Last updated on June 12, 2019
We love taking road trips with our dog. In the 25 years my spouse and I have been together, we’ve taken dogs on every single one of our road trips. As a dog writer, I’ve also collected a detailed list of the dangers of traveling with dogs by car. The bad news is these dangers are a threat to your dog’s overall well being, safety, and life. The good news is this post will show you how to avoid them and get to your destination like a doggone pro. At all times, our goal is to keep dogs safe.
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The idea of your dog riding in the passenger seat as you travel the open highway, hair blowing in the wind and dog ears flapping along is a beautiful image. If unrestrained, a 10-pound dog will exert about 500 pounds of force in a collision at 30 MPH. An 80-pound dog will exert around 2,400 pounds of force under the same conditions, says PuppyTrafficSchool.com.
Problem Solver: Don’t allow your dog to sit in the passenger seat of your car even with a restraint on. Although there are videos and memes galore in support of dogs riding shotgun, you gamble with your dog’s precious life. Just don’t do it.
Lap Dog Syndrome
I confess to being guilty of this one. I might only be taking the dog to the park or to a pet-friendly pet supply store, and so he sits on my lap while my spouse drives. I know better and so now I do better. If you are the driver, please don’t allow your dog to sit on your lap. In many states, you are breaking the law in doing so. Over at Orvis.com they have a listing of laws by state and the laws in general on this topic. Considered distracted driving, you may get a ticket in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, or Rhode Island for driving with a dog in your lap. Think about the dog in the passenger’s lap and what would happen if you slam on the brakes or get rear-ended. The airbags will deploy and the outcome isn’t good for your dog.
Problem Solver: Restrain the dog in the back seat with an effective restraint or in a kennel. Keep reading.
Using Inferior (Or No) Back Seat Restraint
“I thought I bought a reliable safety harness for my dog, Maggie. I was driving Virginia I-66 during the morning rush hour. A car cut in front of me and I had to slam on the brakes. Maggie was screaming in pain. I discovered the harness tether had wrapped around her back legs and she was thrown and hit the back of the front seat. She was hurting and scared and I couldn’t get to her fast enough.” This is a direct quote from Lindsay A. Wolko, founder and CEO of the Center for Pet Safety.
NEWS ALERT: Just because a product such as a harness or restraint claims they did a crash test does not mean it actually passed crash testing. The “pass” title is very subjective and manufacturers want you to think they have gone through rigorous due diligence. In most cases, they have not.
Problem Solver: Learn how to pick a restraint car harness for your dog and how to get them used to it. Here are test results from the Center for Pet Safety, which is a resource we’ve relied on for years.
Road Ready Food and Water
Dogs can get digestive upset from a change in water. If your pooch is used to the water from home and suddenly he drinks from a different source, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and gastric distress may result. We always take bottled water from home or buy cases of our favorite bottled water that Dexter drinks at home.
I cannot stress this enough: Regular meals with a regular diet and plenty of hydration are keys to a successful road trip. My dog takes a day or so to get used to a road trip and feeding times when we travel together. Resist temptation to change foods or add some human food. Again, the key is digestive continuity and not tummy upset. Again, I’ve been there, done that, and you risk dehydration if a dog gets traveler’s diarrhea.
Problem Solver: We feed Dr. Harvey’s food as part of our rotational diet at home. When we travel, we use the Dr. Harvey’s Veg-to-Bowl where you add warm water, a protein, your favorite oil like an Omega fish oil capsule, and you have an instant meal. I keep them in a cooler or in a warm/cold lined tote bag. For easier prep, we love Dr. Harvey’s Oracle dog food. I discovered this food last year when we were road tripping to Missouri with Dexter.
Oracle is simply add warm/hot water and you are good to go. I also prepared this in advance and cover it with a lid and have fed it to Dex on many day trip occasions. I give him this meal once or twice a week so his stomach is used to it. You can literally see the whole pieces of chicken and all of the good stuff. I love that meat is the #1 ingredient and we can transport it easily. It also comes in beef. You can try a free sample and just pay for shipping. Click for Dr. Harvey’s free samples.
Bonus Tips: How to Get Your Dog To Drink More Water
Alone In Car: Heat Danger and More
Dogs should never be left alone in a car for a variety of reasons: sweltering heat, freezing cold, or even theft. Many dogs are stolen from cars as they longingly and innocently wait for their pet parent(s) to return. It happened in my hometown a few years ago with two big dogs who waited in the car while their dad ran a quick errand in the mall. The dogs were not small. Someone busted the window and took off with the dogs.
Pet Safety Crusader, Denise Fleck, says, ” Pets don’t sweat to regulate their body temperatures (normally 100.0°F – 102.5°F). They release heat through their tongue, nose and foot pads. Dogs pant to exchange cooler outside air with the warm humid air in their lungs while cats don’t usually pant until they are overwhelmed by the heat. If the outside air isn’t cooler than an animal’s body temperature, the animal can succumb to heat stroke.”
According to AnimalLaw.com, 28 states have laws that either prohibit leaving an animal in confined vehicle under dangerous conditions or provide civil immunity (protection from being sued) for a person who rescues a distressed animal from a vehicle. You cannot automatically break a car window to help a dog in distress as much as this is what most of us want to do. Be sure to know the laws in your state, and often times, in your county or town. Here is a list of state laws to protect animals left in parked vehicles from AnimalLaw.com.
Problem Solver: Use the drive up window if you are going to a restaurant. In our situation, one of us goes in the store while the other stays with the dog in air-conditioned (or heated) comfort. We also check out pet-friendly stores. If you see something, say something. At the very least, please do not let a dog suffer. Go into the store, ask for an announcement to be made, call 911.
Head Out the Window
I know it is cute and I know many people do it, but it is super dangerous and one of the biggest dangers of road tripping with a dog. Not only is your dog exposed to dirt, rocks, debris, and whatever else is in the air and on the road, but a sudden stop can propel your dog out of a window. Sensitive ear flaps can get damaged and excited dogs may even leap from a window. A recent situation occurred in Colorado where a dog literally jumped from a window. We kid you not, see?
Problem Solver: Keep the dog restrained and allow the window to be openly partially. If you are stopped and staying with the dog in the car, allow his head out at that point as long as you have a good hold on his leash.
Some dogs just won’t pee on anything except a grassy surface. What is a road warrior to do when it comes to bathroom options away from home? Accustom your dog to urinating on a variety of surfaces, including grass, gravel, rocks, wood chips and cement. From experience, there is no greater road trip joy than a rainy day, a slab of concrete and a code word to initiate the process (e.g., “Go, go, go!”).On future walks/pit stops, reinforce with the code word as your dog realizes these are its stomping (and marking) grounds for the time being.
Problem Solver: Use the above tips. Once you are at your destination, accidents are bound to happen, so packing piddle/training pads in a roaming bag makes for a must-have travel item. Also handy to have: baby wipes, a favorite stain remover, an enzymatic odor-removing eco-friendly product, and plenty of paper towels to blot. Remember that hotels and bed and breakfasts appreciate when we clean up after our dogs. Good manners mean people and their dogs get invited back and pet policies remain open. ALWAYS stop every two to three hours to allow your dog to relieve himself and stretch his paws. You and your dog should both move around a bit. Be sure to reward your dog with easy-to-pack treats that are made in the USA. Here are a few ideas:
Runs be Done
Traveler’s diarrhea is a real deal, friends. Not only do people get it, but dogs are affected, too. We talked about food and water changes, and in order to prevent this issue, be careful about what your dog easts and drinks while traveling. Never let your dog drink from a pond, pool, puddle, lake, or any other body of water. Fresh water means the water your dog is accustomed to. If the dog’s gums are dry and appear tacky, then your dog may be dehydrated. Always seek veterinary care. If it gets worse, your dog’s electrolytes can be imbalanced and your dog can get very ill very fast.
Problem Solver: Avoid sudden changes in food and water when traveling with your dog. Resist the temptation to feed table scraps on vacation or during road trips. One of the items we always have on hand for road trips is Runs Be Done from Dr. Harvey’s. You simply mix it with your dog’s food, dosed according to the dog’s weight. The ingredients are simple: Pumpkin, Calcium Bentonite Montmorillonite Clay, Slippery Elm Bark, Apple Pectin, Ginger, Plantain, Marshmallow Root, Fennel, Banana, and Chamomile. For us, it has helped with loose stools and diarrhea, especially when traveling. We went to a conference where someone gave our dog some table scraps and didn’t tell us. Later that night, I was very grateful to have Runs Be Done on hand so we weren’t seeking a vet at 2 a.m. in a strange city. Speaking of which….
There is nothing worse (well almost nothing worse) than a sick dog in a strange city. I never second guess myself if my dog needs immediate veterinary care. Finding a vet who will take patients from out of town need not be challenging. This has happened to us on occasion, usually for a urinary tract infection with our first Cocker.
Problem Solver: When planning a trip, use the Internet to find emergency veterinary clinics/hospitals for the area(s) you are visiting or stopping in. Always carry your dog’s medical records, whether something you can access online or via a USB drive or good ole fashioned paper records. Know all of your dog’s medications and even better, take them all with you since you are traveling. I keep my dog’s veterinary information (contact number) in my phone so I have that handy.
Riding in a Truck Bed
It breaks my heart when I see this in action. Dogs riding in the cargo area, or truck bed, such as in the back of a pickup truck, can be seriously injured in a variety of ways. Debris flying, they can try to jump, they can strangle themselves, and weather is another factor. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), injuries resulting from vehicular strikes, truck bed injuries tend to be severe and multiple and include fractures and abrasions. Many states have banned traveling with dogs in the truck bed or require they be secured, others have legislation pending. Uncovered truck beds expose dogs to heated metal, the sun, the wind, flying objects and junk, and shifting loads can cause serious harm to the dog.
Problem Solver: Don’t allow your dog to ride in a truck bed. There are laws against it and other legal ramifications. Animal Laws explains what you can do about the transport of dogs in truck beds.
Like people, dogs can get sunburned. The folks at petMD say yes, you should put sunscreen on your dog. It’s actually very important to put sunscreen on dogs, especially those with light skin and white fur or hair,” says Richard Goldstein, DVM, and chief medical officer of the Animal Medical Center in New York City. “A dog’s skin can be damaged by the sun just like our own, so they require the same protection against the development of sunburn and skin cancer.”
NEVER put any product with zinc oxide on your dog. Ingesting or absorbing zinc oxide can cause hemolytic anemia. You don’t want that. NEVER put anything with PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) on your dog.
Problem Solver: Never apply sunscreen near the eyes. Test it on a small part of the body to be sure your dog is not allergic to it. White dogs with darker skin and thicker coats are more likely to burn that other dogs says petMD. Consider the use of sunscreen on your dog and always provide a shady spot. We use car shades when traveling and have a portable pop up umbrella for pit stops at rest areas and for picnics, beaches, etc. The worst time for sun exposure is between 10 am and 4 pm.
Cranking the Music
Dogs have very sensitive ears. Dogs hear a frequency range of 40 to 60,000 Hz while a human range is between 20 and 20,000 Hz. Because of this, dogs have a difficult time with very loud noises. Blasting the music in the car can really hurt your dog’s delicate eardrums. Animal Wellness magazine says that some dogs are extra sensitive to sound. Sounds that may be acceptable to you can be uncomfortable to a dog.
Problem Solver: Turn the speakers off in the back of the car. Keep the volume at a normal level that won’t cause your dog to lose his mind…and potentially damage his hearing.
Baptism By Fire
Last but certainly not least, what about the dog who genuinely hates car travel? Never ever ever pull a ‘baptism by fire’ technique where you think by repeatedly taking the dog for car rides that he will suddenly like it. You are likely to make things much worse, ruin your dog’s trust, the dog can develop extreme phobias, and your dog can even get so stressed he gets ill.
Problem Solver: In the weeks prior to the trip, make a few practice runs. Pretend you are taking the long trip and set the dog up as you will when that big trip arrives. For the practice rounds, go for a half hour and drive somewhere the dog loves: Perhaps a visit to the park to play fetch, a friend’s house, out for ice cream or whatever makes your dog light up when referring to it. Do the same a second time but travel for an hour. Make the arrival the best thing since the invention of poop bags: Celebrate and tell the dog what an awesome pooch he or she is.
The goal in doing this is to acclimate the dog to the road and make travel a fab thing to do. This same technique can be used with travel fearful dogs, but make the trips 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, and so on. Never force a travel fearful dog to go on a long road trip. If your dog despises the car, shakes like a leaf, and pretty much pants and whines the whole time, a super long trip is not in his or her best interest. Get dogs used to road travel step by step.If your dog despises the car, shakes like a leaf, and pretty much pants and whines the whole time, a super long trip is not in his or her best interest.
Consider using the Dr. Harvey’s Relax formula to acclimate a car-fearful dog to road travel. This one is very easy to administer because it is a powder that you simply add to food. A scoop is provided in the container, and you use it according to your dog’s weight. It does not need to build up in the body and works quickly, within an hour after being mixed in food. Dexter is semi-fussy and he never noticed a smell or taste difference in his food because he continued to eat his meals as he always does. What I like about it is its ease of use, the fact that its a powdered supplement that may be used as an all-natural aid to calm dogs, without harmful side effects. You can use it all the time if you have a super anxious dog just to take an edge off, or according to the Wendy Shankin-Cohen, President and CEO of Dr. Harvey’s.
The best way to prevent motion sickness in dogs when traveling is to be prepared.
Bonus Traveling With Dogs By Car Video
Get more spot-on dog travel tips in this helpful video featuring Fidose of Reality and our experienced dog traveling pal, The Graffiti Dog, for lots of tips to keep your dog happy, healthy, and road ready:
Let’s Go Shopping
If you head over to the Dr. Harvey’s website and enter code FDLUV9271 at checkout, you will save 10 percent off your entire order.
Do you ever go on road trips with your dog(s)? Where have you traveled? Share in the comments below.
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