How to holiday road trip with four‑legged family

Drs. Jessica Bell and Raelynn Farnsworth, community practice veterinarians at Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, have advice and tips for pet owners to help keep their animals safe and happy when traveling.

Holiday travel can be stressful – even for the four-legged members of the family. 

But with some planning ahead and consideration of an animal’s needs and temperament, a road trip with your pet doesn’t have to be a dreaded drive. 

Drs. Jessica Bell and Raelynn Farnsworth, community practice veterinarians at Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, have advice and tips for pet owners to help keep their animals safe and happy when traveling.

When to board your pet

When planning a trip, you should consider many factors when deciding whether to take your pet along. Will your pet enjoy a long car ride? Will your pet be welcome at your hotel or final stop? Will your pet become stressed or sick?

“If your pet doesn’t enjoy traveling or stresses easily, you should look into boarding or a pet sitter,” Bell said. “You also need to consider your destination. If it is not an animal-friendly environment or you are staying with someone who doesn’t have space for your animal, then it is better to board them.” 

Tips for boarding your pet:

  • Find a pet sitter or boarding facility well in advance of your trip. “If you are looking at boarding your pet, you need to check out the facility and also get your reservation in early because boarding facilities are very popular during the holidays,” Bell said.
  • Visit any boarding facility you are considering to ensure it meets your standards and to review its policies. 
  • Make sure your pet is current on its vaccinations. Most boarding facilities will require proof of specific vaccinations. 
  • Bring some of your pet’s favorite toys and blankets to help keep it more comfortable during the stay. 
  • Periodically call to check on your pet.

Hitting the road

Many pets enjoy traveling in cars with their family, but others can become stressed or even carsick. Fortunately, there are ways to make holiday travel safer and less stressful for you and your pets.

  • If your pet hasn’t been in a car much, see how it handles shorter trips before making a long journey. “If you don’t travel with your pet very often, then you should practice, even if it is just going around town to the post office to make sure they are OK in the vehicle,” Bell said.
  • Make sure your pet is up to date on its vaccinations, has been microchipped, and has a collar with an ID tag.
  • Always properly secure your pet while traveling. Many harnesses that act as seatbelts are readily available. Some pets also travel well in their crates. “You either need to have them in a crate or confined with a dog seat belt. It is dangerous for both the animal and people if they are roaming around,” said Farnsworth, who also serves as the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s interim director.
  • Avoid giving your pet a full meal before traveling, especially if it is prone to getting car sick.
  • Offer your pet plenty of water so it doesn’t become dehydrated (and don’t forget potty breaks).
  • Your veterinarian can recommend medications that can help with car sickness and anxiety.
  • Don’t forget your pet’s leash, collar, food, dishes, and waste bags. “Be sure you have their leash on before you open the door at rest areas because if they dart out the door you could lose them,” Farnsworth said.
  • Reserve pet-friendly hotels ahead of time as they may book up quicker.
  • Bring your pet’s crate, bedding, and favorite toys for when you reach your destination. 

Remember, pets, like humans, can get stressed with disruptions to their routine. But with a little preparation, a holiday vacation can be enjoyable for all members of the family. 

“Try to keep as much of your pet’s normal routine as you can – the same foods, the same blankets, their walk schedule the same,” Bell said. “That will definitely reduce their body’s stress reactions and make the trip much more enjoyable for them.”

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