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How to Go on a Car Trip With a Small Dog

Traveling can be stressful, especially if you're bringing along your canine companion. Some dogs enjoy road trips, but for others it can be a traumatic occasion. There are steps you can take to ensure that any road trip is safe and fun for your dog, and for you.

Making Pre-Trip Preparations

1. Get your vet's clearance. Before taking your dog on a road trip, you should make sure your pet has a clean bill of health. Some dogs have health problems, while others may simply be getting up in age. That may not automatically disqualify your dog from travel plans, but it's still best to have your vet do a thorough checkup.

  • While you're at the vet's office, ask your veterinarian for a copy of your dog's vaccinations and medical records. Be sure to pack these records with you when you travel - that way, if anything happens and you need to see an emergency vet, you'll have your dog's medical information on hand.
  • Ask your vet about whether you should alter your dog's diet at all during a road trip. Some vets may recommend canned food instead of dry food or vice versa.
  • If your dog needs any medication, you may need to ask your vet for a refill to ensure that you have enough medication for the duration of the trip.
  • If your dog is prone to motion sickness in moving vehicles, ask your vet about any medications or travel options that might make the road trip more comfortable for your dog.

2. Consider having your dog microchipped. If your dog has never been microchipped, you may want to have your vet insert one in your dog. It is a quick and relatively painless procedure, usually administered into the shoulder, that could end up saving your dog's life. If your dog already has a microchip, contact the microchip registry and ensure that your address and contact information are all up to date.

  • Microchips protect your dog in case she slips out of her collar. In the event that your dog gets lost, any veterinarian or dog pound employee who scans your dog will be able to tell her unique registration number and a phone number for the registry where your dog is registered.
  • Dogs microchipped in the last few years will have received a universal microchip, which can be detected on any scanner in any state. Older microchips were brand-specific to a certain type of scanner. Ask your veterinarian or the microchip registry company about the type of chip used on your dog to ensure it is a universal chip.

3. Update your dog's tag information. If you've moved, changed phone numbers, or changed your name (through marriage or legal re-naming), you'll need to update the tag on your dog's collar. You can have tags made at most pet stores, or find a service online.

  • Be sure your dog's collar includes a county rabies registration tag.
  • Use your cell phone number on your dog's tag instead of your home phone number. If you're traveling, it will be much easier for anyone who finds your dog to get in touch with you through your cell phone number.

4. Check animal transport rules. Depending on which states you will be traveling through, you and your pet may be subjected to certain rules and restrictions. You can learn about these rules by checking the Road Traffic Authority Road Rules, or the equivalent agency in the states you will be traveling through.

  • If you are driving across international borders, check with the Department of Agriculture or a similar government agency in the country you will be entering. There may be additional rules and requirements, including forms or records required for entry/re-entry.

5. Plan your rest stops and hotels. Before you hit the road, it's important to plan out your route in advance. Look for places along the way where your dog will be able to relieve herself, like rest stops or dog parks. If you'll be spending the night at any hotels along the way, call ahead to ensure that dogs are permitted in your room.

  • Many hotels have dog-friendly rooms, but not every room will be dog-friendly. These are often set aside in a block for travelers with dogs, and may fill up fast around big travel holidays. Be sure to call in advance and reserve a dog-friendly room so you know you won't be left without accommodations.

6. Acclimate your dog to car travel. If your dog is not used to traveling by car, or has never been on a long road trip beyond local travel, she may need some exposure to car travel. Start out with short trips if she's never been in a car before and gradually increase the length and duration of your drives in the weeks leading up to your actual road trip.

Packing for the Car Trip

1. Bring food, water, and bowls. Your dog will need food and water just as she normally does at home. Be sure to bring enough food for the duration of the trip, numerous bottles of clean drinking water, and bowls for your dog to eat/drink out of. Consider bringing your dog's bowls from home so that she recognizes the familiar artifact from home.

2. Pack medication. If your dog is currently taking any medications, be sure to pack enough medicine for the trip. If your dog is taking heart worm and flea medicines and you will be traveling around the day you usually administer these medications, you'll want to bring those as well.

3. Give your dog home comforts. Even if your dog has traveled extensively, she may get anxious being away from home. You can alleviate your dog's anxiety by bringing some of her favorite comforts from home. Pack your dog's favorite toy, pillow, and any blankets or bedding she sleeps on, and make sure she has access to these items in the car.

  • Whether your dog is in a crate or in the backseat, be sure she has access to a blanket to curl up under. It may help calm your dog's nerves if she gets upset or uneasy during travel.

4. Bring a leash and harness or crate. You'll need a leash to walk your dog during rest stops, but that may not be enough to secure your dog safely during the actual travel portions of your trip. Some pet experts recommend using a travel harness/seatbelt built for dogs to prevent your pet from sliding around in the backseat or trying to climb up into your lap. Ask your vet or a qualified dog trainer what would be ideal for your dog on the road.

  • Don't forget to bring plastic waste bags and/or a waste scoop to pick up after your pet during rest stops.

Driving with Your Dog

1. Make frequent rest stops. Your dog will need regular bathroom breaks - in fact, she may need to stop more often than she goes at home due to stress and/or motion. Keep your dog on-leash during all breaks and make sure she has sufficient time, as an exciting or unfamiliar environment may make it difficult for her to pass waste.

2. Never leave your dog alone. If you make stops along the way, do not under any circumstances leave your dog alone in the vehicle. Even in mild weather, a dog can experience severe health problems and even death as a result of being left unattended in a vehicle.

  • Even if you open the windows during warm weather, your dog can still develop a heat stroke over a relatively short period of time.
  • Cold weather can be just as dangerous as hot weather. Leaving your dog alone in a cold car during winter can cause hypothermia and may lead to death.

3. Keep your pet inside. Many dogs instinctively want to stick their heads out the window, but this can cause injury if any rocks or debris go flying up off the road. The increased airflow can also harm a dog's lungs if she's allowed to keep her head out the window. Instead, keep your dog safely secured in the backseat, and if you open the windows be sure they're not open enough that your dog can fit her head outside.


  • Make regular rest stops on the road for your dog.
  • Try to keep your dog on her regular meal schedule.
  • Bring a copy of all of your dog's medical and vaccination records, just in case.


  • Keep your dog on a leash at all times, even in the car. If you stop and open the car door, there's always a chance she may try to run outside in a fit of excitement or fear.
  • NEVER leave your dog unattended in a vehicle. If you need to stop along the road, either bring your dog with you when you leave the vehicle or leave her in the car with the air conditioning on (assuming it's warm out - if traveling in winter, leave the heat on).