From bathroom breaks to knowing how to properly secure your pet, it’s not always easy travelling with pets, particularly if you have a puppy or a senior dog in your pack. So to help you out, the people behind Vet Advice Line are sharing their top tips for travelling with pets post-lockdown.
There are many things to take into consideration when travelling with your pet, especially if your pet is a puppy new to car journeys, or, as the case may be after lockdown, there has been a particularly long gap since you last took your pet on a car journey.
How to get your pet used to a car
Ahead of your trip, try to build up the length of time your pet is in the car. If your pet is completely new to the car, start by introducing them to it while stationary. Encourage your pet into the car, doors or boot open, and give them plenty of positive reinforcement. Repeat this daily until it’s clear they are comfortable with getting into the car and the space they will occupy, whether that’s a fixed crate, a secure and ventilated boot area, or a back seat with a harness safety belt. You may also wish to use a calming agent, such as Adaptil, which uses artificial calming pheromones to help with any stage of this process.
Taking it slow
Once your pet is comfortable with getting into the car, you can start to introduce the engine. Some pets may be startled by this, so take some time to desensitise them before starting your journey, and repeat and praise as required. Start with short and slower journeys, building up time spent into the car as well as introducing them to the experience of a motorway or dual carriageway.
Even dogs who are familiar with car journeys can become unsettled when faced with a motorway. The speed, other cars, and having the windows closed can be a trigger for anxiety. So, remember to work this into your regime, only moving up with timing, distance and speed, when your pet is comfortable enough to do so.
Our top tips
Once you’re confident your pet is settled in a car, there are some other things to factor in, especially if you are looking at a long road trip.
- Bathroom breaks — puppies or senior dogs may need to go to the toilet more often, so having planned breaks in your journey will save any last-minute distress or accidents. This will also give them the opportunity to stretch their legs (particularly important for senior dogs) and have a drink of water. Allow them to drink from a shallow bowl of water, but avoid them gulping down too much, as this can result in them vomiting the water back up once your journey commences.
- Mealtimes — your pet should not be fed in a moving vehicle, or for at least three to four hours beforehand. This can be particularly difficult with puppies that eat little and often. With puppies, depending on the length of your journey, consider skipping the worst of the traffic and set off very early in the morning, or even overnight, when they would usually be sleeping. This will allow you to keep their tummies reasonably empty to avoid vomiting, without interfering too much with their metabolic needs.
- Travelling safety — it’s time to consider how you will safety restrain your pet. Will you use a harness and seat belt clip, a secured crate in the car, or a boot area with a travel divider? Think about your pet’s comfort: can they stand up, sit down and lie down? It is important to ensure your pet will be able to move around in the area you choose, while also making sure they are safe if there was an accident. You’ll also need to make sure the area is well ventilated — do not cover crates with blankets or towels, as this will limit airflow.
- Keeping your pet safe on holiday — ensure your pet is microchipped with your up-to-date registration details, wearing a collar with your name and contact details on it (as per law). Consider having an extra tag, with details of your destination or any special numbers on it, just in case.
- Packing — beyond the standard food, bowls and bedding, what else will your pet need? Think about what can be packed away in a car, versus what you need to have to hand. It’s a good idea to have any rescue remedies to hand in case of overheating, such as bottled water and a bowl, a towel soaked in water or even a cooling mat or jacket.
- Vets and medications — with senior dogs, it is particularly important to take into consideration any medical conditions or on-going medications. Ensure your pet receives any prescription medicines as normal, and make sure you have enough to last your holiday. It is even worth scouting out your destination for vets in the area, as having these details to hand will make any potentially stressful situations that bit easier to cope with.
- Avoiding anxiety and overexcitement — calming solutions like an Adaptil spray can be used in a car and on your pet’s bedding. Maybe they have a favourite toy or cushion that will keep them relaxed? Would an item of clothing with your scent on it help them to snuggle and settle down? Thunder shirts are a great way to treat car travel anxiety and can be worn under a harness if the car is cool enough for them to be wearing this added layer.
And remember, never leave your dog in a hot car
At a service station or otherwise. They can very quickly develop heatstroke, which can be fatal and when far away from your vets, this can be a serious problem.
Lockdown has brought several difficulties, for us and our companion friends. Whether you are introducing road trips or car journeys for the first time with your new puppy or reintroducing your pet after a long gap, remember to take things slow. Try not to overwhelm them by rushing to get them comfortable, as it is much harder to undo a learnt phobia than it is to take it at their pace. Planning journeys with rest breaks, considering safety and even knowing what to do in an emergency will help you, and your furry best friend, get the best out of the experience. Happy travels!