Canines and Car Travel

By Darcy Lockman

Canines and Car Travel

Did you know that pet owners in Japan are suddenly clamoring for vehicles that accommodate their canine companions? They want vehicles that make animal transportation safer and more convenient -- or at least that's what the people at Honda believe. At a recent auto show in Japan, the company revealed a new concept car designed specifically to make Fido's ride a smoother one. This doggie mobile of the future features a special crate in the glove compartment to enable interactions between driver and a small dog, a bigger pop-up crate in the back seat for mid-size breeds, and a special floor-secured seatbelt, also in the back, for large dogs. Additional features include sliding doors and washable, rollout flooring.

Unfortunately, the Wonderful Openhearted Wagon (or WOW) won't be available here or abroad anytime soon. But the idea is a good one, and you don't need a special vehicle to accomplish it.  Here's what you can do, with your current car, to make your dog's ride safe, comfortable and fun. 

Getting in Gear
You wouldn't put a two-year-old child in a car without the proper seat, and the same should be true for a dog. "Safe containment is extremely important," says Gail Buchwald, a vice president of the ASPCA. "Keeping a pet secured in a well-ventilated carrier is ideal. What's far from ideal is a pooch in front, window down, face in the breeze. The pet looks happy, but it's a serious health hazard. Riding like this puts dogs at risk for inner ear damage and lung infections, not to mention injuries that can be caused by flying objects like twigs and acorns."

Air bags in the front seats of many cars can also hurt a pet if deployed. Bottom line: Fido should ride in the back, in a crate or a dog car seat, or secured with a seatbelt harness. Pet stores and Internet pet product sites offer these and other gear that make car travel safe for canines. Whichever product you choose, your pet must be able to stand up, lie down, and do a full turn. "Animals can become overheated and pained if kept in a single position for a long period. They need to be able to stretch and change positions just like we do," explains Buchwald.

Before You Go
If your four-legged friend will be taking a road trip for the first time, it's important to prepare for this in advance. "Getting your dog used to a series of short drives will keep it calm later," advises Buchwald. Your pet will become accustomed to the sights, smells and movements of the car, and will understand that the final destination is eventually its beloved home.

The Day of the Trip
A dog's digestive system is not as resilient as a human's, and feeding just before a car ride is a recipe for nausea. "Feed your pet a very light meal three to four hours before departure," says Buchwald. "And never feed your dog in a moving vehicle."

On the Road
Your dog needs as many pit stops as you do. Walk your pooch and make sure it urinates each time you hit a rest stop. Because many dogs become panicked while traveling, they also are more prone to run once they exit the vehicle. As such, it's crucial that their leashes are secured before the car door opens. Dogs should also travel with identification tags -- temporary ones that provide a way to reach you while on the road -- just in case the unthinkable happens and they do manage to get away.

Water availability must also be considered before any trip. "It's important for dogs to remain hydrated," explains Buchwald. "They have a limited opportunity to cool and hydrate while in a vehicle. Bring a bowl and bottles of tap water from home. Water changes from state to state, region to region, and providing your dog with water familiar to its digestive system avoids stomach upset. You can gradually introduce the new water to your dog by mixing it in with the water from home while you're away."

Finally, never leave your dog alone in the car. Says Buchwald, "It's tempting when you want to grab a bite to eat, but the next thing you know, Fido's hyperventilating from the heat, or freezing from the cold. I can't say enough, they should not be left unattended. If that's the only option, leave Spot at home." WOW or no WOW, that's one pet travel rule to live by.

Darcy Lockman is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to The Dog Daily. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and Rolling Stone. She lives in Brooklyn with the prettiest pug dog in the five boroughs.

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