Car Travel With Pets: 10 Tips for Safety and Security

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on July 10, 2023
4 min read

Some families can't imagine taking a vacation without including their dogs. A 2018 survey found that almost 95 percent of pet owners were planning at least one overnight trip with their pet. Many dogs love to travel, but it can be stressful for you and your pet if you aren't prepared. By planning ahead, you can make sure your journey is safe and comfortable for you and your dog. 

If you're planning on traveling with pets, whether it's for pleasure or necessity, you'll need to take some steps to prepare for your dog's needs along the way. Car travel with dogs, especially long trips, requires some forethought. You can't just assume you'll be able to get everything you need for your pet during your trip. 

  1. Keep your pet restrained during the ride. It isn't safe for you or your dog if they are hopping around the car while you're driving. You need to focus on driving, and your dog may distract you if they get excited or scared. Airbags are great for you, but they can kill your pet if you have an accident with them in the front seat. Because of this, pets should be in the back seat. The safest way for your pet to travel is in a carrier that has been strapped to the seat with a seatbelt or other anchor. Make sure the carrier is large enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down. You can also use a pet seatbelt, but these have not been proven to protect animals during a car crash.
  2. Take several short trips with your dog to get them accustomed to riding in the car before you take off on a long trip. Gradually increase the length of these shorter trips to work up to long-distance travel with dogs. 
  3. Feed your pet a light meal three to four hours before you leave. While you're on the road, always stop to feed your dog. Don't feed them in a moving vehicle. This may help avoid pet car sickness. 
  4. Never leave your dog alone in a parked car. It is a safety concern at temperatures higher than 70°F or lower than 35°F. However, passersby may decide to break your window to free your dog if they think they are trapped inside at any temperature. 
  5. Pack a travel kit for your pet. Make sure to include your pet's health records, including proof of recent immunizations. Bring your pets regular food, water, medications, and bowls. You should also include the supplies you need to clean up after your pet, such as waste bags and a scoop. To keep your pet happy and occupied during the trip, pack a few toys, including some new ones for novelty and a few old favorites. Lastly, don't forget a pet first-aid kit. 
  6. Identify your pet. While your pet should have a microchip, make sure they have a collar with an ID tag with your home address and cell phone number as well. For longer trips and vacations, get a temporary tag with the phone number of the destination where you'll be staying in case your pet gets lost while you're traveling. All collars should be flat, and never use a choke collar on your dog.  
  7. Don't let your dog ride with their head out the window. There's no denying this makes some dogs happy, and it's cute to see. However, your pet risks getting struck by passing debris or thrown out the window in case of a collision or if you have to unexpectedly slam on brakes or turn. If you're following tip #1, this won't be an issue, but it's worth repeating. 
  8. Carry your pet's important documents with you. If you're traveling across state or international borders, a health certificate may be required in addition to proof of rabies vaccination.
  9. Bring your own water or provide your dog with bottled water. Drinking water from an unfamiliar source may cause an upset stomach.  
  10. Prepare your car for your dog. There are many car seats and floor covers that protect your car and add comfort for your dog. If you find yourself frequently traveling with dogs, you may want to invest in some of these.  

Plane Travel. Traveling by plane can be complicated with a pet. Flying with dogs poses a risk to animals with short nasal passages such as bulldogs and pugs. They are more likely to have problems with oxygen deprivation and heat stroke. If you must fly with your pets, see if they can travel in the cabin with you. This may be an option for smaller pets, but it will require advanced planning. Don't wait until the last minute. 

You will also need to visit your vet and get a health certificate that is dated no earlier than 10 days before you travel. Check with the airline to make sure you have the right type of carrier.

Train Travel. Amtrak trains only allow dogs who weigh under 25 pounds, so traveling with a dog may not be an option. Smaller train companies may allow pets, and many European railways allow pets. Check with the train company you want to travel with to make sure you have all of the required documentation. 

Boat Travel. Some cruise lines allow pets to travel with you, but usually only on ocean crossings. Check to make sure your pet will be allowed in your cabin with you, as some ships confine pets to onboard kennels.