How to Keep Your Dog Safe and Sitting Pretty On Your Next Road Trip

Since our dogs are much-loved members of our families, it’s only natural that we want them along for the fun when it’s time for a family vacation. However, that often means a long road trip to the beach, campsite, mountains, or other destination. As veterinarians, we understand your goal is to make the trip as comfortable and safe as possible for your dog, and we want nothing more than to help this effort with some expert insight. Following are our recommendations for ensuring a smooth road trip, so your dog enjoys both the vacation and the journey.

Restrain Your Dog During the Ride

This suggestion is with the safety of both the dog and the driver in mind. A dog moving about freely in a vehicle isn’t safe for the driver, especially if your dog tends to get excited or scared while in a car. It’s an unnecessary distraction for the driver that you can easily avoid. In addition, while an airbag may save a human life, it can easily kill or severely injure a dog. You should put your dog in the backseat in a well-ventilated carrier that you’ve strapped to the seat with a seatbelt or other type of anchor. Be sure to choose a carrier that is large enough for your dog to stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably. The carrier also serves as an added layer of protection in the event of a car crash.

Don’t Let Them Ride with Their Head Out the Window

We know, we know - there is nothing more uplifting than seeing the pure joy of a dog with their head out the window. While we can see doing this occasionally for short jaunts around town, it presents a significant danger for longer road trips. If you don’t go with a carrier and instead use a dog auto restraint/seat belt, be sure it’s short enough that your dog can’t stick their head out an open window. Your dog may be struck by debris thrown out of another car window on the highway or may harm themselves if the driver needs to slam on the brakes or turn quickly. Smaller dogs may accidentally fall out of an open window too.

Don’t Leave Them Alone in the Car

This is especially important if you’re traveling during the warmest or coldest months, as temperatures skyrocket and plummet quickly in vehicles. You risk serious and imminent harm to your dog’s health if you leave them unattended in a parked car at temperatures higher than 70 degrees or lower than 35 degrees. Designate a family member to stay with the dog or take the dog for a quick walk and swap responsibilities once another family member returns to the vehicle.

Identify Your Dog

We hope you’ve had your dog microchipped, but you should also have a collar with an ID tag that clearly states your contact information. Many dogs get lost easier while away from home, as they’re unfamiliar with their surroundings. Also, in the unfortunate situation of a car accident, dogs are known to get very anxious and flee the scene. Proper identification will ensure your dog is found and safely returned.

Keep Your Dog Hydrated

Something that is often neglected during a long road trip is consistently hydrating your dog. An enclosed space with heat or air conditioning vents nearby may dehydrate your dog more quickly than usual. Put a passenger in charge of regular drinks for your dog. It might mean a couple more stops for potty breaks, but that’s time well spent giving your dog some fresh air and exercise before the next leg of the trip.

Dog Comfort on a Road Trip

Now that we’ve covered safety, it’s time to make sure your precious doggo is comfortable while on your road trip. While the dog may not be able to moan and groan with the “Are we there yet?” questions, they could, unfortunately, suffer in silence on the ride. We know you love your dog and want to make sure that the journey is just as incredible as the destination for them.

Below are some tips on how to make sure your dog is comfortable on your next road trip:

1. Be Prepared with the Essentials

A long road trip means your dog will need to relieve themselves, eat, drink, and play at some point. It’s a good idea to grab a bag or small tote to dedicate to all your dog’s needs, including:

  • A couple of servings of their food
  • Water, preferably in a pet travel bottle that allows you to release water in small increments
  • Waste bags
  • Their favorite toys for comfort and to pass the time
  • Blanket for comfort
  • Leash and harness so they can stretch and walk during stops

2. Prepare in Advance

Prepare your dog for a longer-than-usual car ride by taking them on shorter trips in the weeks leading up to the road trip and gradually increase the length of those trips. This will make the road trip easier on your dog, as they’ve become acclimated to the environment and understand they’re likely going to be in the vehicle for a while.

3. Stop to Feed Your Dog

Many dogs experience car sickness, so it’s best to feed them a light meal a few hours before departing and stop along the way for their next meal. Avoid feeding them in a moving vehicle. Stopping for their next meal also allows them to get out of the car, stretch, and enjoy some fresh air. If your dog constantly experiences motion sickness, talk to your veterinarian about prescription medication to help control nausea.

Wally World or Bust! It’s a wonderful experience having the entire clan with you for those long-awaited family vacations, including your precious pooch. Following these tips for both safety and comfort will ensure a smooth road trip to your destination without unknowingly putting your dog in harm’s way or making them dread your next road trip.

The ASPCA is another wonderful resource for keeping pets safe on road trips. If you'd like more tips or need to get your dog microchipped for your upcoming adventure, please call your veterinarian. Don't have one yet? We can help you find a trusted local veterinarian


Contributing DVM