For many pet owners, the day inevitably arrives when you need to pack up the car and get your pets from point A to B. Depending on the length of your journey, and the kind of pet you’re traveling with, there are a few things to consider that will make your drive a safe and comfortable one for you and your passengers (human or animal).

Before the road trip

Before setting off on your journey, it’s important to make sure your car is in good shape. Stay up-to-date with your vehicle maintenance schedule and make sure you check your spare tire before hitting the road. For tips on doing basic car maintenance yourself, see our blog on Performing Basic Vehicle Checks.

If your vehicle is equipped with power windows, turn them off when driving with a pet in the car. Pets should be secured in a crate or harness, but if an unexpected situation arises, a paw can still slip to open or close a window.

When it comes to food, the ASPCA advises against feeding your pet in the car. Instead, they recommend feeding them a light meal three to four hours before departure.

If you’re going on a longer journey and this is your pet’s first time in the car, take them for a few test drives to get them used to the inside of the car and the feeling of being in a vehicle.

One risk of driving with a pet is the possibility of them getting loose en route. The SPCA recommends microchipping your pet, or you can buy them a collar with a GPS tracker. If you don’t have either of these, equip them in a temporary collar that has a cell phone number and back up number in case of emergency.

Brush up on local bylaws

Depending on the length of your trip and the destination, you should check the local bylaws for driving with pets, as they can change according to the province.

According to Section 72 of the B.C. Motor Vehicle Act and Section 9.3 of the B.C. Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, it’s against the law to travel with an unsecured pet in the back of a truck. If you absolutely must drive with your dog in the back of your truck, make sure they’re comfortably situated in a crate that’s secured in the centre of the truck bed.

Don’t leave your animal alone in the car

Even if the weather seems mild, never leave your pet in the car unattended. On cold days your vehicle can act like a refrigerator, trapping in the cold air and putting them at risk of freezing. On hot or even warm days, animals are susceptible to overheating, possibly leading to death. Dogs can’t release heat by sweating, like humans do, so their body temperature rises faster than humans.

Not only is leaving your pet alone in the car a danger to them, you can be criminally charged for it according to the Criminal Code of Canada and the provincial SPCA Act.

Pack a pet travel kit

Just like you should always drive with an emergency kit in your car (for tips on building yours, see our section on building a vehicle emergency kit here), you should always drive with a travel kit for your pet when an animal is aboard.

Here are some essentials that should be on your packing list:

  • Feeding dishes
  • Waste bags and scoop
  • Extra food and treats
  • Any medication your pet may need
  • Toys to make them feel at home
  • Leashes for when you reach your destination (and in case of car trouble)
  • Bottled water (letting them drink water from an area they’re not used to may upset their stomach)
  • A pet safe cleaner, paper towels and garbage bags in case your pet gets sick or has an accident in the car

Take breaks

Depending on the length of your journey, it’s important to take breaks to give your pet a chance to re-hydrate, stretch their legs and go to the bathroom. Experts say you should stop every two hours when driving with a dog in the car.

Secure your pet

Animals tend to get excited and move around when they’re loose in the car. While it’s not technically illegal to drive with your animal unrestrained, ICBC and the SPCA recommend keeping your pet secured at all times. Outfitting your pet in a harness or stowing them in a crate won’t just prevent them from being injured from an abrupt stop, it also helps prevent distracted driving.

Harnesses and Safety-tested crates

There is a huge variety of crates available for pets of all sizes. Whether you opt for a wire mesh, hard plastic or soft-sided carrier, make sure it’s big enough for your pet to stand, sit and turn around in. To get your pet used to their crate (and make sure your departure is as easy as possible) get them used to being in their carrier at home before your departure.