Planning a long road trip with your kids, small boys included, can be challenging enough, but when you take along the family pet it can get even more complicated.  

There’s surprisingly more to it than letting Rascal hang his head out of the car window with his tongue hanging out.  What do you really need to do to ensure your furry friends arrive safe and sound, and with your sanity intact?

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang is a veterinarian who practices in San Diego, California, and is the owner of the pet-centric website pawcurious.com.  She starts with the basics. “All pets should be secured when they are in the car,” she advises.

“One, a pet can easily be a distraction for a driver when they are wandering about or trying to get under your feet. Two, in case of an accident the likelihood of injury is obviously much higher for unrestrained pets. In an accident, a pet becomes a projectile and may not only be hurt or killed himself, but may injure other passengers. Three, a lot of people don’t realize this but the number one way a pet is injured in a car accident is when they escape from the car after the accident.”

The far-off Honda “WOW” Concept car was imagined with pets in mind, but you can travel just as safely with your animal in your current car.

Bark Buckle Up, a business dedicated to pet safety in a vehicle, provides the following impactful information: “In an accident, an unrestrained pet is dangerous to everyone in the car. A 60-pound dog/golden retriever becomes a projectile of 2,700 pounds at just 35 mph. A flying projectile like a dog can hit you, a windshield, or another passenger.”

In addition, pets can also get in the way of medical and other responders arriving first on the scene. Simply by restraining your pet, you can manage this situation and avoid disaster and injury. But what’s the best way to do it?

Dr. Vogelsang offers some alternatives: “I have large dogs, so I use a system that attaches their harness to the cargo hooks in the back. Crates and carriers work as well, though those should also be attached to the vehicle in some manner. There are also restraint systems that work with your car’s seat belt system.”

Any of these methods are far better than what Republican nominee Mitt Romney allegedly did when he put his Irish setter Seamus in a dog carrier, and then strapped it to the roof of his car for a 12-hour drive.

While all reports indicate the dog survived the trip, it really isn’t recommended and is in fact against animal cruelty laws in many states and provinces. Most pet owners would aim for higher than “surviving” when it comes to long road trips.

Directly before getting into the car with your pet, make sure they’ve had the opportunity to release some energy (in the case of a dog, a long walk is a great idea), and avoid giving them solids if you can. 

If you have a long hair cat, brush out any excess, as cats can be known to shed when they are stressed.  Make sure you have a leash, food and water, and their corresponding bowls, ready for the first stop, and watch for signals from them that they need a drink, or a rest stop. 

And just as we know kids (and adults) require rest and food breaks during an extensive outing, Vogelsang recommends we do the same for our pets. “I usually take food and drink breaks with the same regularity that my pets do, so we just incorporate that into our travel every few hours. With cats, I usually take a large dog crate instead of a small carrier so that my cats have a contained area with room to move, a litter box, and food.”

There are sites that help you to plan a road trip and let you know where there are pet friendly rest stop, to allow dogs to have a run (just like the kids do.) 

But is there any trip that’s really too long for a pet?  Not according to Vogelsang.  “Many people travel the country with their pets in RVs. It really just depends on their individual tolerance levels. To be honest pets are usually much easier to travel with than kids! The key is making sure they have adequate potty and walk breaks.”

Road travel can make kids, and adults feel a little queasy, and pets are no different. Vogelsang advises visiting your vet if you feel a sedative or medication may be required to get through a long trip.  

The best way to test this out is to make sure your pet is comfortable in the car prior to the actual trip.  If the pet only ever travels in the car to in fact see the vet, its anxiety may be appropriate.  Start with shorter trips, and work your way up.  
When you’re stopped at a roadside attraction or in a restaurant for a meal, remember to never leave your pet in a car. Besides a risk of heat or cold exposure, your pet could easily be taken by someone.  

Above all, make sure you’ve planned the trip with your pet and its needs in mind, including pet friendly accommodation during and at the end of your trip, or you might find yourself living a dog’s life, keeping Spot company in the car overnight, as well.