How often should I stop to walk my pet on a long car trip?

Jack Kerouac, author of "On the Road". See more pet pictures.
John Cohen/Getty Images

­There are few experiences as liberating as traveling on the open road. In the United States, it's been a source of legend. Long after expansion settled in the western states and the Eastern colonies had been consigned to the history books, Americans traveled east to west and vice versa. When the national interstate system was constructed in the 1950s, the going got a lot easier, and taking long trips by car became a national pastime. Indeed, author Jack Kerouac's impromptu road trips became the inspiration for his classic novel "On the Road." More recently, William Least Heat-Moon chronicled his own cross-country journey in his 1982 memoir "Blue Highways: A Journey Across America." Classic road trips in the United States don't necessarily have to stretch from one coast to the other: The authors of "The Great American Road Trip" only traveled one highway, but they traveled it from Maine all the way down to Florida.­

­There's somet­hing about hitting the highway with no particular place to go. Because of the freedom and variety road trips provide, many travelers bring their pets along. Traveling with a pet by car is much easier than any other form of travel, and spending one day playing in the snow-covered mountains and the next in the desert can be a delight for pets.

There are some considerations when traveling by car with your dog or cat, however. For instance, how often should you stop to for a walk on a long road trip? How often should you give your pet food and water? How do you keep your pet from dashing off into the wilderness? You can find out the answer to these questions, and some other tips as well.

Stop and Go Along the Way

This lucky dog gets to come along on a road trip. He should be in a pet seat with a restraint, however.
This lucky dog gets to come along on a road trip. He should be in a pet seat with a restraint, however.
Monika Wisniewska/iStockphoto

­When you travel by car with your pet, there are a few things you should know. Any time you have to use the restroom, you can simply stop. But your pet is a back seat driver at best, and you should consider its needs as well. After all, your cat or dog's bladder is smaller than ­yours, and your pet may need to relive itself more frequently than you. Then again, your dog or cat likely isn't sucking down a 44-ounce cup full of soda between bathroom breaks, so it may even out after all.

Still, to prevent pet accidents or discomfort on a road trip, experts suggest you stop every two hours to let your pet walk around and relieve itself [source: BusinessWire].

It's not difficult to locate a good place for your pet to do its thing; just about every gas station or shopping mall has a strip of lawn somewhere on the property. Many interstate rest stops feature designated areas for pets to relieve themselves. Regardless of where you stop, be sure to collect your pet's poop and throw it away in a garbage can. You may be breaking local laws if you don't, and it's inconsiderate to leave behind such an unpleasant gift for other travelers.

These rest stops also provide a chance to feed and water your pet. Give it just a little food and water during breaks, however. You don't want your pet to fill up and become uncomfortable between rest stops. Frequently feeding and watering in small amounts can also help prevent car sickness, especially in pets that aren't veteran road trippers.

You should also take the time to play with your pet during rest stops to help it burn off a little energy and have some fun. Tiring your dog or cat out will make the time between stops more enjoyable for both of you. You should always keep dogs and cats on leashes when stopping, however. There are few sights that can cause a deeper sinking feeling than watching your pet sprint into the woods along a highway in a state halfway across the country from your home. If you're bringing your cat along, train it on a leash long before you head out on the open road. A car trip is no place to begin leash training. (You can find a link to some helpful tips for leash training a cat on the next page.)

You should also consider purchasing an identification microchip for your pet before a road trip. These inexpensive chips are embedded beneath your dog or cat's skin. If you bring the chip to the pound or a vet, the chip can be scanned to provide your contact information. If your pet does run off, the chances increase that the two of you will be reunited. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) recommends microchipping your pet, although it points out that the technology required to read some chips isn't always up to date. The best combination to keep your pet safe and increase its chances of being returned to you is a microchip and up-to-date identification tags on a sturdy collar.

With tags and a microchip, you'll be confident when you make those stops every couple of hours to let your pet stretch and get a little relief.

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More Great Links

Sources

  • "Dog tip: car trips and car safety." Paw Rescue. Accessed January 5, 2009. http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_CarSafety.php
  • "How to leash train your cat." Howard County Cat Club. Accessed January 5, 2009. http://www.howardcountycatclub.org/leashtraining.html
  • "Microchips: common questions." Humane Society of the United States. September 14, 2006. http://www.hsus.org/pets/issues_affecting_our_pets/common_questions_about_microchips.html
  • "Pet butler offers useful tips for holiday travel with your pet." Business Wire. November 2, 2006. http://www.businesswire.com/portal/site/google/?ndmViewId=news_view&newsId=20061102005105&news>
  • "Traveling by car." Humane Society of the United States. November 17, 2006. http://www.hsus.org/pets/pet_care/caring_for_pets_when_you_travel/traveling_by_car.html