Americans will be crowding the highways soon for summer vacation, taking their four-legged friends along for the ride. But before pet lovers hit the road, it's important to take their pets' needs into consideration.
Kansas State University veterinarian Dr. Kathy Gaughan says that trips should be as close to your pet's normal routine as possible. "If you've never traveled with your pet, start with very short, round-the-block trips before you put them in the car or truck for hours. Your veterinarian can recommend ways to make your pet more comfortable," Gaughan said.
She suggests keeping dogs and cats in an animal carrier in case of an accident, because airborne pets more easily hurt themselves and their human companions. Carriers are especially important for cats. "Many cats will ride on your shoulder, on your head, or get under your feet. It's a potentially dangerous situation if you need to stop quickly, and they may obstruct your vision," Gaughan said.
Though keeping a pet "strapped down" for safety is important, people should not use standard safety belts on their pets. These belts are designed for human positioning, Gaughan explains, and dogs don't conform to human positioning with much success. However, there are canine "seat belts," which are actually harnesses, that attach to the car's seat belts and may be used to hold dogs in place during the trip.
Owners should also plan for extra stops if pets accompany them on a trip. "Some cats don't eat or drink because of stress, and won't need to use the litterbox. But it should be provided for them, especially if it's your first trip with your cat. If they don't use it," Gaughan says, "take them out at rest stops on a leash and see if they'll go.
The number of stops will depend on what your pet is used to. "If you can control when the food goes in, you can usually control when it goes out. Most pets eliminate shortly after they eat," Gaughan explains.
In terms of exercise, owners should follow their pet's normal schedule. Gaughan notes that if you take your dog for a 30-minute walk in the evening at home, take the dog for a walk in the evening at your destination. Also, exercising your dog before it gets into the car may make for a more relaxing trip for both you and your dog.
Many pets enjoy getting out of the house, as long as it's not a trip to the veterinarian. But if you're planning to drive non-stop, or if you're taking a very short trip, it is probably best to leave the pets at home. "Really think about if it's necessary for a pet to go with you, or if you are just being selfish and want the pet for company. A trip can cause unneeded stress on an animal," Gaughan said.
It is an especially good idea to leave pets at home if they have current health problems which may worsen on the trip. For instance, if a pet has had respiratory problems and the trip is in the mountains, it may be better to leave that pet at home. "If you know what direction you're traveling on a long trip, choose towns along the way and have veterinarians' phone numbers available, especially if your pet has had a recent illness or problems traveling in the past," Gaughan said.
If you're concerned about the pet becoming motion sick or car sick, Gaughan suggests talking to your veterinarian to prescribe drugs such as Dramamine, or sedatives to calm the pet before the trip. "Contact your veterinarian to make sure the medication is safe for your pet," Gaughan suggests.
Finally, it's a good idea to call ahead and make reservations with hotels, motels and campgrounds that will accommodate your pet. Take the necessary supplies, including plastic bags, to clean up after your pet at rest areas.