The holidays are for celebration with family and friends – and for many of us, that means our pets, too.

If you will be traveling with a pet this holiday season, take some time to make a plan using the tips below. This will ensure you and your furry family member(s) reach your destination safely and comfortably.

#1 Decide how you will secure them

This is probably the most important step of traveling with your pet, even if you are only going a short distance. Not only do many states have laws requiring pet owners to secure their pets in a vehicle, a crate or harness can save their lives. Always secure your pets in the back seat or cargo area (never in a pick-up truck bed) to avoid driver distraction and possible danger from deployed airbags.

  • Crates should have good air circulation, and be large enough for your pet to stand, sit, lie down and turn around. Make sure the crate you purchase is safety-certified and crash-tested. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for setup and installation.
  • Harnesses are a good alternative if your pet is uneasy in a crate, prone to carsickness or your vehicle is too small to accommodate one. A harness will also prevent your pet from being able to stick their head out of a rolled-down window, which can result in serious injury. Most harnesses will attach to your seatbelt buckle, and a good restraint will use your vehicle’s built-in lower and anchor tethers for children (LATCH) systems.

The Center for Pet Safety performs rigorous performance testing of popular pet products, and you can find lists of top performing crate and carriers, and crash-test certified harnesses, on their website.

 #2 Prepare a pet-friendly travel kit

You pack a suitcase, so why not one for your pet? The list below includes common items that might come in handy, but by no means is comprehensive. You know your pet’s needs best. If you are traveling with more than one pet, consider packing a bag for each of them if they have different dietary needs or medications.

  • Collar with an ID tag that identifies their name, your name and your telephone number
  • A leash (or two if your dog is a chewer like mine)
  • A copy of your pet’s vaccination records and your veterinarian’s contact information
  • A list of “pet-friendly” resources along your route and at your destination (ex. pet-friendly hotels, pet stores, veterinary hospitals, dog parks, etc.)
  • Food and treats
  • Water in a resealable plastic container
  • Bowls for food and water
  • Medications and ointments, if applicable
  • Toys and blankets
  • Plastic bags for cleanup
  • Litter / Litter box if you’re traveling with a cat
  • Cleaning supplies, including towels, in case of an upset stomach or “accident”
  • Recent photos of your pet in case they escape and get lost

#3 Plan for potty breaks

Just like a child, your pet is going to need a break during the trip to stretch their legs, drink some water and “go potty.” Do not force them to hold it. Plan to stop every two or three hours. You may even find it helpful to check your route ahead of time for rest stops and businesses or parks along the way.

#4 Practice!

If your pet is not used to traveling, it is a good idea to take them on several short drives before the big trip. This will help them get used to their crate or harness, teach you about whether they get carsick, and hopefully reduce stress and anxiety for both of you.

#5 Review (and memorize!) these good “rules of thumb” 

There are many tips and tricks to make traveling with a pet a little safer and easier. Here are a few more things to remember before making your big trip:

  • NEVER leave your pet alone in a parked vehicle. On hot days, the temperature in a car can rise almost 20 degrees in just 10 minutes, even with the windows open. On cold days, your car will trap cold air like a refrigerator and your pet could freeze to death. Many states now also have laws to protect pets left in cars unattended.
  • Never allow your pets to sit on your lap or remain in the front seat while you drive.
  • Put windows and doors on “child lock” to prevent accidental opening.
  • Always leash your pet before opening the door to let them out of the vehicle. Your pet should be wearing their collar and ID tag at all times.
  • Consider microchipping your pet if you have not already done so. This can help someone locate you if your pet escapes and is found.

Safe travels! —Natalie Leber

Natalie is a Columbus, Ohio native and a Strategic Communications graduate of The Ohio State University (Go Bucks!). Her 9-5 job as a writer for OhioHealth pays the bills, while photography, music, friends and animals fuel her passion. Natalie also volunteers at Citizens for Humane Action, an animal shelter in Westerville, Ohio and enjoys spoiling her two fur babies, Derby and Frank.

Photo Credit: George Hodan