Vacation Safely With Your Dog

When Gerard Hanson of New York City planned a road trip to visit a friend in Maine, he was excited to bring his puppy, Charles, along. But the trip did not go smoothly. “Charles got carsick,” explains Hanson. “Then my friend didn’t want me leaving him at his house alone for more than an hour or two, so my plans for different activities were more or less ruined.” 

Dr. Louise Murray, DVM, director of medicine for the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City, has heard stories like Hanson’s before. “Deciding to travel with a dog is a commitment. If the idea of making sacrifices on vacation doesn’t appeal to you, leave your pet at home,” she cautions. Below, Dr. Murray offers advice for those who do decide that the company is worth the extra effort.

Before You Go
If your dog doesn’t have an ID tag or microchip already, now is a good time to invest in both. The identification should provide two phone numbers where you can be reached. Your pet’s name and address are far less important but should also be included.

Try to pack enough food to last your pet through the entire vacation. “The digestive tract of dogs craves continuity,” says Dr. Murray. While vacation may mean new cuisines for you, new foods can leave your dog with diarrhea or an even more serious condition like pancreatitis, a sudden inflammation of the pancreas caused by eating fatty foods like table scraps. If it’s not possible to bring that much kibble, find a pet store at your destination that carries your dog’s typical fare.

For dogs with chronic health problems, prepare for flare-ups on the road. Pack enough medication and put it in two different places. “You don’t want a stolen car to get in the way of your pet getting much-needed medicine,” cautions Dr. Murray. Bring a copy of your dog’s medical records as well. “If there’s an emergency, you don’t want to be in the ER saying, ‘He takes this little pink pill.’”

On the Road
A dog that never leaves your side at home can still be unpredictable in a foreign environment, like a rest stop. Never let it off a restraint outdoors while traveling. “A dog off leash is at risk for getting injured or lost,” warns Dr. Murray. “No dog is immune to temptation or fear. A passing biker or the backfiring of a car engine can send it running.” Invest in a snug collar that won’t slip over its head.

Just as it’s never safe to let a traveling dog off the leash, it’s also never safe to leave a traveling dog alone in a car. This is especially important during the summer, when car temperatures can become fatal within minutes, even if it’s overcast and the windows are open.

If air travel is in your plans, Dr. Murray warns against taking big dogs on planes, where they must ride underneath the cabin. “Your dog should ride with you in the cabin or it should stay home, unless you’re going away for far too long to consider that option.” She also advises against sedating animals during air travel, as sedatives leave them unable to regulate their temperature, blood pressure and heart rate, putting them at risk for immediate health problems.

Try to feed your dog at least six hours before strapping it into its seat belt. Canine stomachs tend to respond poorly to the bumps and jolts of cars and planes. Nausea and vomiting can result from feeding time being too close to departure time.

At Your Destination
Whether it’s a dog-friendly hotel or a dog-friendly relative who will be housing you during your vacation, it’s important that your pet leave a good impression. “Encourage the trend of dog-friendly hotels by making sure your dog is a good ambassador. Don’t allow it to chew the furniture or to sniff other guests in the lobby,” says Dr. Murray. Before your arrival, review hotel animal policies or talk to your hosts about their expectations regarding your dog.

Ensure your pet’s emotional ease by bringing along something from home that smells familiar, be it a pillowcase or a dog bed. A dog that feels safe and secure will most likely to be an excellent travel companion. “Vacationing with a beloved dog can be really rewarding for a pet lover,” says Dr. Murray. With these aforementioned precautions, it can also be a true treat for your best friend.