want to make sure your cat or dog is up for the drive. That means a wellness visit and updated vaccinations. Be sure to tell your vet where you’re headed and what your plans are. Keep in mind that your destination may have different pest concerns than where you live. In the Northeast U.S., for example, there’s a high prevalence of ticks, while heartworms are common in the South. Your vet can advise you about specific risks and the precautions you should take to minimize them.

While at the vet, be sure to review whether your pet’s microchip and tags are current and have your up-to-date contact information in case your pet should get separated from you during the trip. Get a copy of your pet’s medical records and keep them with you—it’s essential to have them for any vet visits while away from home. And while you’re at it, take a snapshot of your pet on your phone, just in case you might need it.

You’ll also want to do some research on your destination. What are the weather and terrain like? Prepare accordingly. If it’ll be cold, bring a pet jacket. How populated is the area? Make sure you’ve researched local vets so you know where to go in case of an emergency, especially if your destination is secluded.

Portable food and water bowls are essential, regardless of where you’re going. And remember to make sure your cat or dog has flea, tick, and heartworm prevention before you go. That way, you’ll know they have protection while you’re away from home.

Get Going

It may be tempting to let your cat or dog roam around the car to find a comfortable place while you’re driving, but safety restraint is as important for pets as it is for people. Car kennels, safety barriers between seats, and pet seat belts are among your options. And remember: No lap riding; it’s too dangerous for your pet and you.

Some animals find car travel stressful. In these cases, you might want a breathable kennel cover to block out the excessive stimulation that comes with whizzing along the highway. If you’re not sure how your pet reacts to car trips, take a short trip to a nearby spot in your hometown to get a sense of how your pet handles the ride.

Cats and dogs experience many of the same car-travel worries that people do. To help with motion sickness (yes, it happens—watch for heavy breathing or drooling), don’t feed or give your pet water for at least an hour before the ride, and crack a window so they can get some fresh air. Bathroom breaks are important, too, so pets can not only relieve themselves but also stretch their legs. These breaks are especially needed on long trips, to expel energy from being cooped up so long. Try to stop every few hours. It’ll also help keep your cat or dog calm in the car, which means less whining, barking, or meowing. And don’t forget some basic cleaning supplies for wiping up accidents.

With these proper precautions, taking your pets on a trip in the car can be a breeze. Just be sure to consult with your vet for any additional questions or concerns, including any new or strange symptoms that arrived once you’re back home. If your pet needs a post-trip visit, be sure to mention your recent travels and tell the vet where you’ve been.

For more helpful travel advice, see:

Pet Travel 101:  On a Train

Pet Travel 101: On a Plane