Dogs and cats in the car can be a recipe for disaster, since dogs are driven by instinct to stick their heads out open windows and cats are hardwired to pee all over the leather seats as soon as car doors lock. So how do you safely get the furry members of your family to the vet? And if you want to take a long car trip, what do you do with your pet? Here are seven things to remember when it comes to car safety for pets.
1. Pick the right-sized ride: If your vehicle is too small to comfortably house you, your family, and your pet, don’t consider strapping your dog or cat to the roof rack for the journey. If you drive a pick-up, don’t put your animal in the back where it can jump out into traffic. If your pet is coming along for the road trip and the only extra room available is the glove compartment, consider renting an SUV or minivan for the drive.
2. Visit the vet: Be aware that each state has a different set of entry requirements for pets; so for each state you plan to drive through, check with their department of health services for details. Before you hit the road, schedule a visit to your vet to be sure your pet is up to date with all necessary vaccinations, including rabies shots. Ask your vet for a health certificate to take on your trip that shows your pet is healthy and vaccinated.
3. Buckle up: Both cats and dogs need to be restrained during a car trip (plus, in some states it’s the law). Just like any other loose object in a vehicle, a pet can become a dangerous projectile in the event of an accident — even at just 35 mph. Cats can go in a cat carrier firmly strapped and secured inside the car. For dogs, there are several special dog harnesses on the market that work just like a seat belt.
4. Bring a litter box: While the car is in motion, your cat is unlikely to want to use a litter box. So don’t worry about trying to fit one into a carrier since the end result will be a horrible mess as soon as you make a sudden stop. Instead, during lengthy trips, schedule times where you can stop and prepare and offer your cat use of a litter box. Along with eating and drinking water, it’s likely your cat will just wait it out until you reach a hotel room before doing their business.
5. Walk and exercise your dog: During your road trip, schedule stops along the way to walk and exercise your dog. Make sure your dog is leashed, as he or she may go after strangers or worse, run away from you. Your dog may seem a little nervous, and even aggressive as you walk them in an unfamiliar environment. Simply stay calm and in command of your dog so he or she understands everything is okay.
6. Don’t drug your pet: Both dogs and cats have ways of dealing with stress that don’t necessarily involve chewing the floor or barfing. In fact, you might be surprised at how calm your pet is during an extended trip in a car or a plane. But if your pet is particularly anxious during a trip, instead of medication, consider any number of natural, drug-free aids that help to calm animals when they’re experiencing low levels of stress.
7. ID your animal: You should not leave your pet inside a car alone. Nor should you let them out of their carrier with your car windows down or door open. As soon as a dog or cat sees an unfamiliar terrain, their first instinct will be to bolt and run away from you, your family, and your vehicle. This is why attaching some kind of ID to your animal is so important. At the very least, make sure your pet has a microchip ID so that they can be reunited with you if you do lose them.