Travelling tips for puppies and senior dogs 

There are many things to take into consideration when travelling with your pet. Especially if your pet is a puppy and new to car journeys, particularly long ones. Or when there has been a long gap between taking your pet on a long car journey, as may be the case after lock-down.

To avoid anxiety and stress, 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 whilst stationary. Encourage your pet into the car, doors or boot open, give plenty of positive reinforcement and repeat daily until it’s clear they are comfortable with getting in the car and the space they will occupy on a journey, whether that’s a fixed crate, a secure and ventilated boot area or a back seat with a harness safety belt. You may like to use calming agents such as Adaptil, using the artificial calming pheromones may help with any stage of this process.

Then try starting the engine. Some pets may be startled by this. Take the time, as before, to desensitise them to the engine before commencing your first journey. Repeat and praise as required. Start with short and slower journeys, building up the time spent in the car and not forgetting to give them the experience of a motorway or dual carriage way. Some dogs who are very familiar with car journeys, can become unsettled when introduced to a motorway, the speed, the other cars and trucks, and having windows closed can be a trigger for anxiety. So, remember to work this into your regime when building up this process. Only move up with timing, distance and speed when your pet is comfortable with the stage you are at.

Once you know your pet is settled in the car, there are other things to factor in, especially if looking at a long road trip.

  • Sensible breaks on the journey. Your puppy or senior pet may need to toilet more often, so having planned breaks will save last minute distress for you and your pet. This will also give them the opportunity to stretch their legs, particularly important for elderly dogs, and have a little drink of water. Allow them to drink from a shallow bowl of water, to avoid them gulping too much too quickly. We want them hydrated but we do not want to encourage them to vomit the water back up when the journey commences.
  • Your pet should not be fed in a moving vehicle, or for at least 3 to 4 hours prior to the journey. This can be particularly difficult with puppies that eat smaller meals more often. With puppies, dependent on the length of your journey, consider skipping the worst of the traffic and setting off very early in the morning, or even overnight, in their usual sleeping time. This will allow you to keep their tummies reasonably empty to avoid vomiting, without interfering too much with their metabolic needs.
  • Consider how you will safely restrain your pet, will you use a harness and seat belt clip, a secured crate in the car, or the boot area with a travel divider? Think about your pets’ comfort. It is important to ensure your pet will be able to stand, sit and lie down in the area you choose, also making sure they are safe if there was an accident. Is the area well ventilated? Do not cover crates with blankets or towels, this will limit air flow. Ensure your pet is micro-chipped with registration details up to date, wearing a collar with a name tag with your name and contact details on – as per law. Also consider having an extra tag with details of your destination or any special numbers, just in case.
  • Never leave your dog in a hot car, at services or otherwise. They can very quickly develop heat stroke which can be fatal. When far away from your vets or familiar areas, this can be a serious problem. With senior dogs it is important to take into consideration any medical conditions they have or on-going medications. Ensure your pet receives any prescription medications as normal and, make sure you have enough medications to last your holiday if you are embarking on a long road trip. It is even worth scouting out your destination for vets in the area, whether you have a puppy or senior pooch. Having these details to hand, will make a stressful situation with sudden illness or injury, that bit easier to cope with.
  • What do you need to pack? Beyond the standard food, bowls and bedding; what else does your pet need. Think about what can be packed away in the car, versus what you need to have to hand. Medications for example. Rescue remedies if there is a problem; cooling facilities, bottled water and bowl, a towel – you could even soak in water in an overheating emergency or consider cooling jackets or mats.
  • Avoiding anxiety and even over-excitement. Calming solutions like an Adaptil spray can be used in the car and on their bedding. Maybe they have a favourite toy or cushion that will help keep them relaxed. A jumper with your scent on might help, for them to snuggle and settle down into. Thunder shirts are a great way to treat car travel anxiety or even over excitement. They can be worn under a harness, if the car is cool enough for them to be wearing this added layer, it can be a valuable tool in this process.

Lock-down 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 after a long gap, remember to take things slow. Try not to overwhelm your pet by rushing to get them comfortable, it is much harder to undo a learnt phobia, than to take it at their pace. Planning journeys with rest breaks, considering safety and even what to do in an emergency, will help you and your furry best friend get the best out of the experience.

Happy Travels by Christine McLoughlin RVN