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5 Tips for Traveling With Dogs in a Car (Especially When They’re Big)

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traveling with dogs

For many families across the United States, their pets are seen as an extension of their family.

So it’s only natural that both children and adults alike would opt to take their canine friends along for the ride on their next family holiday.

However, there’s much to consider before exposing your dog to a long and, at times, uncomfortable travel environment inside a car.

So if you’re considering traveling with dogs in the near future, here are a few pointers to ensure their trip is as comfortable as possible.

Traveling with Dogs: What You Need to Know?

Nowadays, traveling with a dog has become far more common-place than in previous years.

Many airlines, hotels, and other forms of transport have changed their policies to allow for furry family members during travel.

Despite this increase in popularity, what’s really important to consider is whether your dog is fit for travel and what they can withstand.

Just because they cannot physically voice their discomfort doesn’t mean that a dog cannot be traumatized by a travel experience. If you plan on traveling with your dogs by car on your next family holiday, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Preparing for Your Road Trip

If you do decide to take your canine companion along for the road trip, you’ll need to do some preparation beforehand.

Make sure to do some research on canine laws and travel restrictions in your state and the state you’re traveling to.

Check that the accommodation you’ll be holidaying at welcomes dogs and is briefed on the fact you’ll be bringing your dog along. This is especially important for larger breeds of dogs, as many accommodations may only allow smaller pets.

If you’re nervous about your dog getting lost in a new environment, it would be worthwhile having them microchipped.

During this pain-free process, a vet inserts a microchip just under the surface of their skin which contains all identification information. Alternatively, always ensure your dog is collared with a tag which includes contact and identification information.

Before your departure, take your dog to the vet for an overall health checkup and have them cleared for travel. Remember to pack their health and vaccination certificates with you.

Don’t forget to pack dog medicine, such as calming chews in the case of anxiety or motion sickness. Otherwise, consult with your vet on the best solutions for keeping your dog well during car travel.

For large dogs, it’s worth investing in a canine seat belt, such as the Mighty Paw Safety Belt to keep them in place during your journey.

traveling with dog in car

5 Top Tips For Car Travel with Dogs

If you’ve determined your dog can handle the trip, ok! Time to think about how to make the journey easiest. Hit the road with your furry family member in tow with these 5 simple tips to ensure they enjoy the journey too.

1. Store Pet Food With Care

If you’re traveling during the warmer months of spring and summer, beware of the dangers of pet food exposed to heat and direct sunlight.

Foods high in fat, with added oils and omega-3s, will spoil at a faster rate as the fats tend to break down in high heat.

This can make your dog sick and will not be a very pleasant experience inside your vehicle!

Make sure to store pet food in an airtight container and a cooler to keep it dry and cool. Don’t leave pet food in a hot car, take it inside with you.

If you don’t want to feed your pet human treats, pack a container of doggie treats so they feel included at pit stops.

2. Feed Your Dog Water Frequently

Dogs are highly susceptible to heatstroke inside a moving car – their air is stuffy and they tend to get hot easily. This is especially pertinent to large breeds of dogs.

Make sure to offer them water in a collapsible dog bowl every 2 hours, at least. Keep in mind that picky pets may not drink water that smells or tastes different from what they’re accustomed to.

If your dog is on the picky side, pack a few bottles filled with water from home. You will gradually have to introduce them to new tasting water along the journey.

Make sure to take regular breaks for a quick walk, potty break and the odd treat here and there!

Plan your stops around areas where you have access to walk freely for a few minutes.

car travel with dog

3. Avoid Opening Car Doors or Windows With Unrestrained Big Dogs

The urge to break free and run wild is innate for most larger breeds of dogs, especially when couped up in a small place such as a car.

The last thing you want is your big dog jumping out into the street, at risk of getting lost or worse, hit by a car.

Whenever you come to a pitstop, make sure their lead is attached or their dog seat belt is in place. Keeping the window ajar is advisable so they can poke their head out if need be.

4. Feed Your Dog Before Departure

In order to avoid unnecessary accidents in the car, it’s important to make sure your dog is fed at least a few hours before your departure.

Feeding a dog in a moving vehicle can only increase their chances of experiencing motion sickness.

Likewise with exercise. Ensure they have had their walk well in advance to your departure so they’re not hot and thirsty sitting in the car.

5. Avoid Transporting a Big Dog in a Truck Bed

If you have a pickup truck and think this is the easiest way to transport your canine companion, think again.

Unless the bed of your pickup truck is covered by a canopy, your dog is at risk of jumping out the back or being propelled out after one abrupt stop.

Additionally, the heat of summer can warm up the metal of the bed of your truck, which can actually burn your pet’s feet.

Things You Should Have Before Traveling With Dogs

Traveling with your favorite pooch might be a thrilling and memorable experience for you. But as a pet parent, you need to ensure that your furry friend is comfortable during the journey. Let’s have a look at the ways that you can follow to make your travel a seamless experience.

1. Adequate Food and Water

To begin with, you need to carry ample food and water while traveling with your dog. Dogs tend to feel hunger and thirst more often than humans, and you need to fulfill your dog’s hunger and thirst as and when required.

Additionally, many times local restaurants or hotels may not be dog-friendly. It may become difficult to buy anything edible for your dog from those places. In such cases, you may have to feed your dog inside your car only. Ready-to-eat meals or snacks and cool and refreshing water can be immensely helpful in such situations.

2. Food and water bowls

While traveling, you need to carry food bowls and water bowls as well. You can’t keep your pet hungry and thirsty, and if you are in a car or a train, you need to give food and water to your pet at regular intervals. This is where food and water bowls will come in handy.

It may be difficult for you to carry the regular food and water bowl that your dog uses. So, it is recommended to get a portable one, which is lighter, occupies less space and is easier to carry for you.

3. Leash and Collar/Harness

You need to carry a leash and harness as well. It’s better to have a leash with a tag (with all the relevant details) and put it on your dog right at the beginning of the journey. This will ensure that your furry friend does not get lost.

Besides, new surroundings can excite your dog, and it can run away. Hence, a short but sturdy leash is recommended. The leash should not be more than six feet in length. This will enable you to keep your pet by your side and keep it under control.

4. Toys and Bones

You should also carry some toys and chewing bones for the journey. Toys are one of the best solutions to keep your dog engaged while it is restrained inside a car. It will also help you to focus better on the road ahead and reach your destination.

Chewing bones, just like toys, are equally important during a journey. Dogs can get tired of toys, and it is better to give them chewing bones than to keep them occupied during the journey. Many chewing bones are hollowed at the center. You can fill that up with some delicacy that your dog loves. 

5. Medications

Although dogs love to have road trips with their owners, they are prone to diseases like car sickness. Hyperactivity is also another common issue among dogs, and this can be a hindrance during a long journey. Besides, some dogs may also show signs of anxiety and be restless after some time.

So, it is crucial that you consult your vet and get all the medications required for your dog. There are mild sedatives to calm your dog down, which can reduce your worries. Besides, if your dog is suffering from any other disease, don’t forget to get its medications for that as well. Also, keep a first-aid box handy to deal with any kind of unwanted situation.

6. Vaccination Records

If your planned trip with your dog consists of crossing state borders, carrying vaccination records may help you a lot. Moreover, ensure that your pet has been duly vaccinated before the commencement of the journey. And to be safe, consult your veterinarian as well.

Additionally, it is also recommended to get your dog microchipped before the journey to ensure that it is found if it gets lost during the journey.  

Is it a Good Idea to Take Your Dog?

It’s important to remember that if your dog is sick, injured or pregnant, traveling with them is not recommended unless it’s 100% necessary.

Likewise, if you have a dog that doesn’t respond well to change, is old and frail or easily over-stimulated, travel by car may not be the best option.

For these types of animals, a routine is normally the best thing for their health. Otherwise, your road trip could quickly turn into a traumatizing disaster for them.

Vets recommend leaving your dog in the care of a relative, friend or neighbor in an environment they are most comfortable.

traveling with dog in car


Is it OK to take dogs on long drives?

Yes, you can take your dog on long drives, but you need to remember that dogs can get car sickness, and you have to be prepared to deal with that. It is always advised to divide your driving time into small segments instead of traveling in a single stretch. Hence, it is necessary for your dog to get some respite from the continuous movement after every 3-4 hours. Besides, carry ample food and water for your dog during the journey.

Moreover, you are already aware of its frequency and timings to pee or poop, and you need to ensure that you stop your car during those times. Besides, it is better to stop your car and take your carry for a short walk before continuing with your journey. While doing so, carry a leash to ensure that your dog doesn’t get lost.

How long can a dog travel in a car?

It depends on the dog and the kind of upbringing it has. Generally speaking, a potty-trained adult dog can comfortably ride continuously for around four hours before actually requiring a break. Although, since old and ailing dogs and young puppies have less control over their bladder, they may need potty breaks more often.

How do you travel with a dog alone in a car?

If you want to travel alone with your dog in a car, you need to follow certain guidelines. To begin with, try to ascertain if your dog is calm during car rides or does it show signs of distress and anxiety. Then, decide if you want your dog to be unrestrained or in a pet cage during the journey. Introduce your dog to the pet cage if it is not habituated to one.

Additionally, giving your dog a good amount of exercising and tiring it out is a great idea and can make your journey easier. Besides, try not to feed it right before the journey. Let your dog eat at least a few hours before the journey and reduce the amount of food if possible. Also, carry some toys or bones to keep them occupied during the journey. Last, if your dog has hyperactivity, consult your vet, who will probably advise some mild sedative to calm it down.

Can a dog stay in a car for 2 hours?

According to pet experts, your dog can easily stay in your car for around two hours. But after two hours, you need to stop to let your dog stretch its limbs or relieve itself. It has also been observed that if your dog is traveling in a crate or in a pet carrier, it can stay inside your car for a longer period of time.

Where should a dog sit in a car?

Although dogs can travel in any seat in your car, it is recommended to keep your dog secured in the backseat of your car, especially if you have a minivan or an SUV. It will ensure that you are not distracted while driving and will reduce the chances of injuries. 

Besides, dogs can also travel in the front seat of your car, beside the driver’s seat. But in this case, please switch off the side airbag meant for the passenger and move the seat as far back as you can.

Should I feed my dog before Traveling?

It is strongly advised that you should never feed your dog before beginning your journey, as dogs have a tendency to suffer from car sickness. To be safe, feed it at least an hour or two before starting your trip. Besides, you can also take your dog for a nice walk or to the dog before heading out. This will help it to relax during the journey.

Also, reduce the portion of food during the last meal before the journey. The same rule applies to water as well. Carry ample food and water with you, to ensure that you can readily provide it with food and water if required during the journey.

What can I give my dog to calm him down while traveling?

Although most dogs love outdoor activities while traveling, dogs may show restlessness and signs of anxiety. Car sickness is one of the most common problems dogs encounter while traveling. As a dog parent, you need to ensure that your dog feels safe and secure during the trip. 

Soothing music or fresh air may help in this case. Your dog must have some favorite songs, and you should try playing them. But ensure that your dog doesn’t lean out of the open window. 

Last, consult your vet before setting out for the journey. Depending on the anxiety level of your dog, your vet may prescribe alprazolam, trazodone, or gabapentin. These medicines can be administered to your dog to effectively calm it down while traveling.

Looking for More Tips on Canine Care?

At Canine Weekly, we offer a plethora of useful information and resources on the best possible care for your canine.

For more tips on traveling with dogs, grooming care, nutrition or training and behavior, find everything you need to know on Canine Weekly.

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