If pets planned vacations, you'd never have to worry about renting a car or making hotel reservations. You wouldn't even need a map. Just dashing across the park or splashing in a nearby creek would be excitement enough.
Unfortunately for pets, it's their people who make the plans -- and human travel, for dogs and cats, can be uncomfortable travel, says Grace Long, D.V.M., a veterinarian with the Ralston-Purina Company in St. Louis. Dogs get carsick. Cats get lost. Everyone gets hot and thirsty. "For a lot of pets, car rides end in some experience that's just not very desirable," says Dr. Long.
Don't nix your trip down Route 66. Here are some tips to keep your pets comfortable.
For Dogs and Cats
Take a practice cruise. If the only time your pet gets in the car is when she's going to the vet, she's bound to get a little balky, says Dr. Long. Before taking a long trip, get her used to the idea by taking shorter rides, she suggests. Drive around the block. Better yet, take her to the park a few times. That way she'll associate the car with pleasant experiences and will be more likely to relax during longer trips.
Be a tag team. No matter how careful you are, dogs and cats have a genuine talent for getting loose -- and lost. So before setting out, make sure your pets are wearing the appropriate tags, says Michael Kaufmann, education coordinator for the American Humane Association in Englewood, Colorado.
At the very least they should have identification tags with your name, address and telephone number. Since you won't be home (you're on vacation, after all), it's also a good idea to fit them with temporary tags listing the motel or campground where you're staying.
Pack the paperwork
Many campgrounds -- and virtually all national parks and foreign countries -- won't admit pets without proof that they've had their rabies shots. "Always carry a rabies certificate with you," advises David Barnett, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Colma, California, and past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
It doesn't hurt to get a general health certificate from your vet before setting out, he adds. That way, if border or other officials have questions, you won't be stuck hundreds of miles from home without the answers.
Provide a cozy crate. Few things are more uncomfortable -- and potentially dangerous -- than having pets loose in the car. What's more, most dogs and cats naturally feel more secure when they have their own space.
"Even pets that hate to travel will often hunker down and wait it out once they're in a crate," says Sherbyn Ostrich, V.M.D., a veterinarian in private practice in Wernersville, Pennsylvania.
To help your pet feel at home, he recommends padding the crate with her favorite rug or pillow and putting in some of her favorite toys. In addition, it's critical that the crate get plenty of fresh air, so leave space around it when packing the car.
Buckle up. Whether your pet is snug in a crate or curled up on the seat, it's important to keep her buckled in. "Loose animals in a car are not a good idea," says Dr. Ostrich. "Just braking can cause a pet that's loose in the car to fly through the air."
Harnesses are available that work in conjunction with lap and shoulder belts to keep your pet secure. These are most effective with larger pets weighing 25 pounds or more, experts say. Smaller pets are best kept in a crate that's buckled to the seat or firmly attached to the floor.
Moisten her muzzle. It's extremely easy for dogs and cats to overheat in the car, so providing plenty of water is essential. Try using traveling water dishes that have a deep hole in the middle with a lid on top. The design makes it difficult for the bowl to tip or spill.
A neater alternative is to freeze a small dish of water ahead of time and let her lick the ice whenever she gets thirsty, suggests Dennis Wilcox, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Port Angeles, Washington. Or you can simply stop every hour or two and pour a little water in a dish, he adds.
Don't forget the chow. It's common for dogs and cats to get uncomfortable when they suddenly change from one food to another -- and that's the last thing you want when you're traveling. To keep them fed and their tummies calm, take along their usual food, vets say.
Remember rest stops. Even dogs and cats with great control may need frequent "rest" breaks when traveling. Plan on stopping every hour or two so they can stretch their legs and have a romp, says M. Ward Crowe, D.V.M., professor emeritus in the Department of Veterinary Science at the University of Kentucky in Lexington and chair of the Animal Welfare Committee of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Keep her under control. Nothing's more frightening than losing a pet in a strange place -- or having her dart into traffic at the rest stop. To be absolutely safe, always attach the leash before you open the door, Dr. Crow says.
Settle her stomach
Like kids, young dogs and cats are particularly prone to car sickness, although older pets can get it, too. Not feeding pets for about six to eight hours before traveling will help keep their stomachs calm, says Clayton MacKay, D.V.M., director of the veterinary teaching hospital at Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph in Canada and president of the American Animal Hospital Association. But giving them water is okay.
Give a seat with a view. Pets are less likely to get carsick when they can see the passing scenery, so try to give her a window seat. Opening the window and letting in fresh air will also help, Dr. MacKay adds.
Take precautions. The same over-the-counter drug people use for preventing car sickness also works for pets. Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) is safe for most healthy dogs and cats, although pets with glaucoma or bladder problems shouldn't take it without a veterinarian's approval.
Medium to large dogs should be given 25 to 50 milligrams of Dramamine at least an hour before traveling, vets say. (Dramamine should always be taken before traveling because it's more effective at preventing car sickness than at stopping it once it occurs.) Cats and small dogs should get about 12.5 milligrams. Dramamine is available in 50-milligram tablets that can be split into quarters to provide the right dose for your pet.
Park with care. Even on cool days the inside of a parked car can get uncomfortably hot. Don't take chances, Dr. Wilcox warns. When it's time to eat, consider using drive-thrus rather than leaving your pet behind. Or eat in shifts, with one family member staying behind with your pet -- preferably outside the car.
If you have to leave your pet in the car -- while you run into a store, for example -- always park in a shady spot, preferably where a breeze blows through the windows. But even then, don't stay away for more than a few minutes, vets warn.
For Cats Only
Take the litter. Unlike dogs, which will treat roadside rest stops like their own backyards, cats are often reluctant to relieve themselves at the end of a leash. So always take a litter box when you travel, Dr. Long advises.
"The best thing is to have a crate big enough that you can put the litter box at one end," she says.
Don't clean it too well. To help your cat feel at home, vets recommend not starting a trip with fresh litter. Taking litter she's already used is like putting out a little sign that says "mine."