Road Trip with your Pet – our top tips

This holiday your engine won’t be the only thing purring on the road.

A change of environment is a leetel more complicated for a pet than it is for you. You know what’s going on; they don’t. You can easily plan for weeks, pack a bag and set your email autoreply; their whole sense of reality and safety comes into question with a sudden change of location. Add to that a long drive and the whole experience takes its toll on your sweet companions.

This guide will help you make the whole experience easier for them. Be prepared, patient and kind, and you’ll earn lots of face-licks, wagging-tails and cuddles.

  1. Before departure
    Habituate your animals to travelling in the car long before departure. Take it in stages over time: approaching the car, sitting in the car (engine off), sitting in the car (engine idling), quick drive around the block, longer drive in the area, etc.
    Visit the vet for advice on your destination’s pet disease risks, a copy of your pets’ medical records and professional insight into stress-reduction methods for the journey.
    Prep the carrier crate, or if your pet is too large for one, the pet safety harness.
    Record your pet insurance policy number and our contact details – 0861 dotsure (3687873). That way it’s easily accessible when you need it.
    Check that leashes and collars are in good condition. You don’t want one to snap at a strange pit stop with lots of traffic about.
    Cats – Give her a cleanish blanky to sleep with so that it picks up her smell. You can add this to her box right before departure and it will help to calm her.

Dogs – Does your doggie sit, approach and stay on command? Will he listen to you when he’s very excited or scared? Obedience helps you and your dog manage the unexpected on the road.



  1. Leaving the house
  • If you’re letting your pet move by itself, a leash might reduce excitement. Then again, it might increase it. You know your animal better than anyone. Use your smarts, and the leash if necessary.
  • Got the pet kit? That’s a bag with fresh water, treats, food and water containers, toys, meds, cloths for cleaning up spills, disposable bags for cleaning up messes, protective clothing for you in case of struggle, pet first aid, etc.

Cats – Cover the travel box with fabric so they can’t see out. The contained environment and reduced visual information helps them feel safer. Remember to adjust the temperature in the car as it gets hotter in there. You might have to trick Whiskers into reversing into her cat carrier. How? Cover her whiskers with your closing palm when her tail is facing the open entrance.  She’ll automatically move backwards! Trust me, works every time.

Dogs –   A gentle cuddle before approaching the car might make all the difference to an overexcited or apprehensive pooch …and to a nervous owner!


  1. Getting into the car
  • Is the engine off?
  • Be a smooth operator. Little bumps and bangs (of the carrier) can scare an already-alarmed animal.
  • Also, be a ninja. The faster the transition, the faster they can focus on settling into the new space.
  • Buckle up, whether it’s the box or the boxer.

Cats – remember the litter tray …with clean litter. And keep it clean if kitty uses it on the journey (see number 5 – Rest Stops)

Dogs –A toy/treat that only travels in the car adds a positive spin to the unusual environment and helps with boredom on long trips.


  1. On the road
  • Drive gently at first and watch out for motion sickness and slow down, stop and let fresh air into the car (without putting anyone in danger) if your pets show any of these symptoms: visible discomfort, restlessness, listlessness, yawning, whining, yelping, calling, lip-smacking, drooling, vomiting.
  • Don’t give food, snacks and water until your animal looks convincingly relaxed. A neatly-seated cat is not necessarily relaxed, for example, but a sprawling one is.
  • Driving is boring; distractions are vital. Turn a treat or a toy into an epic “enrichment” item. Conor Davis of Spruce, likes to take “a little spoonful of dog peanut butter and stuff it down in her hollow bones” to distract his doggie for hours.

Cats – Keep kitty in the safe box the entire journey for her sake and yours. A panicking cat obstructing the foot break could end your road trip (and both your lives) in a second.

Dogs – Open the windows slightly to balance air pressure and reduce the risk of nausea. But not too much that the noise upsets your pooch. Every dog is different.


  1. Rest stops
  • Regular stops let everyone stretch their limbs or wings, drink water or relieve themselves. Pick safe, quiet places and prioritise pet-friendly roadside attractions.
  • Clean up after your pet’s deposits.

Cats – take great care that kitty is still secure in her safety crate before you open a window or a door fully. Tense cats can move like lightning, and you really don’t want Sushi to get lost or, worse, go straight for the busy freeway. If she’s used to a cat leash, use that when (and IF) you let her out en route.

Dogs – a bit of cursory sniffing of poles and plants is part of the process – remember this is unfamiliar territory and all the other dogs (and cats?) left messages when they visited. Humour thy pooch and give lots of praise and patience. It’ll help you both.


  1. New space
  • Take care between the car and the new space and contain your animals inside until they feel secure enough to explore with your support.
  • Remember this is alien territory for them and there are new friends and foes everywhere.

Cats – After a day or more, slowly introduce your home spaces bit by bit and reinforce her inside-outside route by giving her treats for returning or using food/a clicker to call her back.

Dogs – Give them lots of love and maybe take a snooze together on the couch. You both deserve it.