Travel and summer go hand-in-hand. Whether it's a day trip or a longer vacation, in most likelihood, you'll be hitting the road before Labor Day.
It sounds so easy — just get in the car and go. But if your family includes members that are four-legged and furry, a little planning is needed to ensure the safety of your pets.
Here's my Top 10 List for safe car travels with Fido and Fluffy:
Calm and comfy in the car. In last month's column, I gave hints on how to achieve this. Teaching your pet to be calm during car rides takes time, so plan accordingly. Remember, go slowly and always make it fun. Lots of praise and positive rewards will help Fido forget his jitters quickly. Your veterinarian can also help by prescribing anti-anxiety medication.
ID is the key. Your pet can't talk, so if he gets lost, it is up to you to make sure you can be reunited. Two forms of identification are especially helpful. First, the old-fashioned name tag. It's simple, yet so important. Have your contact info on the tag. Include the phone number where you can be reached while away. Second, ask your veterinarian to have your pet microchipped. These tiny implants are the size of a tip of a ballpoint pen. Each contains a unique number that can trace your lost pet back to you. Microchips are read by special scanners available at animal facilities. These high-tech devices have reunited hundreds of thousands of lost pets with their owners. It's a quick outpatient procedure and virtually painless.
Dress for success. Even if your pet prefers his birthday suit at home, accessories are a must during car rides. Make sure Fido and Fluffy have on a collar or harness (with ID tag) and attached leash. Grabbing a leash on a moving pet can be the difference between life and death if your pet decides to bolt when the car door opens.
Buckle up. We all know to buckle up, but what about Fido and Fluffy? An unrestrained pet can be a projectile object in a crash. He could also distract the driver, creating a hazardous situation. Plus, it's easy for him to get out if a door or window is opened. The best situation is to have your pet safely secured during travel. There are several options. Carriers, secured in your vehicle, work very well and offer a pet a safe place. This is the best form of restraint for most cats during travel. Pet seat belts are also available from pet supply stores. Also, some vehicles can be equipped with a gate to separate the front from the rear.
Roll 'em up. It's tempting to open windows and sun roofs during summer, but not with pets in the car. Especially for those that are not properly restrained, this can be problematic. Fido may enjoy hanging his head out the window, but this can cause dirt or debris to get into his eyes and mouth and lead to infections. Pets can also slip through surprisingly small window spaces quickly and escape.
Green behind the gills. Motion sickness can affect Fido and Fluffy. And it's no fun for them, either. Withholding food for several hours before travel might help. If you know your pet is prone to car sickness, talk to your veterinarian. A prescription medicine is available that can be given just before travel. It is extremely effective at preventing nausea.
Have it handy. Look up the phone number of an emergency veterinarian near your destination. That way, you'll have someone to call for directions in the event of an unexpected health problem with your pet. Also bring current veterinary information with you. Vaccine status, medication list and primary care veterinarian contact information might all be helpful. At our hospital, we issue Pet ID photo cards, which contain much of this information.
Don't let them bake. Never, never, never leave pets in a hot car. The temperature can rise rapidly and be deadly within minutes. Cracking the windows has little effect.
Brown-bag it. Remember to bring your pet's regular food with you. Most dogs and cats have sensitive stomachs, and a sudden diet change can have unwanted consequences. Also, make sure lots of fresh water is available.
Home sweet home for Fluffy. Think twice before you bring Fluffy on vacation with you. Kitties tend to be better homebodies than tourists. They are more likely to get lost, because new surroundings easily scare them. Ask a friend or your veterinarian to recommend a reliable pet sitter. You'll be welcomed home with lots of purrs and affection.
Make your summer vacations safe and enjoyable. Happy trails with wagging tails.
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Dr. Heidi Bassler is medical director of the Veterinary Center of Greater Newburyport (www.vetcgn.com). She hosts a radio show, "Your Pet's Health," every Sunday morning at 8:30 on AM-1450 WNBP. Do you have questions for Dr. Bassler? Send them to email@example.com.