Bringing your family pet on a trip is its own kind of joy ride. Here's how to keep everyone happy and your pet healthy.
Vacationing in an RV gives you freedoms you don't typically have if you're flying to a destination or driving in the family car and staying in hotels. One of the most exciting is the ability to bring your family pet along for the fun. With the company of your animal companion (and without the anxiety of boarding your pet or enlisting a neighbor or pet sitter in your absence), you can enjoy the whole family on vacation.
You probably know from trips to the vet what kind of traveler your pet is -- at least in a limited way. Dogs often settle in for the ride; cats can be a different story. Though they are notoriously poor travelers and don't take to a collar and leash, let alone long car rides and changes of venue, cats can travel if trained from a young age. Bring your cat or dog along on short car trips -- never leaving it in a cold, hot, or unventilated vehicle of course -- and see how it does. A long driving vacation in an RV is no time to discover your pet doesn't take to the open road.
It's not a good idea to allow a cat or dog access to the whole car. A curious, panicky, or affectionate pet who gets under foot (accelerator/brake) or in your line of sight while driving is a danger -- not to mention a missile if you have to stop short and your pet is airborne. As with any car ride, you should put your pet in an appropriate-size carrier for these preparatory or "diagnostic" car rides.
If your pet gets sick or has an accident out of nervous fright, your pet probably does not travel well and might be more comfortable being boarded or left at home with a responsible pet sitter. If the short trip does go well, try a longer experiment.
Many animals who live in cages -- gerbils, hamsters, and guinea pigs -- are fairly easy to bring along on a trip provided you can secure their cages or aquariums so the cages -- and the things inside them (pets, bottles, dishes, toys, etc.) -- will not slide around, fall, or go flying when you're moving or braking. Though they are caged and might seem easy to bring along, birds can catch a draft very easily. If you're a bird owner, consult a bird expert or bird veterinarian about the feasibility of adapting your pet's lifestyle for travel.
Before committing to traveling with your pet, ask yourself some questions: Does car travel make my pet sick? Does my pet make a lot of noise in the car (will it drive us crazy)? Is my pet good with other people/other animals? Is my pet well-behaved? Is my pet in generally good health? Can I ensure that my pet will not be subjected to high and low temperatures and drafts? Can I ensure that my pet can remain safe and comfortable?
If you feel satisfied that your pet will probably be a good and comfortable road companion, then discuss your travel plans with your vet.
It's always a good idea to get a clean bill of health for your pet before any travel. Unless you've been to the vet so recently it's unnecessary, make an appointment for a wellness visit. This is especially important if your pet is elderly or has health conditions. Discuss your trip with the vet and describe the traveling arrangements you anticipate, especially what kind of quarters your pet will be traveling in and staying in once you arrive at your destination.
Also, tell your vet where you'll be staying; if the locales of campgrounds indicate any special planning -- rocky terrain, snakes, ticks, scorpions, wild animals, rabies in the region -- a discussion with your vet will help you clarify and prepare for any potential issues. Your vet might not have all the answers, but he or she should be able to steer you in the right direction for further research on the Internet or at a bookstore or pet store.
At your vet visit, make sure your pet's vaccinations are current. This is always important, but even more so when you travel and your pet may potentially be exposed to wild or unvaccinated animals. Your pet's rabies vaccination should definitely be current; carry the vaccination papers on your trip, and make sure the rabies tag is secured to your pet's collar. Talk through the pros and cons of sedation with your vet if your pet is an uncomfortable traveler (reconsider leaving your pet home with proper care arrangements if the trip will cause your pet discomfort or stress).
If you are crossing national borders into Canada or Mexico, check about any animal quarantine laws well in advance so you know what to expect.
Along with your vaccination tags -- preferably imprinted with the phone number of your vet and the name of your pet -- tag your pet's collar with your owner identification information in case your pet is lost on the trip. (If you normally don't collar your cat, buy the kind of collar that releases when caught on something.) At most vets, pet stores, and Humane Society offices, you can find mail-in forms to order ID tags. Since you will be traveling, your home phone number will be helpful only if you have a message machine that you can check remotely -- make sure you know how to do this. If you have a cell phone along on your trip and/or another emergency contact number (if this is a third party, get their permission), write these numbers on a small piece of paper and affix it to the back of one of your pet's tags, covering the entire surface with a heavy clear tape to prevent running or smearing if it becomes wet. If you think of it soon enough beforehand, you can send off for an imprinted tag specifically designed for your travels. Carry a photo of your pet just in case you find yourself in the unfortunate position of making, photocopying, posting, and distributing "Lost" signs and flyers.
Plan your trip with pet-friendly destinations in mind. If you're staying in a campground or park, call ahead to find out their policies on pets. Then you can plan accordingly. If your lifestyle or your pet's lifestyle cannot adapt, find a different destination or reconsider taking your pet.
Buy a lidded bin to devote to your pet's supplies. Inside, put bowls, food, leash, toys, prescription or other medications, and your veterinarian's telephone number on a note card.
It's a good idea to take along a pet carrier for crating your pet. If your dog is sure-footed, this might not seem like much of an issue, but any animal can go flying if you come to a sudden stop. To prevent injury (and to keep accidents contained), consider crating your pet while you're moving down the road. Alternatively, pet stores carry "seat belts" for pets; there should be an appropriate size for your pet. Make sure you know how to use the restraint safely before embarking.
Make sure you have plenty of food and water for your pet. Buy food ahead of time and take along as much as your storage capacity will reasonably allow. Keep it in an airtight container so the food stays fresh. If your pet tends to get carsick and vomits or froths at the mouth, feed him or her after you've done your day's mileage. Some medications can help with carsickness -- ask your vet.
Put down a water bowl with fresh water and see that your pet has access to it whenever you're stationary or camping. At rest stops along the way, always offer your pet fresh water. It goes without saying -- although pet tragedies every day necessitate repeating this -- that you should make sure your pet is never subjected to extreme temperatures, hot or cold. Don't forget that the temperature inside a closed vehicle is often more extreme than the outside temperature. Make sure that your pet has fresh air, and don't leave your pet unattended in an air-conditioned RV; if the power fails, your pet could die.
Your dog feels as cramped as you do after hours of traveling. It's important that you walk him/her when you take rest stops. If your pet is a cat, walks aren't an issue, but plenty of stretching room is. For sleeping and comfort's sake for both cats and dogs, bring along a pet bed if you've got room.
Once you make camp, abide by the camp's pet policies. Request a site away from other campers, shady if it's hot, sunny if it's cold. Be as quiet a neighbor as possible -- nothing ruins a camping experience for others like your constantly barking dog. Adhere to leash laws, for everyone's safety. If there's any risk of your pet's biting, bring a muzzle so there are no mishaps if well-intentioned strangers approach. Check with campground management about dog-walk areas and "poop-scooping" policies. Always clean up after your pet. If you are traveling with a feline friend, think through the cat-box arrangement. Having extra litter, a covered litter box, plastic bags for disposal, scoop, and baking soda to cover the bottom of the box will keep mess and odor to a minimum.
Take along a stake and long leash so your dog can participate in your campground fun, being sure never to leave him or her unattended. Keep water within reach and keep any possible entanglements out of the way. Portable enclosed pens are great for both dogs and cats if you want to allow them to enjoy the outside with you and to keep everyone safe at the same time. Never let your pet wander.
Take a look at the Humane Society of the United States site for its excellent information on traveling with pets.
Do ask yourself before you go, would my pet be happier at home? If your pet is joining in the RV fun, happy trails to you and your four-footed friends.