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  • By Lisa Jevens

Tips for happy travels with your pet

Thinking of traveling with your pet? The amount of preparation you do can make the difference between a successful trip and a disaster. Here are some tips to help keep your pet safe and happy on the road.

Car trips

Some pets love to ride shotgun, and others will literally fight tooth and nail to avoid the car. The key is to acclimate your pet to the car long before the trip, preferably when the pet is young, since it will need to go to the vet or the groomer periodically anyway, says Pamela Barlow, senior behavior counselor at the ASPCA in New York.

If it’s a cat, it needs to go into a carrier. You can teach it to tolerate the carrier gradually at home by keeping the carrier out, feeding it near its carrier, then eventually inside the carrier with the door open. Then, try putting it in the carrier for short periods. That way it will be less likely to freak out when the carrier comes out of the closet for that once-a-year trip. Once your cat is used to the carrier, take it in the car for short drives.

Dogs should go into a crate or be strapped into a dog seatbelt in the back seat. It is not considered safe for a dog to be loose in the car. This is because it can become a projectile if you are in an accident. The ASPCA warns that if the dog is in the front seat, it can crash against the dash, or be killed when the airbag deploys.

It’s also unsafe for you as a driver to have a pet on your lap, or crawling around at your feet. And no dog heads hanging out the window. A flying object could easily injure your pet. The dog could even get out if you put the window down too far. Sometimes a dog can accidently raise or lower the car window by standing on the button.

If your dog doesn’t like the car, start slowly by feeding it near the car, then inside the car with the door open. Then, try offering it some food inside the car with the engine running. Graduate to short drives around the block and lengthen the time.

“Don’t flood them with the experience all at once,” Barlow says, “especially if the pet is new to you.”


If your pet gets nauseous in the car, your vet can offer medication. Or you can simply withhold food the morning of the trip to prevent vomiting. When on a long journey, your dog has the same needs that you do. Be sure to get out every few hours to let them stretch their legs, relieve themselves, and get a drink. Bring a puzzle toy with hidden food they can work on.

“Some dogs are very hardy travelers, but my dog wouldn’t want to travel for more than an hour at best,” Barlow says.


If you plan to stay at a pet-friendly hotel, be sure to ask whether the pet can be left alone in the room, and whether they require it to be crated. Finally, don’t forget to microchip your pet and/or make sure it has an ID tag with your contact information attached to the collar before leaving home.

​Originally published in the Chicago Tribune "From House to Home" section and on on January 30, 2015.

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