10 tips for a fun family road trip with your pets

Posted by Henno Havenga on 13 Nov 2017

SA guide dog in a Suzuki Celerio

Taking your furry babies with you on holiday can be loads of fun, but 12 hours in the car can be challenging. Here are some tips on travelling with pets to help the journey go smoothly.

After a year of hard work, there’s nothing quite like a family roadtrip to kick start the holiday season. But who’s going to look after your furry friends while you’re away? Many pet owners are faced with the struggle of finding a suitable house sitter, or leaving their pets in a kennel or cattery - both of which can be highly stressful.

Taking your pets with you when you travel is not as hard as it seems. In fact, having your dog or cat along for the ride can be a lot of fun - as long as you’re fully prepared.

Here are a few tips to help you plan a pet-friendly road trip.

Pet-friendly accommodation and facilities

Not all accommodation is pet-friendly, so you’ll need to do some research in advance to ensure that your accommodation allows animals. You can use Petfriendly South Africa, an online directory for pet owners, to help you find pet-friendly accommodation and activities like parks, beaches, hiking trails, restaurants, malls and markets that allow animals. When you’re booking accommodation, also take note of where your nearest 24 hour emergency vet will be.

Plan your route

It’s important to stop for regular breaks on any road trip - but even more so with pets in the car. Plan your route ahead of time, and make sure it includes regular pit stops to let your pets “use the bathroom”, stretch their legs and have something to drink. Ideally, you should stop at least every three to four hours. Plan to spend about 15 to 20 minutes at each stop.

Get a check-up at the vet before you leave

Before you leave make sure you pay a visit to the vet. Your pets will be in a new environment, so you want to make sure their vaccinations are up to date. You should also stock up on any special food or medication your pet might need while you’re away.

Make sure you take a copy of your pet’s medical records with you when you travel.

Packing for your pets

When you’re packing for your trip, keep an eye on the weather report - this could affect what you’ll need (like extra blankets for a cold front). You’ll also need the following essentials:

  • A pet safety harness or carrier crate for the car
  • Water bowl
  • Bottled water
  • Leash
  • Collar with ID tag
  • Old towel
  • Wet wipes
  • First aid kit
  • Medication (if any)
  • Health records
  • Bedding
  • Litter box and litter (for cats)
  • Treats
  • Toys
  • Enough food for the entire trip (plus an extra day’s worth for emergencies)
  • Waste bags (to pick up after your dog)
  • A brush and pet shampoo
  • Pet-friendly insect repellent

Final checks before you leave

Don’t feed your cat or dog immediately before setting off on your journey - rather feed them a few hours beforehand. They suffer from motion sickness just like we do and the last thing you need is an upset tummy in the car.

Spot the signs of motion sickness. . .
     General unease, listlessness or restlessness
     Whining, crying or yelping
     Smacking lips or drooling

Young animals suffer more severely from motion sickness than adults do, just like humans. If you think your pet is in trouble, roll down your windows, make sure the car is well ventilated and try to take lots of breaks.

Just before you jump in the car, run through your essentials list again, and make sure your pets “do their business” one last time (you’ll want to avoid any accidents on your car seats). As a precautionary measure, keep an old towel down to protect your seats.

Always buckle up!

It’s extremely dangerous to let your pet roam freely in the car or hang out the window. Not only does this cause distractions for the driver, but it also leads to injuries - if you slam on breaks, or swerve to avoid a pothole, your pet could go flying.

If you have a small dog or a cat, make sure they travel inside a well ventilated carrier crate. If you have a medium to large dog, buckle them in using a pet safety harness attached to your car’s seat belt.

Watch out for heatstroke

Pets are particularly susceptible to heatstroke. Never leave your pets unattended in a hot car and, if it’s hot, keep the air conditioner on while you drive. Make sure you have a water bowl available in the car so that you can give your pet something to drink whenever you make a pit stop.

While on holiday, maintain your routine

It’s important that you stick to your regular routine (like feeding times, exercise and medicine doses) while you’re away.

Dogs are extremely adaptable, and will most likely have the time of their life on holiday with you. Cats, on the other hand, are not always the happiest of travellers, and should be kept enclosed indoors to avoid them wandering off and getting lost in a strange environment.

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