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Car Rides & Pets: Your Turn-by-Turn Guide to Safe Travels

Grab your car keys, fasten your seatbelts, and pack a few treats for those four-legged passengers. It's time to cruise through Figo's guide for making every road trip and scenic drive with our pets as safe and comfortable as possible.

Dog in Car Seat Belt and Harness

Content reviewed by Preston Turano, D.V.M.

Dr. Turano is not endorsing any specific products mentioned in this article, nor is he affiliated with their respective companies. These are examples, and pet parents should consult their veterinarian and trusted resources for products specific to their dog or cat.

Hit the road with confidence and your curious copilot in tow! Whether you're heading to a vet appointment, planning a well-deserved road trip, or just soaking in the joy of a leisurely scenic drive, traveling with your pet should be as safe as they are fun.

This guide is your roadmap to ensuring your pet's security and comfort, so you'll be all set to create countless happy memories together.

Car travel safety tips for pets

Embarking on a journey with your cat or dog requires prioritizing their safety. Let's learn how to ensure a secure journey for your curious copilot.

Securing your pet during travel is just as important as humans putting on their seat belts. Use a pet seat belt or harness system that integrates with the car's seat belts to ensure they're restrained securely during the ride.

  • If you opt for a travel pet crate, it's imperative to fasten it firmly to the car, potentially using the vehicle's cargo hooks or a seat belt if applicable.

  • Do not leave pets alone in the car. This is a severe risk due to the potential for rapid temperature rise, which can be dangerous.

  • Maintain a comfortable inside temperature for the time of year in your region.

  • Drive safely to avoid distressing your pet. This includes avoiding harsh turns and sudden stops.

  • Maintain a calm ambiance by keeping the volume of music and conversations low to reduce sources of anxiety for your pet during travel.

  • Make sure to familiarize your pet with their travel accommodations well before departure to mitigate any potential stress.

How to prevent common mistakes during pet car travel

What are the most common mistakes pet parents make when taking their cat or dog along for a car ride? Not properly securing their pet in a moving vehicle, according to Dr. Turano.

Unrestrained pets are at a high risk for injury during rapid deceleration or collisions. A crate or seat belt system for your pet is not just a safety measure but a necessity. Find a suitable solution for your vehicle type and your pet’s size. Dividers that prevent your pet from venturing into the front seat are also a wise investment.

Preparing for a safe car ride with your cat or dog

Thorough preparation can make car travel with your pet a much smoother experience.

Pack all necessary items, such as waste bags, water bottles, and their favorite treats. Just in case, have a pet first aid kit stored in the car.

Give them adequate exercise, like a long walk or play session, to ensure they are relaxed and ready for the ride ahead.

It's best to wait at least one hour after feeding your pet before traveling in the car. For pets with a history of motion sickness, it's best to wait around three hours after a meal.

Creating a comfortable car environment for pets

Ensuring comfort for your pet while traveling in a car is about more than just temperature control and ventilation — it's about creating a space where they feel secure and at ease.

Invest in a quality carrier with enough room for your pet to stand and turn around.

Place familiar bedding inside to help soothe and comfort them.

Bring along your pet's favorite toy or a piece of your clothing to provide comfort through a familiar scent.

Planning rest stops for your pet

On long trips, plan for adequate rest stops to allow your pet to stretch, hydrate, and relieve themselves. For the most part, you can plan to stop every two to four hours, leaning toward the two-hour mark for senior dogs.

While a quick trip across town may not require it, having extra food and water may be smart, especially in the event of poor weather, road closures, or other unexpected circumstances that increase the duration of the car ride.

If your cat goes outside, you can always use a harness and leash to do so. Otherwise, plan to have a travel litter box for them to use.

As always, make sure that your pet is wearing a collar and tags for identification when getting in and out of a vehicle. This includes cats!

Find safe areas away from the dangers of heavy traffic for these breaks. Pay attention to the temperature of surfaces like asphalt, which can burn your pet's paws in the summer heat. Rest areas with designated dog walk zones are the safest bet for such breaks.

For road trips and longer drives, research ahead of time to identify dog parks, pet-friendly hiking trails, and pet-friendly Airbnb rentals and hotels. Take the stress out of figuring this out while on the road and reduce the number of times you’ll be tempted to leave them in the car.

Helping your pet avoid car sickness

Just like humans, pets can suffer from car sickness, whether due to actual motion sickness or anxiety and stress. Both scenarios can lead to uncomfortable symptoms, including vomiting or diarrhea.

To help mitigate this, ensure your pet has a clear view of the outside, which can reduce motion sickness and provide them with fresh air. If car sickness is a consistent problem, talk to your vet about possible solutions, including anti-nausea medication or natural remedies.

Overcoming car anxiety with pets

Reducing car anxiety in your pet can often be achieved through positive conditioning and a gradual introduction to car rides. Help your pet make positive associations with the car, like trips to the dog park or to head to the park — not just the vet or groomer.

Some of the same tips for help with motion sickness may also reduce stress.

  • Start by spending a few minutes in your parked car with your pet. If it goes well, try starting the car and staying in the driveway.

  • Slowly build up to short, two to three-minute car rides, ensuring each experience is as enjoyable as possible.

  • Take baby steps, gradually increasing their ride times as long as things continue to go well.

If your pet continues to show signs of anxiety, your veterinarian may suggest natural anxiety relief options or prescribe medications for more severe cases.

Understanding the legalities of pets and car travel

While laws vary from state to state, understanding and adhering to the regulations of pet travel in your area is important.

In addition to risking human and animal safety, not abiding by these laws could result in fines or even animal cruelty charges in extreme circumstances.

  • Properly restrain your pet with a seat belt and harness, crate, or pet carrier that prevents them from distracting the driver or injuring themselves.

  • Prevent your pet from sticking their head completely out of the window during a drive. This way, they can enjoy the sensory experiences of a car ride without compromising safety.

  • Do not leave your pet in a locked car in extremely hot or cold weather or without adequate water and fresh air.

There’s more to know wherever you go.

With successful car rides now in the rearview, what's next on the horizon for you and your pet? If the city's call is part of your plans, don't miss our essential guide to riding public transit with pets.

If the sky’s the limit, make the connection on our air travel guide to flying with pets. Here’s to new adventures for you and your pet.

Dylan M. Austin is Independence Pet Group’s highly caffeinated Sr. Content Writer, supporting Figo Pet Insurance, Pets Plus Us, and PetPartners. Based in Seattle, he's usually hanging out with his Chihuahua Terrier mix, Will, and tending to an increasingly excessive houseplant collection.

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