When transporting your dog by car, a suitable travel cage, dog guard or seat harness is necessary. An unsecured pet can be a dangerous distraction to a driver. In the event of an accident, an unsecured pet is also at much greater risk of being injured, or causing injury to the driver or passengers. It is a legal requirement for all animals to be suitably restrained when travelling in a vehicle. A dog shouldn't be allowed to travel in a car with its head hanging out of the window. There is a significant risk of injury from stones and debris thrown up by other cars. It can also distract other drivers. If there is any likelihood your dog may try to climb or jump out of the window despite restraint then keep it closed and use your air conditioning to keep the travelling environment both comfortable and safe! Travelling pets should be micro-chipped and fitted with a secure collar and name tag. Engraved tags are preferable to the barrel type which often comes loose.
Despite campaigns to try to help prevent tragedy, every year pets continue to die from heat exhaustion, as a result of being left in a hot car with the windows closed. The safest thing is never to leave your pets in the car unattended, and remember that even though it may be overcast when you leave the vehicle, the weather can soon change. If you do need to leave your pet in the vehicle then the safest way is to ensure that he is within a secure cage, crate or carrier so that the windows can be wound down completely. Larger hatchbacks, 4x4s and small vans are ideal if you are planning regular trips with your pet as the rear/side doors can be left open.
When preparing for a long journey don’t forget your pet’s lunch-box as well as your own! He’ll also need plenty to drink so make sure you take some bottled water. Spill-proof bowls are ideal for travelling, and there are many ingenious designs and products for every budget. On hot days you could also offer your cat or dog some ice. A meaty broth can also be frozen in ice cube trays and makes for a delicious cooling snack, or you can fill a hollow toy such as a Kong with water or broth (seal the end!) and freeze ready for the journey. Simply remove the plug before you offer it to your dog. Dry food is the most convenient means of nutrition for your cat or dog on his journey. The food is easy to store, takes up little space and is also hygienic since it is less likely to attract flies and other bugs, plus there is little residue so bowls are easier to clean on the go. If you are very organised, you could even weigh out your dog’s meals and store them in plastic takeaway containers which will save time on the journey or at your destination. If you own a large, deep-chested dog and he becomes stressed when travelling, then it is safer not to feed him on the journey. These breeds are unfortunately at a greater risk of bloat, and stress can exacerbate this horrible and often fatal condition. If a meal is imperative at a certain time then take something very easy on the digestion to feed such as some bland home-cooked food or a good quality wet diet which is known to agree with him.
Just like us, some dogs can feel nauseous during a long journey. If this is the case, a meal before-hand or during travel is not generally a good idea. Anti-sickness and/or mild sedative drugs can be prescribed by your vet if you think your pet will need them. Never buy human preparations as these may not be safe for your pet. Some humans find that focussing on a stationary object out of the window of a moving car can help alleviate travel nausea. It’s not known if this can help our canine passegers or not, but some may like to look out of the window, whilst others may prefer a dark environment.
As well as packing food and water, you will also need to take some pet-safe disinfectant, poo bags, wipes and towels for cleaning up any urine or faeces. Absorbent fleecy bedding is ideal. This is not only comfortable, but any wetness will soak through to the underside. Using shredded paper or cat litter granules underneath any bedding will help further absorb any leakages, and a tough sheet of plastic between this and your car upholstery will ensure that your vehicle remains clean and dry.
When going on a long car journey with an animal do ensure that your pet does not get too hot or cold. A cool-bag containing damp towels is a sensible precaution, especially when travelling with brachycephalic (short-faced) breeds (e.g. the bulldog) on a hot day. Take cosy fleecy blankets and microwaveable head pads such as “Snuggle Safe” (which provides up to 12 hours of warmth) for winter trips. Fortunately most modern cars now have air-conditioning/climate control which means a more comfortable journey for both the humans and pets. Finally – and we cannot stress this enough - NEVER leave a pet unattended in a hot, stationary car.
Most dogs will happily look out of the window or sleep, but if you are taking favourite toys or chews along for the journey, do make sure these are of a suitable size and durability to avoid choking.
More nervous pets might prefer the security of a darkened environment (try draping a blanket or towel over your dog’s crate if he uses one in the car). Very anxious dogs may require sedation prior to a trip, but there are measures that can be taken to alleviate stress in less nervous animals. These include:
A qualified behaviourist is the best person to help you. There may be a reason for the initial fear that perhaps you are unaware of. Try to understand and read your dog’s body language. The way to overcome phobias in both people and pets is to carry out the act which invokes the fear over and over. When nothing untoward happens, the fear lessens. Some pets may completely overcome their anxiety, whilst others will always remain wary under certain circumstances. The key is to build confidence and trust, and when this is attained you should then be able to travel safely and happily with your pet.