If your pet could talk, it would probably say, “Chauffeur me!” Your animal will usually be more comfortable riding in the car with you, and this option is far less expensive than sending it by air. Be sure your animal is in good health and carry any required health certificates, permits, identification, and rabies tags. In addition, take a test ride, use proven pet travel techniques, make frequent stops, and consider medication.
If your dog is not used to riding in a car, take it on several short trips and work on its travel manners. This step is easier if your dog has been obedience trained. To safely travel in a car, your dog should be trained to sit or lie down quietly. An alternative is to keep the dog in a crate. If your move includes overnight stops, take a crate anyway so that the dog has a familiar space in unfamiliar surroundings such as motel rooms.
Cats usually hate to ride in a car, but they will settle in eventually. They are safest, and usually happiest, crated. They like having a cozy, close place to nap. Whether a dog or cat, if it’s in the crate, it’s comfortable and it’s not going to jump out of the car and run away when you open the door. Nor will it have the opportunity to plunge its teeth or claws into your right arm just as you’re executing that hairpin turn down a steep hill. Or cower under the brake pedal.
If your pet gets carsick easily, ask your veterinarian about options. Medication is one. It also helps to feed very lightly or withhold food until the day’s drive is completed. And some pets will get sick the first few miles of the trip, and then adjust to the motion and be fine for the day or the entire trip.
Even if your animal has never been prone to motion sickness, it’s good insurance to carry paper towels, trash bags, and cleaner in case of sickness or accidents. Confining your pet to a crate will also confine any mess to that crate, and you can clean the crate much more easily than you can clean the car’s carpeting or upholstery.
Make sure your pet has its collar and tags, and never let it loose while traveling. Even a well-behaved dog may bolt when let loose in a strange place. Cats can be taught, at an early age, to walk on a leash and will not be lost if they are only taken out when on one. As when traveling with small children, plan plenty of rest stops to let your pet exercise and relieve itself. Keep your pet under control at all times and don’t let it annoy others.
Remember your pet when you make motel, hotel, or campground reservations. Many places accept pets, but some do not, and those that do may have certain restrictions. Cuddly kitty may be welcome, but your three mastiffs might cause alarm. Ask ahead of time.
Believe it or not, some motels welcome pets. Most motel chains offer directories of locations of their motels along with information, usually including whether or not they accept pets.
Never leave your pets in a completely closed car. Even in cool weather, on a sunny day the temperature inside your car can reach killing degrees. If you must leave your pet alone in the car for a few minutes, park in the shade and open each window an inch or so. Never leave an animal alone in a car in hot weather.
Make a list of things you need to take for your pet:
- Food (and, depending on the food, a can opener)
- Prescribed medication
- Feeding dishes
- Paper towels (for accidents)
- Litter and disposable box for litter-trained pets
- Scoop and plastic bags (for intentionals)
- One or two toys
- Flea spray
- Pet crate
If you are to stay in a motel, take your animal’s regular bed or a carrier. Some of you fine readers will be moving non-furred pets. How can you get them from here to there without losing them somewhere else?
Most small pets (guinea pigs, hamsters) and birds travel best in the cages they live in at home. Make sure they have plenty of water. Those tiny bodies dehydrate quickly. Keep your bird calm by covering its cage. Take care to keep birds out of drafts and extreme temperatures. Feed it as usual.
For one job, I stayed in a city apartment for a couple of weeks, and then commuted back home to the country for a week. I decided to move my pet parakeet to keep me company in the big city. With ample food and water, his cage was placed on the front seat, seat belted, and covered with a dark cloth. The radio played all the way (George loves Oldies!). He traveled just fine.
Yes, even tropical fish can be moved by car. The shorter the trip the better. Unless your aquarium is five or fewer gallons in capacity, your fish will travel more safely in another carrier. Use a clean plastic bag or an unbreakable container such as a bucket with a lid, and fill this carrier half full with water from the aquarium. Remember, your fish are delicate and need a fairly constant water temperature, so a Styrofoam or insulated cooler will make a good holder. Carefully transfer the fish (being cautious not to overcrowd) and close the container. Fish need air, so open the container every few hours to renew the air supply.
Need to move a horse? If your equine is an experienced trailer traveler, no problem. If not, start now to get some practice in before the move. You can rent horse trailers. If your trip requires motel stops, check beforehand to be sure you can park a trailer with a horse in the parking lot overnight. The horse will be fine in the trailer overnight. If you are camping, be sure horses are permitted in the campground. Another alternative is to board the horse at stables along the way.
With the exception of maybe fish and birds, most animals, including the driver, will benefit from frequent stops. If you travel with dogs who need to be exercised, rest areas, when available, offer the best breaks because most include areas for walking dogs. If your cat needs to be walked, find a quiet area away from rest areas and the dogs that frequent them. Offer only small amounts of water at each break.