Traveling with Your Pet (Without Losing Your Sanity)

Dr. Jessica Sims, Owner / Veterinarian at Oakwell Animal Hospital


Folks, the holidays are here (where did the year go??) and when it comes to traveling with your pet, it can be a bit like herding cats – only the cats are on a mission to turn your life into a sitcom of cat-astrophic proportions. But don’t stress out yet! Together we can plan for the worst and hope for the best and with a little humor and patience we may come through this in one piece.

Tip #1: Pack Your Patience

First things first: embrace the art of patience. Remember, your pet has no concept of vacation. To Fido or Fluffy, this is just a peculiar change of scenery that requires endless sniffing, barking, and scratching. Your dog will want to mark every tree from here to Timbuktu, while your cat will consider every hotel room closet its private hide-and-seek paradise. The sooner you realize this and embrace the journey, the less likely you are to lose your marbles.

Tip #2: Secure Your Pet

This is vital, y’all. In a moving vehicle, your pet’s going to be as unpredictable as my friend Gunner’s dance moves at the last family wedding. Ensure that Fido is safely tethered with a seatbelt harness, or better yet, tucked away in a carrier. For cats, we’re talking heavy-duty carriers that can withstand their legendary escape attempts. You don’t want to play peek-a-boo on the freeway. 

Are you one of the many stressed-out hair-pulling owners who can’t get a cat in a carrier to save your (or their) life? I get it. It’s time to pull that carrier out (yes, right now) and start acclimating Fluffy to it right away. Feed their meals in it, give them treats in it, play laser tag, whatever it is your cat likes to do – do it in the carrier! Leave the carrier out 24/7 until your trip and make it their safe space. Never use it as a punishment. Put a favorite blanket or toys in it, try spraying some Feliway in it and before long your kitty will have a home away from home to snuggle down in for trips.

Tip #3: Pre-Trip Test Drives

Before setting off on your epic journey, take your pet on a few test drives. Get them used to the motion and sounds of the car. Perhaps even practice some “sit” and “stay” commands while parked. The same goes for kitty, get her out and give lots of treats and praise for being good in the car. Now is the time to find out that Fido gets car-sick, not when you have two kids, a cat and your Aunt Bess loaded into the car for a 5 hour drive to the family reunion. If car-sickness is an issue, talk to your vet about options to keep your trip puke-free.

Tip #4: The Creature Comforts

Just as you’d need snacks and entertainment for a road trip, your pet does too. Bring along their favorite toys and their most comforting blankie. But don’t overdo it; too much stuff can turn the backseat into a zoo-themed thrift store or a carrier into a squeeze cage.

Tip #5: Food and Water Management

When it comes to nourishment, resist the urge to feed your pet before hitting the road. Many animals get motion sickness if their tummies are too full. A pit stop is the perfect time to offer a light meal. And remember, just like your mother told you, always stay hydrated. Make sure your pet has access to fresh water, but beware of those sharp turns and sudden stops. For our diabetic furry friends, never withhold food without consulting a veterinarian first. 

Tip #6: Pit Stop Protocol

Ah, the classic road trip pit stop – a time-honored tradition. But when traveling with your pet, be ready for it to be less of a restroom break and more of a Hollywood-style escape sequence. Keep Fido on a leash at all times. Trust me, you don’t want to end up chasing your dog around a gas station in your pajamas. That’s a story no one needs.

Tip #7: Travel Documents

A journey without proper documentation can lead to unexpected shenanigans at border crossings. Ensure you have up-to-date ID tags on your pet’s collar, and don’t forget any vaccination records, just in case. Plus, make sure your pet’s microchip information is current. Remember, if they get lost, you want their GPS coordinates to lead you straight to them – not to a neighbor’s barbecue. Make sure you have your pets’ health certificates if you’re planning any airline flights or any travel internationally and sometimes this can be a months long process, so be warned! Sadly, the government does not tend to accept excuses like “I didn’t know Fluffster needed health papers!”

Tip #8: Pet-Proof Your Lodgings

Booking pet-friendly accommodations is a no-brainer, but once you’re there, it’s like conducting an archaeological dig for potential pet hazards. Check the room for loose wires, tempting garbage cans, and any other pet pitfalls. And please, don’t assume “pet-friendly” means your pet can redecorate with the hotel’s linens.

Tip #9: Keep the Crazy Schedule

Pets love routine, and when you’re on the road, that can go out the window faster than a greased pig. Try to maintain some semblance of a regular schedule for meals, playtime, and potty breaks. This will keep your pet from getting disoriented and you from becoming a stress-case.

Tip #10: Distraction Techniques

Let’s face it; you can only sing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” so many times before wanting to drive your car off a cliff. To keep both you and your pet sane, consider bringing along an audiobook or some great tunes. Just remember, a heavy metal headbanger in the backseat might not sit well with your classical-loving cat. Consider swapping seating arrangements mid-trip to allow some through-the-kennel scritches for your lonely backseat furry family.

Tip #11: Treats and Rewards

Positive reinforcement works wonders. Give treats and praise when your pet behaves well during the trip. You’ll be surprised how quickly they learn the rules of the road. You might even find them trying to parallel park with the best of them!

Tip #12: Plan for Emergencies

Before hitting the road, make a list of local veterinarians at your destination. It’s like your personal “911” for pet mishaps. You never know when you might need it, and having it ready could save you from frantic Google searches at 3 AM.

Tip #13: Get Snappy with Photography

While documenting your pet’s journey may seem trivial, you’ll thank yourself later. Those photos of your cat peeking out of the carrier or your dog in sunglasses will provide you with hours of laughter once you’re safely home. Plus, they’ll give you excellent ammunition for showing your friends the real meaning of “crazy cat/dog person.”

Tip #14: The Art of Flexibility

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, things don’t go as planned. When your pet decides to be a drama queen or king, embrace the chaos. Remember, the best travel stories usually involve a few bumps in the road – and so do the best pet travel tales.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, traveling with your pet may be an adventure that tests your patience, your sanity, and your resolve, but it’s also a journey that strengthens the bond between you and your furry companions. After all, it’s the quirks, mishaps, and unforgettable moments that make your pet travel escapades so wonderfully memorable. So, grab your leash, a sense of humor, and hit the road, because the world is waiting, and it’s a whole lot funnier with your pet by your side.

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