How much water should I give my pet during a car trip?

cat in suitcase
Don't want to leave your pet at home over vacation? Take it with yo­u. Check out these pet pictures.

­An estimated 41 million Americans traveled 50 miles (80 kilometers) or more by car for the 2008 Thanksgiving holiday [source: AAA]. These days, trekking 50 miles (80 kilometers) in a car doesn't take much more than an hour. And in that brief period, passengers -- human or animal -- shouldn't get too restless.

But let's say you want to go on a genuine, Jack Kerouac-style road trip, crossing state lines and keeping that odometer spinning round and round. You mapped out a route across interstate highways and roads, highlighting a handful of attractions and restaurants to visit along the way. You took the car to the mechanic for a routine inspection. You filled the gas tank, packed your bags and alerted the neighbors of your pending absence.


Now, what do you do about your pet? You don't want to leave it alone in the house or board it, so you decide to take your dog or cat along for the long haul. Traveling with a pet isn't terribly uncommon -- about half of pet owners report that they would do so [source: McGuire]. The merchandise available in pet stores reflects that trend as well. You can buy specialized carriers, hammocks, car seats, beds, toys and sedatives to ensure that your pet is as comfortable on the car trip as you are.

­Before you crank up the engine for a cross-country expedition, you should get your pet acclimated to automobile travel by taking it on shorter trips around town in the weeks beforehand. Why? Animals can get car sickness just like people, especially if they're going to be confined for an extended period of time. The anxiety of the new experience, as well as the motion, can cause nausea and sickness. Veteran car riders, however, have a lower chance of becoming queasy and uncomfortab­le. Food and water also contribute to your pet's well-being during a car trip. Feed it a light meal a few hours before heading out, rather than right before. That way, it should have enough time to digest its food and relieve itself, and your pet won't be hungry when you hit the road.

Your pet's dietary concerns don't stop when you pull out of the driveway. Of course, you want to take plenty of dog food or cat food with you, but don't forget about the importance of proper hydration.


Keeping the Traveling Pet Hydrated

dog with water bottle
Traveling pets should always have access to fresh water.

­Left to their own devices, cats will snack anywhere from 12 to 20 times per day [source: National Research Council]. Dogs, on the other hand, eat more in one sitting and will usually consume only one or two larger meals [source: National Research Council]. But when traveling, limit feeding to when the car is stopped. It isn't a good idea to feed a dog or cat food while your car is in motion because it promotes nausea. In a worst-case scenario with a queasy pooch, ice chips are a soothing, hydrating reliever [source: Helperin]. Over-the-counter stomach aids for pets can also help.

In the same way that people sip on water in between mealtimes, your pets like to do the same thing. During car trips, your dog or cat should have ready access to fresh water. How much should you bring along? T­here isn't a magic amount of water that's perfect for every animal. On average, dogs drink around 1 ounce (29 milliliters) of water per pounds of body weight every day [source: Covert]. Cats, on the other hand, lap up less water. To every gram of dry food, they drink only 0.06 ounces (2 milliliters) of water [source: National Research Council]. Rather than trying to calculate a precise figure, eyeball how much water your pet goes through in a normal day at home. Take that quantity -- and a little extra just in case -- to last for each day. Without adequate water, pets are more prone to becoming constipated and overheated.


When you're traveling for many days or weeks at a time, you may not wish to lug gallons of water around for your pet. However, avoid giving your pet tap water from the locations where you stop. Tap water in different places can upset their stomachs, like when you switch their food brands or formulas too suddenly. Instead, take enough water from home or bottled water to last a day or two, and gradually integrate local water into the supply. If you stick with bottled water, offer your pet the same brand throughout your trip to avoid any stomach irritation.

Just as there isn't an exact amount of water you should take for your pet, there also isn't a specific number of times you should give it water. The best idea is to carry a travel water bowl or dispenser so that the pets can drink whenever they need to. Proper hydration for your pet is particularly important if you're traveling during the hotter months. Even if the temperatures outside aren't sweat-inducing for you, they could be making your pet very uncomfortable. As a rule of thumb, if it's colder than 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12 degrees Celsius) or hotter than 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsuis), pay extra attention to your pet's comfort [source: Acker].

Traveling with a pet can give you a satisfying sense of companionship. But unlike doing so with a human friend or family member, your pet can't exactly request a pit stop or a swing through the nearest fast food joint. Plan ahead for your furry traveler's nutritional needs and pack plenty of its food and water for the journey. Build in time for walks and exercise. After all, if the journey is destination, you want it to be pleasant for everyone involved.


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More Great Links

  • "AAA Projects Slight Decline in Thanksgiving Travel for First Time Since 2002. AAA. Nov. 18, 2008. (Jan. 7, 2009)
  • Acker, Elaine G. "Pet First Aid & Disaster Response Guide." Jones & Bartlett Publishers. 2008. (Jan. 7, 2009)
  • Covert, Stephen J. "Feeding the Dog." University of Missouri Extension. October 1993. (Jan. 7, 2009)
  • Helperin, Joanne. "Top 10 Tips for Traveling with Dogs." Edmunds. (Jan. 7, 2009)
  • McGuire, Judy. "Luxury Pet Travel." Forbes Traveler. March 19, 2008. (Jan. 7, 2009)
  • "Top 10 Tips for Safe Car Travel With Your Pet." American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. (Jan. 7, 2009)
  • "Traveling With Your Pet." American Veterinary Medical Association. (Jan. 7, 2009)
  • "Your Cat's Nutritional Needs." National Research Council. June 24, 2006. (Jan. 7, 2009)
  • "Your Dog's Nutritional Needs." National Research Council. June 24, 2006. (Jan. 7, 2009)