Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Buckle Up, Pup!

Pet Column for the week of May 12, 2008

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Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ashley Mitek
Information Specialist

There's no way you could last a week at the beach without your pet, so it looks as though you'll be hitting the road with a furry passenger for a few hours. Dogs and cats may have similar needs to your children in the car, but there are a few differences, though subtle, to keep in mind.

Although you will not be pulled over by a police officer if you don't, "it might be a good idea to invest in a pet-friendly seat-belt," advises Dr. Melissa Riensche, a former small animal medicine resident at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. It is always recommended that you travel with your pets crated or restrained for the safety of both the animal in case of an accident, and the driver not having to deal with their pet jumping on them. But if this just is not possible, Dr. Riensche has an alternative.

She notes that her cats absolutely hate being in a carrier while traveling, so she allows them to take a seat in the car. But she does leave a harness and leash on them so if they sneak out when she stops for gas, they can more easily be caught.

If you've never traveled with your pet, it's a good idea to do a few test runs to make sure they enjoy the ride and don't get carsick. Even if they do have some degree of motion sickness, the FDA recently approved Cerenia, the first non-sedative drug specifically used for dogs prone to carsickness. If you plan to transport your pet in a carrier, make sure they are accustomed to it. A great way for your pet to associate good things with car rides, or going into his carrier, is to feed it there regularly.

Unfortunately, the FDA has not approved a sedative drug for use in children on long road trips, but they have for dogs and cats. Obviously, if your pet doesn't mind car travel, then there is no need for drugs. On the other hand, if they like car rides as much as your cat enjoys a bath, then leave them at home if possible.

However, if you must bring your pet, "and you know your dog is a nervous Nellie in the car, then talk to your veterinarian about sedation" to make the trip more enjoyable for you and your pet, says Dr. Riensche. Although all drugs have side effects, sedatives can be safely used in most pets. She recommends testing the drug your veterinarian prescribes at least one time at home to make sure your pet handles it well.

"Sedative drugs do alter your animal's ability to regulate body temperature and pant" notes Dr. Riensche. That's why it is important the animal is never left unattended in the car, especially in hot weather.

As far as food and water go, the doctor recommends having water available at all times and to feed a smaller meal than usual in the morning. Once you arrive at your destination, you can feed your pet a bit more.

Although there is significantly more paperwork for air travel, there are interstate travel regulations for all states in this country. To learn more about the specific requirements for the state to which you are traveling, visit

Some states require a health certificate from a veterinarian and/or proof of a rabies vaccination within a certain time frame.

As always, contact your local veterinarian if you have questions, and buckle up!