Dog Road Trip Essentials
Travel With Dogs And Cats

Dog Road Trip Essentials

When we think about taking our family on a road trip, some of us dread leaving our dogs at home! They’re part of the family, after all, and we want them with us.

Luckily, there are plenty of dog-friendly locations you can visit and, with some extra planning, you can easily bring your pup along for the ride.

The essentials for taking your dog on a road trip include their everyday items like food, a collar, and bedding; cleanliness items like poop bags, pet wipes, and a seat cover; and emergency preparedness like an updated microchip, a list of nearby veterinarians, and a doggy seatbelt.

I’ve put together a checklist with all of the essentials, plus some tips for planning your trip and keeping your dog safe along the way.

Table of Contents:

1.     Day to Day Items

Like you, your dog will need all of their day-to-day stuff when on the go. This includes everything from their normal food to their favorite toy.

Here are some things to bring on your trip:

  • Food and water bowls – You might want these to be collapsible for easy storage and use outside of your vehicle
  • Enough of your dog’s food to last the trip, plus extra in case of emergency
  • Water
  • Medications (including car sickness medication, any daily medications, and parasite prevention if it’ll need to be taken while you’re away!)
  • Collar or harness
  • Leash
  • Tags with your contact information
  • A microchip with your contact information (this will ensure your dog is returned to you, even if they lose their collar)
  • Treats for training on the go, rewarding your pet for a job well-done, or just giving them an extra snack
  • Toys for comfort, amusement in the car, and playing when you can get outside
  • Blankets or bedding that smell like home to keep your dog comfy

2.     Cleanliness Items

You don’t want to be the person leaving dog poop for someone to step on. You also won’t want to be in a muddy car after your dog has traipsed through puddles during their potty break!

These items will keep your dog and your surroundings clean while you’re on the go:

  • Poop bags
  • A dog crate or carrier to contain your pup
  • Car seat covers
  • Pet wipes for muddy feet and other messes
  • An old towel to wipe your dog down if necessary

3.     Emergency Preparedness

To keep your trip going smoothly, it’s crucial to prepare for emergencies. Pack the following to keep your dog safe in any event:

  • Veterinary and vaccine records will give veterinarians information if they need to treat your dog. (Vaccine records and a dog license may also be required to enter some places with your dog.)
  • Car barrier to keep your dog in the back seat, so they don’t distract the driver
  • Crate, carrier, or seatbelt to keep your dog restrained in the car. Dogs can get hurt in an accident just like people—and they can even seriously injure a person if they fly into the front seat during an accident.
  • Dog first-aid kit to address problems immediately, especially when a vet clinic isn’t nearby. You can purchase these on Amazon, make your own, or even purchase one and add to it. We’ll talk more about what to put in a dog first-aid kit below.
  • Updated tag and microchip so that your dog is returned to you if lost. You’re going to be away from home, so make sure your phone number is listed as well as your address.
  • A recent photograph of your dog, either printed or on your phone. If your dog runs off, you can easily ask people nearby to keep their eyes out.

4.     The Perfect Itinerary

Before you go on your trip, map out your adventure. Choose pet-friendly hotels and attractions so that your dog can be involved in the fun (see also ‘Sharing A Hotel Room With Your Cat‘)!

Simple changes like eating outdoors where you can sit with your dog will make a big difference in their experience. After all, there’s not much point to bringing them just to leave them in the car!

If you must leave them alone for a period, ensure you have a plan for this, so you aren’t looking for solutions at the last minute. Don’t leave them in the hot car!

You’ll also want to look into veterinary clinics nearby in case of emergency. Try to find both regular clinics willing to take on new patients and emergency clinics.

Emergency clinics triage pets and often turn away those who aren’t in true crisis—but it’s possible that your dog could not be in dire enough need for an E.R. trip and also poorly enough that you don’t want to wait for your vet at home to see them.

Lastly, make sure you plan for those potty breaks! Your dog might have to go more often than the humans in the vehicle, especially if they’re a young pup or a small breed, as these dogs have smaller bladders and are less able to hold their pee or poop.

5.     Storage

You’ll need somewhere to keep all of these things, and you likely don’t want them strewn all over the vehicle. Instead, consider grabbing a bag specially made for traveling with pets, choosing a carrier or crate cover with large side pockets, or creating your own system.

Personally, I like using a large tote bag to contain all of my pup’s things on the go. It doesn’t have to be complicated!

You’ll also want to have some sealable containers  or baggies if you feed kibble or to use for storing your dog’s treats. These can be tucked into your bag or stored on their own in the trunk or even under the passenger seat. Make sure they’re easy to grab, not buried beneath other things.

It’s important to utilize every bit of space when packing up your vehicle as well. Try adding hanging storage  behind the seats or keeping lesser-used items on the floor beneath a dog hammock.

Small Dog Looking Out Car Window On Road Trip
Road Trip!

Extra Tips

Train Your Dog before the Trip—and Keep Realistic Expectations

Depending on what you do during your trip, there are several things your dog should know. These include:

  • Being in the car – This might mean crate training so that they don’t get upset when in their crate during the drive, or simply getting them used to being in the car for small periods before working up to driving to areas nearby. You don’t want your pup to be anxious or miserable during the road trip.
  • Socialization – Get your dog used to a variety of experiences, especially those you’re likely to encounter on your trip. Practice being around a variety of people, noises, environments, and other animals.
  • Potty training – It’s likely obvious that a puppy not yet potty-trained will give you some trouble during a road trip!
    But you might not have thought about how your grown dog is trained. Have you trained them to only pee on grass, for instance? Get them used to going on cement surfaces if you think it’ll be necessary during the trip.
  • Leash training – If you’re going to be letting your dog out to potty on busy roads or walking past others at the park, it’s important they’re leash trained and you can control them at all times—not by yanking on their leash and potentially injuring them, but through proper training.
  • How to be alone – If you’ll be leaving your dog alone on the trip, whether at a family member’s house, inside a camper, or at a boarding facility, they need to be taught how to be alone. Dogs with separation anxiety will struggle heavily on a road trip like this, especially being so far from home.
    Don’t leave your dog howling and barking for someone else to deal with! It’s also not fair to put your dog through this kind of stress. Make sure they can relax while alone, even in unfamiliar environments.

Lastly, remember to keep your expectations realistic for your dog. Don’t plan to bring your reactive dog into crowds, for instance, but instead look for more secluded areas to visit.

If you have a puppy, think about how many potty breaks and how much sleep they need each day, and keep in mind that they won’t have perfect manners or be able to exercise for long periods.

Think about things like your dog’s exercise tolerance as well—a Pug isn’t going to do well on a long, summer-time hike no matter how well they’re trained.

Schedule a Veterinary Appointment before the Trip

It’s vital to make sure your dog is healthy before you leave on your trip. This will reduce the chances of you finding out about an ailment while you’re gone, and then having to find a veterinarian and treat your dog on the road.

Your veterinarian can also advise you regarding vaccinations and parasite prevention. Some areas have different common pests or diseases.

For instance, in my area, Lyme disease is prevalent and dogs should be protected from ticks. Other areas may have a higher prevalence of heartworm.

Boarding facilities require vaccines to protect from illness as well, so it’s important to plan ahead of time. Contact any facility your dog will be staying at and follow up with your veterinarian to get the required vaccines.

Of course, you’ll also want to make sure your dog’s rabies vaccine is up to date and they’re treated with their regular parasite prevention medication. Don’t forget their meds at home if the trip will overlap with any monthly treatments!

Keep Your Schedule as Regular as Possible

Dogs love their routines. When you’re on your trip, try to keep your schedule similar to the one you have at home.

Feed and exercise your dog at the same time so that they have some clue what to expect, even if so many things are different.

Of course, it won’t be perfect—but going on a hike during your normal walk time is close enough to work.

Keeping bedtime and wake-up time the same, if possible, will also help your dog to adjust both to the trip and to going back home when it’s all over.

Even fun changes, like a road trip, can stress your dog out. This will help to reduce that stress.

Dog Riding in Car on Road Trip

Making Your Own Dog First-Aid Kit

According to Blue Cross and the American Kennel Club, here are some items you should pack in your dog’s first-aid kit:

  • 5 cm self-adhesive bandages
  • 2.5 cm conforming bandages
  • 5cmx5cm absorbent, non-adherent wound dressings
  • Surgical sticky tape
  • Cotton balls – for applying medications or cleaning small wounds
  • Sterile, absorbent gauze
  • Curved, blunt-ended scissors
  • Thick towel
  • Elizabethan collar (aka the “cone of shame”)
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Antibiotic spray or ointment
  • Milk of magnesia or charcoal – to absorb toxins in case your dog gets into something they shouldn’t (ask your veterinarian what dose should be given, or call the animal poison control hotline or a veterinarian before administering)
  • Thermometer
  • Tweezers
  • Magnifying glass
  • Syringes – to flush wounds (can also be used to administer medications so if your dog is on any, bring some extras!)
  • Flashlight
  • Muzzle – even calm dogs may lash out when injured, and a muzzle will keep everyone safe in a crisis
  • First-aid manual
  • Any medications your dog is currently on

Adventure Medical Kits Adventure Dog Series Me & My Dog Canine First Aid Kit
  • Human & Canine First Aid Essentials: Have peace of mind knowing you have the right safety essentials for you and your dog
  • SOL Emergency Blanket: Treat shock & hypothermia
  • Emergency Cold Pack: Reduce swelling of sprains and strains with the emergency cold pack
  • 10 CC Irrigation Syringe: Effectively clean wounds.
  • Splinter Picker: Safely remove splinters from your dog's paws and body

Consider Taking a Dog First Aid Class

A dog first-aid class is a good idea for all dog owners but is especially useful if you’ll be traveling to rural areas, going on hikes, or exposing yourself and your dog to other potential risks.

It might be the thing between life and death if you’re hiking in the middle of the woods with your dog, rather than in the city with a veterinarian down the block.

If you’re unsure where to find a class like this in your area, try asking your veterinarian! They’ll likely be able to point you in the right direction. Your local animal shelters might also have resources to help you.

Never Leave Your Dog in the Car

Most of us road trip in the summer months when the sun is shining. This means you have to be extra careful about leaving your dog in the car. Even a short time alone in the car can lead to heatstroke or even death for your pup.

In cooler weather, remember that the car can get much hotter than the temperatures outside. When it’s 70 degrees Fahrenheit outside, it can be up to 115 degrees inside of the car—and most of this heat accumulates in the first half-hour. Temperatures can reach 100 degrees within just twenty minutes!

If you must leave your dog in the car, only leave for up to five minutes at a time. If possible, have someone stay inside the car with them. For instance, you and your partner could take turns going to the bathroom while the other stays with the dog.

It’s important to note that opening a window won’t keep your dog from overheating. It can also cause other problems, like your dog being able to escape the car and run off in an unfamiliar environment.

Be responsible: if you’ve planned dog-free activities, leave your dog at home or find a boarding facility that will take them while you see the sights.

Some states even have laws preventing leaving your dog unattended in a car at all—and even more have laws to protect bystanders who break into the vehicle to save your dog from consequence, even if they have to bust through a window to do so.

Exercise your Dog Before You Leave

Right before you leave, take your dog for a walk or toss a ball around in the backyard. Get them tired out so that they want to sleep through the beginning of your trip.

This will keep the car ride peaceful—bonus points if your dog goes potty before leaving as well!

Bring Puzzle Toys to Entertain your Dog

Like children (and even adults!), dogs can easily become bored in the car. Even dogs who love rides might begin to wonder are we there yet? after a few hours.

Puzzle toys are great for keeping them occupied but you won’t want one that’s easily chewed or with compartments that’ll slide right open as the car turns.

Instead, try things that are more solid. A stuffed and frozen KONG toy or a frozen lick mat work great!

You can also try making some free, homemade enrichment activities, like:

  • Sprinkle kibble into a towel or blanket, then fold, twist, and tie it so that your dog has to work to find the food
  • Place food inside of a small cardboard box and tape it together for your dog to shred—you can also add more obstacles, like layers of paper or toilet paper rolls folded at the edges, to increase the difficulty (not recommended if your dog will eat the cardboard)
  • Toss a handful of kibble into the grass during a potty break

Record the Memories!

Don’t forget to capture all the magical moments you have with your dog along the way. Whether you want to bring a camera or capture a few photos on your phone, you’re sure to be glad later that you have something to look back on.

Last update on 2022-01-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API