Road Trip!
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Road Trip!

If your pet is tagging along on your summer vacation, follow these tips to keep him happy and healthy in the car.

The car's all packed. You hop in, start the ignition, crank up the radio and -- whoops, suddenly the dog is in your lap. Or the cat's throwing up in the backseat. Not a good way to kick off your holiday.

But taking your pet along with you can be fun -- and for many animal owners it's essential. According to a 2009 report from the U.S. Travel Association, 18 percent of adult travelers usually vacation with their pets. In a lot of ways traveling with them is easy: Rental cottages and campgrounds often accept furry travelers, and many hotels are rolling out the red carpet for them, too. Advance planning is key to a successful experience en route. We talked to top experts about how to keep a road trip fun and safe for the four-legged members of your family.

Think it through. As much as you'd love to have your pet join you, consider how well he deals with unfamiliar environments and new, possibly scary situations. "Think about whether or not your pet would enjoy or benefit from taking the trip," says Louise Murray, DVM, director of medicine at the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, in New York City. "It might be kinder to leave him home with a family member or a pet sitter."

Check with your vet. If you decide your pet's up for the adventure, make sure his shots are current and ask your vet about how to prevent any illnesses he could be exposed to. You may also want to ask about using sedatives or anti-nausea medicines to keep him more comfortable on the trip. Your vet can go over the pros and cons: With sedatives, for example, an animal might become excitable instead of relaxed or may be more prone to falling down in his crate. Scope out animal hospitals in the area where you'll be staying so you're prepared in an emergency; lists locations accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association. Bring proof of your pet's immunizations, copies of his medical history, and your vet's contact information, just in case.

Bring proper ID. Outfit your pet with a temporary write-on identification tag that includes phone numbers for friends or family members in case he gets lost and you're unreachable. And consider getting him a microchip. It's a simple, inexpensive procedure -- less than $50 -- that can be done at the vet's. Since cats are safest in a breakaway collar, a microchip can be essential. Services like HomeAgain and the AKC's Companion Animal Recovery program offer lost-pet alerts, 24/7 hotlines, and assistance in sending your found pet back home.

Plan Ahead

Do some pre-trip training. Make sure your pet is well socialized so she can cope with any strangers she may meet en route. And get her used to some of the travel-related experiences she'll have while on your family vacation. "If the only time your dog rides in the car is to go to the veterinarian, she's not going to like it much," says Bernadine Cruz, DVM, an associate veterinarian at Laguna Hills Animal Hospital, in Laguna Woods, California. "Get her in and just sit in the driveway without going anywhere. Put a treat or toy in the car so she associates it with good things."

Your pet's carrier should be her portable safe haven, so be sure she's comfortable with that, too. "Put the carrier out in your house so it's not only familiar to her, but it's something she likes," says Dr. Murray. "It shouldn't be, 'Here's this scary box I'm shoving you into' right before you leave."

Pack his bags. Bring a traveling kit including food, grooming supplies, a favorite toy, and food and water bowls (there are nifty folding ones now available). Fill a large plastic bottle with water to keep your pet well hydrated. Bring along his bed or blanket to ease the transition. If you have a cat, don't forget a portable litter box; for your dog, bring a leash, a waste scoop, and plenty of disposal bags.

Follow road rules. Don't let your dog ride with his head hanging out a car window -- wind or debris could damage his eyes and ears. If your pet's in a carrier, be sure it's secured with a seat belt: In an accident your three-pound Chihuahua could turn into a deadly projectile. The American Automobile Association recommends confining bigger pets to a crate or to the backseat, secured with a pet harness that attaches to the seat belt. Give your pet a light meal four to six hours before you set out on your trip to avoid motion sickness. And when you pull over for potty breaks, give your dog one, too: AAA advises stopping every two to four hours to let a dog stretch its legs and empty its bladder. Cats should be given the opportunity to use their litter box periodically on long trips. And above all, don't leave your pet in a parked car when it's warm out. Even with windows cracked the temperature inside your vehicle can rise to more than 120 degrees F. in minutes.

Traveling Circus

These readers took their pets along for a ride -- and got more than they bargained for.

Traveling Circus
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"Our Tonkinese cat serenaded my husband and me across five states because the medication for his car anxiety didn't work." -- Terri Persico Rimmer, Fort Worth, Texas

Traveling Circus
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"When our collie was a puppy, she was in the backseat while my dad was driving. All of a sudden she tried to get up front with us -- she had pooped back there and wanted to get away! My dad's response? 'It's okay, it's your mother's car.'" -- Kath Scullion, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Traveling Circus
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"My Old English sheepdog once knocked the hand brake off in my dad's car, which crashed into a brand-new Range Rover!" -- Katie Diffin, Halifax, United Kingdom