I travel from Kansas City to Michigan quite often in the summer months with my dogs. It is a 13+ hour drive. While I do not mind the drive, my biggest concern is about the health and welfare of my dogs while traveling in high heat. It is possible to travel long distances safely with your dog in the summer months, but you must be smart about it!
The first thing to do is to make sure your pets are healthy. You should never travel long distances with a sick pet, especially one where their breathing may be restricted. Make sure they are up to date on all of their shots and licenses. Check their collars and leashes to make sure they are in good condition. If you normally walk your dog(s) with a harness, make sure you have them out and ready to go. Check your dog food amounts. Do you have enough for the whole time you are going to be gone? To make things easier for me, if I am going to be gone for a week to ten days, I will just go and pick up a bag the appropriate size for the trip and then pack one serving out of their opened bag into a zip lock baggy. This way, I don’t have to worry about open bags of dog food in the vehicle. You should also have one or two emergency leashes, the type that just slips over their head, in case of a collar or leash breaks. I have an extra one for each dog.
Make sure your dog(s) are used to riding in the car and riding with each other if you have more than one. Start taking them with you when you are running errands, keeping in mind the temperature out and being careful.
Because I travel often with my pets, I have a bag with toys I only give them when I travel, collapsible dog food dishes, extra emergency leashes. Be considerate of others if you are planning on staying in a hotel at all. Pack toys they can play with without making a lot of noise.
On the day of travel, try to keep your stress level low. Dogs are sensitive to stress and it is important to keep their stress level down. Try not to medicate your dog with any medicine to keep them calm. I know some people will give their pet Benadryl or something equivalent to relax them. While I understand you can not have your dog running around when you are driving but you also want them to be able to breath without any issues, so consider a seat belt or a travel crate over medication. Benadryl can cause rapid heart rate and rapid breathing, which is not good when it’s hot out.
Have plenty of water. They may or may not drink a lot when you are in travels, but you want to make sure they have water available at all times. I like to use a small insulated cooler because it stays stable due to the weight of it and it keeps the water from splashing around. Both of my dogs can drink easily out of it. I also like it because it holds enough water so I don’t have to put my dogs through changing water multiple times and I don’t have to use bottled water.
Starting out isn’t bad because you either have the air conditioner on or the windows down, the potential dangers hit when you have to stop. Think about your stops. Try to minimize the amount of time you’ll be stopped during the day, when the sun is up.
Here is what I do to keep the dogs safe while I am making the necessary stops.
When stopping at a gas station, look for one with a full canopy over all of the pumps if you can. It shades the sun from getting into the car.
Roll the windows down as much as you can in the back without it being so much that the dogs can get out. Do not just “crack” the windows. Get them down enough so they can get their nose out the window if they need to.
Do not leave their leashes on them when you are out of the vehicle. If your dogs are anything like mine, they may jump from the back seat to the front seat and back. If the leash gets hung up on anything, it could be deadly.
I will usually start the gas, then get the dogs out to start stretching their legs. I let them walk around with me while the gas is pumping. Be aware of any liquids on the ground though, as it could be poisonous.
Once the gas is done pumping, I’ll go and walk them in the grass, letting them go to the bathroom, and just overall enjoy being out of the vehicle.
I’ll then put them back into the car but I’ll keep it under the canopy with the windows in the back down and the windows in the front down slightly, just not as much.
Then I run in and use the restroom, grab some snacks if I want them, and get back in the car to take off. It is so easy to lose track of time looking at things so one thing I do is set my alarm on my phone for seven minutes. By setting the alarm, I’m able to MAKE SURE my dogs are never left in the car and in a dangerous situation. Even if I haven’t finished purchasing what I’m getting, I’ll set the stuff down, run out, check on them, and then run back in to finish doing what I was doing. The other reason for seven minutes is so, if I’m the next in line, knowing it will only be one more minute, I’m good. Ten minutes could easily stretch to fifteen, so I keep it at seven, that way it is never more than ten.
I am diligent about this. One time, when I was traveling with my mom and my two dogs, we decided to stop at a chocolate store near the Michigan border. It was over 85% that day. I was not taking a chance on their health and well being. Every seven minutes, I ran out, checked on them, made sure they were perfectly fine, and then would reset the alarm and go back in. We ended up being in there about 25 minutes. The dogs were perfectly content. I did pull them out to walk around one more time, just to be on the safe side, but they were pretty content to get back in out of the sun.
One last word of caution, when you are traveling and stopping someplace for them to go to the bathroom, be aware the asphalt they are stepping out on could be very hot. Again, always think about the situation, think about the potential dangers, and everyone stays healthy and happy.
It isn’t always easy to travel with your pets in the heat of the summer, but it is possible. Remember, they need to be your first concern. Water, windows down enough for them, not just cracked, and managing your time will keep them safe!
Happy Travels everyone!