MSD Manual

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Pet Owner Version

Travel by Car


Manuals Staff

Reviewed/Revised Apr 2020 | Modified Nov 2022
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Before taking a long trip by car, it is helpful if you can take your pet for short rides in its carrier so that it becomes accustomed to being confined. Some pets have only been in their carriers during trips to the veterinarian, so they associate the carrier and car ride with an unpleasant experience. Enjoyable destinations such as a dog park can help your pet feel better about trips in the car.

Small animals should be kept within a travel carrier while riding in the car. This is the safest method not only for your pet, but also for other car passengers and even other drivers on the road. Within a carrier, your pet is more protected from sudden car movements. In addition, an excited animal can jump out of a car window or distract (or even impede) the driver. Dogs that are too large to ride in a carrier should be kept in the back seat, ideally with an appropriate restraining harness. This minimizes their chances of interfering with the driver; in addition, it protects them from injury during an accident.

Entering horse trailer

Entering horse trailer

As much as they enjoy it, dogs should not be allowed to put their heads out of car windows. In addition to the risk of jumping out, they may suffer injury from flying debris or from their ears being flapped around. Similarly, a dog in the back of a pickup should be in a carrier.

The inside of a car can heat to dangerous levels in a very short time, even when the weather seems mild. Cracking open the windows for air circulation does not effectively keep the inside of a car cool. It is best to not leave your pets unattended in your vehicle.

Animals (like their owners) should take frequent breaks while traveling by car. Stop about every 2 hours for a water and “potty” break. Be sure to keep your animal on a leash when leaving the car for such breaks. Feed your pet on its regular schedule if possible. Dry food is most convenient if the animal will take it; if moist food is needed, refrigerate or discard any leftovers.

Speak to your veterinarian if you know that your dog or cat does not travel well by car. For some animals, a small meal about 30 minutes before the trip will alleviate carsickness. If this does not work, your veterinarian may be able to recommend an appropriate prescription or over-the-counter medication to help with nausea. Prescription tranquilizers are available as a last resort for animals that must travel by car but have difficulty doing so.

There are 2 general methods for transporting horses on the road. One is to tow the animal yourself; the other is to hire a horse transport company. Horse trailers can be rented; however, if you have not driven one before, you should practice with it before the trip. If your horse is not accustomed to trailering, you will need to spend time getting it used to entering and exiting the trailer. As with other pets, overnight accommodations should be thought out in advance. Some hotels and motels may allow a horse trailer to be parked overnight, or overnight boarding may be available along the route. Web sites dedicated to the traveler with horses are a good source for information about accommodations along the way.

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