Thinking of hitting the road with your pup? This episode is filled with planning and packing info to make adventuring with your dog as fun as possible while keeping everyone safe.
Are you ready to travel with your dog?
[00:01:04] Welcome, everyone, to today’s episode of Your Vet Wants You To Know. A lot of us have been at home over the past year and a half, not doing a lot of traveling, and things are starting to get a little bit more open now. We’re looking forward to exploring new places and visiting with family and friends who we may not have seen in quite some time. A lot of people are getting back to traveling and I think that’s great. During the pandemic, a lot of people got puppies and kittens as well, so they may be interested in taking their pets with them when they’re traveling.
[00:01:37] In today’s episode, I wanted to focus on how to travel with your pet, so that you can have the most enjoyable experience possible while minimizing any risk to your animal. The idea for this episode, stemmed from an interview that I gave with my good friend, Heidi Dusek, who hosts the Ordinary Sherpa podcast. You should really check out her podcast. If you like to travel or adventure with your family, it’s got great episodes on how to adventure and really create a good time, no matter what you’re doing with your family. So, I did an episode for her on ‘adventuring with your pet’ and a lot of that episode was really focused on the preparation, so I wanted to take some time and dive a little bit deeper into what that preparation looks like, in terms of planning for your adventure and making sure that you’re having a good time with your animal.
How can I plan for a trip with my dog?
[00:02:29]One of the first things that you can do is just talk to your veterinarian about your trip. I say this on basically every episode. Talk to your veterinarian. They know your pet. So, figure out where you’re going and ask your vet about certain things that you should be aware of in that region. For example, I’m originally from the east coast and when I moved to California for veterinary school, I had no idea what foxtails were. Foxtails are these grass awns that love to get stuck in dog’s ears, up their nostrils, and in the skin between their toes. So, if you’re traveling to somewhere in California (and you might be going hiking with your dog), it’s important that you take the time to look at what a foxtail looks like, so that you’re able to recognize the grasses when you’re out hiking, and have your dog avoid those foxtails. The last thing you want is a trip to the ER, or a trip when you get home from your travel, to your vet, to have one of those foxtails extracted from whatever place it’s gotten stuck. Talking to your veterinarian about where you’re going can help you to have specifics based on that particular region.
Talk to your veterinarian
[00:03:33] During that visit with your veterinarian, they’ll also be able to perform a physical exam, which is helpful in determining your pet’s health before they get out on the road. If you’re going to travel to a different state or different country, you may need a health certificate to verify that your pet is up to date on the required vaccinations of the region where you’re going to be traveling. Also, if you’re going to be boarding your animal when you’re traveling (if there’s an emergency during your trip, or you know that you’re not going to be able to take care of them for a few hours and you have arrangements made with a boarding facility already), your pet will need to be up to date on their shots and you’ll need to have proof of those records with you. Again, based on the region where you’re traveling, there might be other vaccines that are recommended for this specific area, such as Lyme Disease or Leptospirosis, which aren’t really always needed in all parts of the country, but may be important to protect against, depending on where your adventure does take you and your pet. Making sure the animal’s healthy enough for travel, such as flying, is something that may be determined during the physical exam. If your vet identifies an underlying heart or lung issue during that visit, flying can be a lot riskier for those animals. Talk to them about what you intend to be doing during that travel and make sure your pet is physically up to the task.
Does my pet need a microchip?
[00:04:53]During that vet visit, if your pet doesn’t already have one, that would be a great time to get a microchip, just in case they get lost when you’re traveling. Places like animal shelters, veterinary hospitals, and Animal Control all have microchip readers that can help get your pet back to you, no matter where you are in the country. In addition to having that microchip in the animal, it’s also important to make sure that the microchip data is up-to-date, so that if they try to contact you, they’re actually able to find you.
[00:05:22]That vet visit is also a good time to make sure that you’ve got the appropriate parasite preventatives, because fleas and ticks will vary widely across the country. In most of the country, over the counter flea medications will work fine, but here in Southern California and in places like Florida, fleas will basically laugh at them. I recommend prescription parasite prevention, because it’s more effective in these areas where we’ve developed a really strong flea population. In the Northeast, Lyme disease is a really big concern, so a fast acting prescription preventative is incredibly important to stop ticks from being able to transmit the disease, if they do bite your animal. It’s also going to be common courtesy, if you’re going to be staying in a hotel, not to bring a flea infested dog into the room where other people will eventually be staying. Try to get your animal on a preventative, so that you can be courteous to other travelers.
Stock up on food and medications
[00:06:16]Another thing that you can do during that vet visit is refill any prescription medications that your pet might be taking. I have three senior dogs, one of which has a whole pharmacy of medications for arthritis and epilepsy. One of the other ones has a whole pharmacy of medications for allergies and Cushing’s Disease. So, if I were to travel with these dogs, I would definitely pick up plenty of refills before I had to head out. They’re also on a prescription diet, so making sure that you have enough food is a good thing to prepare. Years ago, when my husband and I moved across the country, he was so worried about running out of the dogs’ food (and they weren’t even on a prescription food at that time) that he bought four huge bags of dog food for our 2-week trip. Keep in mind, the two dogs that we had with us, at that time, were a Chihuahua mix and a small Terrier. It was literally enough food to last for months. You may not need to do that much food prep, but make sure you’ve got a little bit extra.
What if my pet gets car sick or nervous in the car?
[00:07:16]Other medications that you might want to talk to your veterinarian about are things like anti-nausea medications for motion sickness, or anti-anxiety medications for the car, the hotel- anywhere where your pet might feel a little bit more nervous, being out of its element. Especially, if you have to leave them for a short period of time. For whatever reason, our dog, Molly (who traveled with us quite a bit, and did okay in hotels, previously), got a little bit anxious in a hotel in San Diego, when we went for a short trip. The receptionist down in the lobby called us while we were out to dinner and told us that we had to come back and take care of Molly. We rushed back as quickly as we could, but by the time we got back, Molly was happily hanging out with the receptionist at the front desk. I guess she had continued to bark even after the receptionist called us, but she was much happier just having somebody with her to spend time with and not be by herself. For the future, having an anti-anxiety medication for Molly would be really important for not getting into that situation again.
[00:08:23]There’s a great episode on the Your Vet Wants You To Know podcast on different anti-anxiety medications called Trazadone and Gabapentin, where you can learn a little bit more about how those medications are used and what to expect when you use them in your pet. Keep in mind, there is a medication called Acepromazine that, for a really long time, was used to treat anxious dogs. But what we’ve discovered, in recent studies, is that this medication doesn’t actually treat the anxiety or stress. Acepromazine simply paralyzes the animal. They still feel every ounce of fear that they’re experiencing, they just lose the power to be able to physically do anything about it. So, I rarely use Acepromazine for dogs with anxiety, and when I do, it’s always combined with a medication that actually treats the anxiety, like Trazadone and Gabapentin. Talk to your veterinarian about what different options would be good, if your dog is a little bit anxious. If your pet isn’t used to car rides or getting in and out of a carrier, the first time that they do those things should not be day one of your adventure. Taking the time to practice those routines will make adventuring a lot more fun for the whole family.
Packing Checklist for Your Pet
[00:09:32] Once you’ve done a lot of planning, as far as talking to the vet and making sure things are medically okay, then you have to switch your planning to your packing. The following items are going to be helpful to have on your checklist. And as a special bonus, I’ve put together an ‘Adventuring With Your Pet’ packing checklist that you can download so that when you are packing for your family, you’ve got a checklist that is specific for your pet.
What should I pack for my dog when I travel?
[00:10:03]This packing checklist includes things like medical records, so before you leave the vet office, just ask them for a copy of the recent shots, the blood work, and any medications that they’re on. That way, if you do wind up in an emergency situation, in the middle of the night, you don’t have to worry that your vet’s office isn’t open, in order for the emergency vet to know what’s going on with your pet. It’s helpful to have a list of nearby emergency hospitals where you’re going to be traveling, or where you’re going on outings, so that if something does happen, you’re very quickly able to say, “Okay, here’s the closest one.”
[00:10:37] Boarding facilities are also a good place to be aware of as well, in case you have to board your pet in an emergency. For instance, let’s say someone in your family got injured and you had to take them to the emergency room, knowing where you could very quickly have your pet stay is helpful in an emergency situation like that, so that they’re not waiting in a hot car.
[00:10:57]Regardless of whether or not you’re going to be traveling or adventuring with your pet, having the number for the ASPCA Poison Control or Pet Poison Hotline programmed into your cell phone should be part of your checklist. I have a link to these in the show notes, so that you could very quickly add that to your contacts in your phone. There is a charge to use those services (if there is some type of concern that your animal got into something), but the veterinarians on staff at these hotlines will work directly with the emergency room veterinarian, if it requires your pet to go to the hospital. The fee that they charge for this particular service, and everything that goes along with it, is really invaluable. It’s also good to have photos of you with your pet, and the pet’s different markings, just in case they get lost and you have to prove that you’re the owner of that pet. It’s helpful to have all of those pictures of you snuggling up, walking together, sharing a puppuccino, etc. Whatever it is that you and your pet like to do, make sure that they are very clearly visible in those pictures.
How should my dog ride in the car?
[00:11:59]Your packing checklist should also include any anti-anxiety medications or calming tools like Adaptil (a canine-calming pheromone), a Thundershirt (helpful for motion sickness), and ‘Through A Dog’s Ear’ music, which you can find on Spotify or other music-listening apps. Download it onto your phone, so that you can have nice calm music while you’re driving in the car, if that helps your pet feel a little bit more comfortable.
[00:12:26]When you’re packing, you should prepare a secure place for your pet to ride in the car, such as a crate in the back of a van or an SUV. That’s going to be helpful. The crate can double as a secure place for your pet to stay in a hotel, if you’re going to briefly go out without them. So make sure that the crate is something that you can easily take in and out of the car, and that it’s not trapped under all of your other luggage. The crate should really feel like a comforting security blanket to them. Getting your pet used to eating and sleeping in the crate, so the animal is less anxious when they do need to be in there, is going to be a helpful tool for making the adventure nice and calm and relaxing. The Center For Pet Safety has a list of crash-test-approved crates, so that you can see what would be the safest option for you in your car.
What do I need in a pet first aid kit?
[00:13:24] In addition to having first aid supplies for the people in your party, you should also consider having some first-aid supplies for your pet as well. The ASPCA has a list of basic supplies that they recommend for a pet first-aid kit so you can quickly put together your own little supply kit.
[00:13:49]Each pet should have a leash or a harness with a collar and up-to-date tags. I strongly encourage you not to use Flexi leashes. They don’t provide proper control of the pet and they can really lead to severe injuries when that really thin, tight cord gets wrapped around somebody’s leg or a pet’s arm. I would encourage you to use a leash and harness, instead of the Flexi leash, when you’re out adventuring with your pet.
[00:14:19]Make sure that if you’re going to be traveling, you have bowls for food and water. There are a lot of collapsible bowls available for travel, to make it easier to pack those up. Then, you also need food and water to fill those bowls, so make sure that’s packed for your pets as well. Poop bags are helpful, so that you can be a courteous adventurer and pick up your animal’s droppings if you’re out hiking. Then, it’s great to have some towels in the car for dirty dogs, or wipes for muddy paws. I really like WaterWipes- the same wipes that I use for my kids’ butts.
Does my dog need booties?
[00:14:50]If you’re going to be traveling in extreme weather, booties are really helpful. During the summertime, the booties will help protect the animals’ paw pads from burning on hot pavement. And if you’re traveling in the winter time, the booties can help protect their paws from irritation from salt on the sidewalks. Again, preparation is helpful with these. You don’t want to put the booties on for the first time, when it’s the first time that the animal needs them. It’s something that you should get the animal comfortable with and desensitized to, so that they look forward to having the booties on, rather than terrifying them the first time, not giving them the opportunity to get used to those.
How do I keep my dog cool?
[00:15:30]If you’re going to be adventuring a lot when it’s hot out, make sure you are equipped to cool your pet. You can check out the recent episode of Your Vet Wants You To Know on Heat Stroke, where Dr. Christine Klippen, an emergency room veterinarian, discussed heat stroke with me. She shared a great resource that I wanted to mention again, in this episode. Ruffwear makes cooling vests that can be soaked with water and help to allow for evaporation. And I’ll have a link to that cooling vest in the show notes for you to check out. Again, this one also goes back to knowing where your local boarding facilities are. If you’re in between hotels and you want to stop and sight see, you could have your pet board for a few hours, instead of stay in the car and really prevent devastating heartbreak, by just taking the time to make sure that they stay cool while you’re out and about.
[00:16:23]The other thing to consider to have on your packing checklist is a muzzle. If your animal’s injured, they could potentially bite you, no matter how much they love you. If you want to be able to help get them to an ER safely for care, the muzzle will help keep you safe when your animal’s painful.
Attach the leash before you open the car door
[00:16:43] Now that you’ve taken this time to prepare, by going and visiting your vet, gathering all your packing supplies, and getting your animal ready to go on that journey- now you’re going to go adventure. When you do that, before you even open the car door, you want to make sure that the leash is attached to your animal. They’re going to be just as excited to get out of the car and stretch their legs as you are, so before they bound past you and take off running down the trail, let’s make sure that their leash is attached. When you’re out with them, make sure that you’re watching them at all times. You don’t want them eating something they shouldn’t or wandering off a trail where you can’t see them. Here in Southern California, rattlesnakes love to be just off the edge of the trail, so keeping them with you and right by your side, at all times, will help to minimize the risk.
Beware of "Weekend Warrior Syndrome" in dogs
[00:17:38]Follow all local ordinances. A lot of national parks will have pet restrictions. Again, this is important for you to know before you go to those national parks. If you plan on going on certain trails, you want to make sure that the animal has a boarding facility that they can go to, so that you can go on your adventure. Or you can pick another national park that has more places where the pet can go with you, if that’s what you would prefer.
[00:18:03] While you’re out adventuring with them, give your dog breaks. Make sure that they’re not getting overheated and don’t push them to the point where they’re completely exerting themselves. We see a lot of injuries from ‘weekend warrior syndrome,’ where the dog lies around all week and then goes hard on the weekend without properly training for the exercise. So, make sure you’re checking in with them and that you’re not pushing them too hard. During those breaks, offer plenty of water. That’s going to help keep them hydrated, as well as minimize the risk of heat stroke, if you’re doing a lot of this traveling during the summer,
The trouble with fake service animals
[00:18:34]I’m going to get on my soapbox for just a minute here because this is something that a lot of veterinarians feel very strongly about. Please do not try to pass your pet off as a service animal if they are not truly a service animal. People who do this make it so much harder for people with true disabilities and trained service animals to get access to the places they should be able to go. And nowadays, just taking the time to do a little bit of preparation ahead of time, you’ll find a lot of places that you can go with your dog (places to stay, eat, explore, etc). There really should be no need for trying to pass off an animal as a service animal, just to gain access. You have lots of access to many different experiences, as long as you take the time to look.
Follow up with your veterinarian
[00:19:22]Once everybody has had their fun and your adventure is all finished, then it’s time for doing a little bit of ‘after adventure’ checking for things like ticks, foxtails, or whatever the local hazards you might encounter. It’s a good time to look for them when you get the animal back in the car or back to the hotel room, and then clean up after your pet so that you’re not damaging the hotel room by going in with muddy paws. Let them rest. Everybody needs to decompress after a day filled with adventure. Pets are no exception. If there are any concerns after your adventure, you can always follow up with your vet, ask them any questions, and let them know what happened. We also like to see pets that are adventuring after you’ve come in for a visit, having told us that you were going on an adventure. It might make us smile by just shooting us an email of something fantastic that your animal did while you were traveling. We love those kinds of things.
Check out more adventure tips on Ordinary Sherpa
[00:20:14]You can check out the full conversation that I had with Heidi Dusek on Ordinary Sherpa. Her podcast episode should be coming out in July of 2021. I would encourage you to go ahead and hit subscribe, so that you keep up with upcoming episodes of Your Vet Wants You To Know, and you can always connect with us on social media as well. Follow our Instagram @yourvetwantsyoutoknow. I truly do love seeing pictures of adventuring dogs (or adventuring cats, if your cat likes to adventure too), so please join the Facebook group, Your Vet Wants You To Know, and share pictures of your adventuring pet. I think that would be an absolutely fantastic thread to see. If you have suggestions for upcoming episodes or questions that you’re curious about, you can always shoot me a line on the Facebook group or on the website through the ‘Contact Me’ page. If you’ve found value from this episode, take a moment to go ahead and give the podcast a rating and review. It helps other pet owners find us and get the information that they need too.
Scratching the Itch
[00:21:16] I always like to finish each episode with a segment called ‘Scratching The Itch.’ This is a segment that is designed to highlight something, whether it’s a human interest story, a product, or a website that either provides relief or makes you feel good. Hence, scratching the itch. For today’s ‘scratching the itch,’ this is something that provides relief. If you’re feeling panicked about traveling with your pets, I’ve put together a “How To Pack For A Road Trip With Your Dog” checklist that you can use to make things a little bit easier for you and keep all of the important things that you need in one place. Anytime you go on a trip, just print one of those out and check them off as you go down. Thanks so much for listening. I look forward to your next visit with Your Vet Wants You To Know.