Hitting the road with your furry friend can be an amazing adventure. Whether it's a trip to the groomer or daycare, to see friends and family, or to enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and camping, ensuring your pet's safety and comfort throughout the journey is crucial.

This guide provides 8 essential tips to make car travel a positive experience for both you and your pet.

Key Takeaways

  • Get your pet acclimated to the carrier or crate beforehand and practice short car rides. For added security during travel, use a harness or pet seat belt. 

  • Never leave your pet unattended in a parked car, even with the AC on. 

  • Offer water frequently during breaks and avoid feeding large meals right before travel to prevent car sickness.

1. Schedule Pre-Travel Veterinary Care

Ensure your pet's vaccinations are up-to-date and discuss any travel concerns with your veterinarian. They can advise you on parasite prevention, medication for pet anxiety or car sickness, calming supplements (if needed), and refill prescriptions for the duration of your trip.

2. Stock Up on Pet Travel Essentials

Ensure you have all the necessary pet travel supplies before hitting the road:

  • Bottled water: Keep fresh water available and take breaks during long car rides to ensure your pet stays hydrated.

  • Harness/leash: Always have a harness and leash on hand for potty breaks or when you need to take your pet out of the car.

  • Food and treats: Pack enough food for the entire trip, plus extras in case of unexpected delays. Treats can help reward good behavior and calm anxious pets.

  • Pet travel certificates: If traveling across state lines or internationally, ensure you have the required travel documentation to avoid delays.

  • Pet first aid kit: Keep a first aid kit in the car for emergencies.

  • Favorite blankets or toys: Traveling with familiar items can increase your pet's comfort during the journey.

3. Microchip Your Pet

Microchipping provides a permanent form of identification in case your pet gets separated from you.

Update the contact information associated with your pet's microchip and ensure they wear a collar with a visible ID tag.

4. Choose the Right Restraint

For optimal car safety, use a carrier or crate secured with straps in the back seat. This is especially important for smaller pets or anxious travelers. 

Harnesses and pet seat belts are alternatives for larger, calmer pets and are extremely important for ensuring your pet's safety in case of an accident or an abrupt stop.

Are You a Pet Safety Expert?

Are You a Pet Safety Expert?
1. Which one of the plants below is toxic to cats if ingested?
2. Which of the foods below is generally considered safe for your dog to eat?
3. Above what temperature is too hot to leave a pet in your car?
4. Which kind of leash is the safest to walk your dog?
5. True or False: If a medication is safe for humans, it is probably safe for pets.
6. What should you do if you think your pet ate something toxic?

Are You a Pet Safety Expert?

1. Which one of the plants below is toxic to cats if ingested?
Easter lilies are extremely poisonous to cats. Ingesting even a tiny amount can cause severe kidney failure.
2. Which of the foods below is generally considered safe for your dog to eat?
All of the above foods are unsafe for dogs except for carrots, which make a healthy, crunchy treat!
3. Above what temperature is too hot to leave a pet in your car?
If the temperature outside is above 70°F, then it is too hot to leave your pet inside a car.
4. Which kind of leash is the safest to walk your dog?
A retractable leash, long lead, or no leash will not keep your pet close enough to ensure their safety when walking on a road with traffic or other hazards. A short leash is always the best option.
5. True or False: If a medication is safe for humans, it is probably safe for pets.
While some human medications are safe for pets if used correctly, they should only be administered under the care of a veterinarian.
6. What should you do if you think your pet ate something toxic?
If you suspect your pet ingested something harmful, consult your veterinarian or go to the nearest emergency clinic right away.

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5. Build Up to Long Car Rides

Take short car rides beforehand to acclimate your pet to the car, crate and their travel restraints. This reduces anxiety and promotes a more positive experience.

6. Practice Safe Driving Habits

Pets should ride in the back seat in a carrier or crate using a pet seat belt as it protects them from deploying airbags in the case of a collision. Riding in the back also reduces distractions for the driver. 

Don’t let pets ride with their heads out the window. While this may seem fun and enjoyable for some pets, it comes with risks. Pets can get injured by debris like rocks and gravel, as well as insects. Additionally, pets hanging out the window are at more risk of being ejected from the vehicle, especially during sudden stops, swerves, or accidents. 

Walk your pet on a leash at rest stops as these tend to be busy with vehicles coming and going. Keeping your pet on a leash will prevent them from accidentally darting out in front of moving vehicles, especially if startled.

7. Keep an Eye on Temperatures

Monitor temperatures closely when traveling with your pet.

On warmer days, the temperature inside your vehicle can increase by 20 degrees Fahrenheit within 10 minutes and 30 degrees Fahrenheit or more within 20 to 30 minutes. Even on a moderate 70-degree day, the inside of your car can quickly exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit, putting pets at serious risk of illness and even death.

An infographic showing when car temperatures get too hot for pets.

Cracking windows does not provide sufficient relief from this life-threatening hyperthermia. Use the air conditioning and keep the car running when temperatures are warmer outside. 

Don’t leave pets unattended in the car in hot weather, as even with the AC on, the car may stop and instantly heat up to dangerous temperatures.

8. Take Frequent Breaks

Taking frequent breaks during car rides is essential for your pet's well-being. 

Avoid feeding them meals right before travel or while in motion to prevent car sickness, as it can lead to nausea and vomiting. Instead, offer food and water at scheduled stops, allowing them time to digest. 

Additionally, make sure to allow for frequent stretch, exercise, and potty breaks. Just like people, pets need to stretch and exercise to prevent discomfort and cramping, and potty breaks are needed to avoid accidents or health issues from holding them too long.


By following these tips, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable car travel experience for both you and your furry copilot. Remember to schedule a pre-trip virtual vet consultation to keep your pet healthy, address travel concerns, and confirm their vaccinations are current. Bon voyage!

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the safest way to travel with a dog in the car?

The safest way to travel with your dog in the car is to place them in a secured crate or carrier in the rear of the car or using a harness and pet seat belt in the back seat.

Do pets have to be in a carrier in a car?

Carriers offer a safe and secure way of traveling, but pet-safe seat belts in the back seat can also provide security. 

What is the safest restraint for a dog in a car?

Appropriate pet safety devices can include pet seat belts and harnesses, secured crates and carriers, or combined restraint systems that integrate seat belts, harnesses, and carriers to provide comprehensive protection.

How long can you safely leave a pet in a car?

It is not safe to leave your pet in the car, unattended for any period of time. Leaving your pet alone in the car puts them at risk of theft or escaping. 

It is too hot for your pet when the temperatures outside are 70 degrees Fahrenheit and above. Even on a cooler day, less than 70 degrees, the temperatures may change and lead to dangerous or life-threatening conditions.


  1. Hazel, S. J., Kogan, L. R., Montrose, V. T., Hebart, M. L., & Oxley, J. A. (2019). Restraint of dogs in vehicles in the US, UK and Australia. Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 170, 104714. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.prevetmed.2019.104714

  2. Wells, D. L. (2006). Aromatherapy for travel-induced excitement in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 229(6), 964-967. Retrieved May 16, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.2460/javma.229.6.964