Recently I traveled from Tallahassee, Florida to my mom and step-dad’s house in Memphis, Tennessee with Sammy, my eleven-year-old miniature schnauzer, and Riley, my one-and-a-half-year old black cat that I just adopted in September. Spending eight hours alone in the car with a dog and cat is enough to drive anyone crazy. But I survived (and so did they), and with these tips, you can survive a road trip with pets too.
The two key things to remember when traveling with pets are: meeting your pets needs and creating a calm environment.
Food: Your pets need to eat, just like you. I fed my pets shortly before we left, as close to their normal breakfast time as possible. I knew that we would arrive before their dinner so I would not have to worry about food during the trip. Try to plan your trip around their eating schedule to maintain normalcy.
Water: YOUR PETS MUST HAVE WATER. I cannot be more firm about this. Cars tend to have dryer air than your house and your pets need water. What I found that works is to get a water cup from a fast-food restaurant. It was easy to take the top of the cup off to let my pets drink and then put it back on when they were done so the water would not spill everywhere.
Bathroom Breaks: This really depends on how long you are on the road. I like to stop around every two hours. I’ll walk Sammy and let Riley walk around my car and get out of her carrier for a moment. If anything, they at least get to stretch their legs. For Riley, I put her litterbox behind the passenger seat. Because it was wedged in, I didn’t have to worry about the litter spilling everywhere. For a dog, remember to bring plastic bags to pick up their poop. While not all places require it, it is the courteous thing to do.
Creating a Calm Environment
As much as a long car ride can stress us humans out, our pets can become even more stressed. Their whole world is your house and maybe a backyard or neighborhood. Cats especially do not like change. Dogs are cool with adventure for a little while. But both cats and dogs have much stronger senses of smell and hearing compared to us. They have a lot more sensory input and can become overwhelmed faster. This is why it is important for us to create an environment for them to help minimize their stress levels.
Minimize Change: The less you change about their normal lives the better. That includes feeding schedules and smells they are used to. To ease Riley into not hating her carrier, I left the carrier out in my apartment bedroom, rather than putting it up in my closet. That way, the carrier would smell like the rest of the house. A couple days before the trip, I put some catnip inside the carrier. Riley quickly realized that her carrier was the place to be. For Sammy, I put his bed from home in the floor in front of the passenger seat.
No “Sink or Swim” Philosophy: Work your way up to your big trip by taking shorter car rides. Sammy has gone on car rides his whole life. Riley, being the newest member of our family, has had less of a chance to become acclimated to the car. While it is easy to take your dog to the park, cats can be a little trickier. A ride to a friend's or to a drive-through for food or coffee can help your cat gain more experience with cars. Be careful that you don't limit your cat's "drive time" to only trips to the vet. You don't want your cat's only association with rides being vet time.
Don’t Coddle Them: While it is important to comfort your pets if they get stressed, if you are over-attentive you can stress them out more. Your pets know when you are anxious. So, if you want your pets to be calm, you need to be calm. When all was said and done, Riley was still stressed out.
When I got to my mom's house, I immediately brought Riley into my room in her carrier and kept her in that room for the first day. I knew that introducing her to the whole house all at once would be too much, so I put her litter box and food in my old bedroom to give her a smaller "safe space". She also liked that I brought her scratching post and cat tree. We're now on day 3 of our visit and Riley has started exploring the rest of the house and making herself at home. If she gets overwhelmed, she has a safe space in my room that she can relax in.
About the Author: Lauren is a first year graduate student at Florida State University. You can follow the daily adventures of Sammy and Riley on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/sammydog_and_riley/. Lauren occasionally writes for her mom’s travel, camping, and cycling blog: packyourbaguio.com. She’d love for you to stop by the blog!