Whether it's a vacation, visiting family or moving house, sometimes long journeys by car are unavoidable. Since it can be exhausting for dogs and their owners alike, we would like to give you some tips and tricks to make these trips together as pleasant as possible.
In this post, we'll look at various aspects of a long car trip with your dog, such as proper preparation, gear, safety, planning breaks, and activities to make your furry companion's time in the car as comfortable as possible.
Table of contents
About our trip
We are going to Sweden for a workation. Our destination is Swedish Lapland, more precisely Kiruna. This is right on the Arctic Circle and with a bit of luck and good weather conditions you can see the Northern Lights between September and March.
It is over 3000 km from Basel to Kiruna, which means a 46-hour drive. So that it remains pleasant for us and the dogs, we plan several stops: Hamburg, Malmö and Stockholm. After Stockholm there are 1-2 more spontaneous stops. When traveling from Switzerland to Sweden, we pass through Germany, Denmark and finally enter Sweden.
With a dog, this means that you have to observe the entry regulations or transit regulations of the respective countries for traveling with a dog. Special entry regulations often apply to so-called list dogs. Which breed is defined as a list dog is defined differently by each country. So the Rottweiler may be considered a list dog in some countries, but not in others. You can find the best and most random information either on the website of the country's customs or mainly on the website of the Ministry of Agriculture. Find out in good time about the entry regulations of your holiday destination and the countries that you will be passing through with your dog.
Our packing list
Traveling with your dog means equipping yourself for all eventualities. Often you don't even know what situation you expect abroad in terms of veterinary care, zoological products such as dog food or even smaller accessories such as poop bags. We always travel according to the motto: "It's better to take it with you than you need it". For distant travel destinations, sufficient provisions for food and a first-aid kit are also useful, as well as equipment that you need on site. Of course, many things are individual or dependent on the respective holiday destination.
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Preparation for the long journey
Are you planning to go on vacation with your dog? Then you will hardly be able to avoid the thought of planning a car trip with your dog. Taking your dog with you to your holiday destination in the car has many advantages. Unlike the plane, your dog can travel close to you and doesn't have to travel in a crate in the luggage compartment. Dog owners of smaller dogs weighing up to 6 kg can sometimes even take their dog with them into the passenger compartment of the aircraft. For dogs over 6 kg body weight, this option is not available and can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. Listed dogs are either not allowed on the plane at all or only under special conditions. Also, the train is not always an option, so for long journeys, the car is the best and most flexible option. Personally, we deliberately chose a bus so that we have enough storage space and enough space for the dogs. They can snuggle up in their seat and get up and stretch properly if necessary. With the car, you can plan the stages and breaks or adjust them spontaneously, depending on how you and your dog are doing. Otherwise, you are free to decide which and how much luggage you take with you. With dogs and depending on the travel destination, this can sometimes be more, sometimes less additional luggage.
Visit to the vet
Before embarking on a long drive, it's important to have your dog checked out by a veterinarian. Make sure all vaccinations are up to date and your dog is in good health. If necessary, discuss possible solutions for motion sickness or stress with the veterinarian. Don't forget to take your dog's vaccination card and all important medical documents with you.
In Europe there are some country-specific diseases that can affect dogs. Here is a list of some countries and their respective diseases to watch out for:
Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Southern France:
- Leishmaniasis: A parasitic infection transmitted by sandflies that can cause skin changes, weight loss, and organ failure.
- Babesiosis: A tick-borne disease that can cause fever, loss of appetite, and anemia.
- Dirofilariasis (heartworm): A mosquito-borne disease that can cause heart and lung problems.
Eastern Europe (e.g. Poland, Hungary, Romania):
- Canine Ehrlichiosis: A tick-borne disease that can cause fever, lethargy, and a tendency to bleed.
Scandinavia (e.g. Sweden, Norway, Finland):
- Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE): A viral disease that can cause neurological symptoms such as incoordination, paralysis, and seizures.
- Canine Lyme disease: A tick-borne bacterial infection that can cause joint pain, fever, and lethargy.
- Alabama Red: A rare but potentially fatal disease that causes skin lesions and kidney failure.
Germany, Austria, Switzerland:
- Canine Disease (Lyme Disease): As in the UK, this tick-borne bacterial infection can cause joint pain, fever and lethargy.
safety in the car
In road traffic, the dog is considered a load and it is mandatory for loads to be adequately secured to prevent them from slipping, falling over, rolling back and forth and falling - especially in the event of an emergency stop or a sudden evasive movement. If this is not the case, it can result in a fine.
There are several ways to secure a dog in the car:
- seat belt: A dog seat belt can be attached to the back seat or in the back seat to keep the dog safe while driving.
- Pet crate: A carrier can be used to transport the dog safely and conveniently in the car. There are different types of transport boxes, some are suitable for the trunk and others for the back seat.
- Dog fence: A dog guard can be used to secure the dog in the trunk and prevent it from coming forward.
- dog seat: A special dog seat for the car can be used to transport the dog in the car safely and comfortably.
It is important to note that the choice of belay option depends on the size and weight of the dog and the space available in the car.
- Car window protection and sun protection: Car window guards are designed to allow your dog to enjoy fresh air while driving without the risk of jumping out or injuring themselves a practical solution. They allow the window to be opened partially without your dog being able to stick out. In addition, a Sun protection on the side windows help to keep the temperature in the car comfortable and protect your dog from direct sunlight.
Also think of other helpful items like a collapsible water bowl to offer your dog water on the go, or a cooling mat to keep them nice and cool on hot days. A well-packed travel bag with food, treats, toys, poop bags and any necessary medication completes the equipment for a long drive with your dog.
Tips for long car journeys with a dog
Before the car ride
Even before the car journey even begins, some dogs experience stress unconsciously. This can be due to preparation and insufficient or inappropriate exercise causing the dogs to have trouble resting during the ride. Fortunately, you can set the right impulses in advance of the trip and by keeping your dog busy to ensure that your car journey together is as pleasant as possible.
Packing, loading the car and planning: dogs perceive the increasing excitement. While some dogs are just excited about what's coming up, it can get other dogs completely excited. So if you notice your dog feeling over-excited and stressed, you can offer them something to calm them down or keep them busy. This can be a stuffed food toy or a licking mat.
Before a long drive, your dog should if possible Don't eat anything for 4 hours, so that he does not get sick while driving. For particularly early departures, we plan several smaller portions throughout the day. For example, if we leave at 6 a.m., then of course we don’t set the alarm at 2 a.m. to feed the dogs. In such a case, we divide the daily ration into 4-5 portions and the dogs receive one portion before departure and the small "bites" distributed again and again as a search game during a break at the service area or just like that.
Employment & Utilization
Before driving, we recommend one long walk with your dog. You shouldn't exhaust your dog or let him "boost" him by playing ball games. Rather sit up Movement in terms of dexterity, balance or climbing. This allows your dog to be physically active and prevents unnecessary endorphin release. At the same time, your dog must concentrate on exercises and movements that require concentration. The mental workload means that your dog can rest better during the car ride. In addition, you can walk your dog through intensive nose work in the form of a dummy search or scattering of feed.
Your dog should always be transported safely in the car and according to the regulations. It is very helpful to make the dog place a little more cuddly. It helps many dogs to snuggle up comfortably while driving. Take your favorite blanket or spot with you so you can support your dog. In our experience, it is more comfortable for our dogs if they have a small, cuddly dog space than a lot of freedom of movement. Dog crates are safe for your dog transport, but can create more anxiety for many dogs. Specially made transport cushions with a belt system can be a good alternative.
Management also includes travel time. If you travel in summer, it can be very tiring for your dog, depending on the car. For example, early evening rides are more comfortable for many dogs in the summer. In addition, each dog has its own "active time". Use what you know about your dog to use the active time for the walk and only go when your dog would be dozing anyway.
Not every dog tolerates long car journeys. Some dogs get upset by the car ride, others find the car stressful in general, or the noise of the car scares your dog.
Scheduled feeding before the car trip can already help to trigger unnecessary nausea in the dog. If that doesn't help, you can seek help from a veterinarian. There are various natural and chemical remedies that can help your dog with this. We recommend that you always test active ingredients a few times over short distances beforehand. It doesn't always have to be something that requires a prescription, but sometimes natural remedies are enough. In other cases, however, the natural remedy does not work, then your dog needs something else. Support your dog with the gift of resources as much as necessary and as little as possible. That is individual.
In the case of stress and fear of noise, a consultation with a veterinarian can also help to find out which remedy can help your dog when driving. Natural remedies like CBD, Zyklene, Adaptil or valerian can be enough to give your dog a relaxing journey. Something like this should always be administered days to weeks in advance. The testimonials are very different. If none of this helps, then your vet should advise you on finding the right remedy for your dog. Danger! Please make sure that your dog does not receive any sedatives (e.g. active ingredient acepromazine) from the veterinarian. Typical sedatives are Vetranquil, Sedalin, Calmivet and Prequillan. They have strong side effects and cause your dog to remain mentally scared but physically unable to respond. Maybe you've had a nightmare where you were terrified but just couldn't move. horror show, right? Yes, and so is your dog with a sedative. So anything but helpful, because you stress your dog even more and stir up his fear.
During the car ride
Vacation means relaxation - it should! We therefore recommend that you plan your travel route generously so that you plan enough stops. This helps you not to get hectic and offers your dog sufficient balance. We plan daily trips of 5 to 6 hours for us. It's comfortable for us to drive and it's not too long for the dogs. We either plan the route to the destination in advance, with hotels, or we make spontaneous stops with our van and sleep in the car.
Breaks are very individual. Dogs that snuggle up in the car and sleep comfortably don't need to take a pee break every 2 hours. Dogs, on the other hand, who don't like driving very much, need a short stop every 2-3 hours. It doesn't have to be long walks. 10 minute stops are enough. Your dog will easily be able to put up with the lack of exercise in one day. Danger! You should always keep your dog on a leash at the rest area. This is respectful of other people and dogs, and safer for your dog. The hustle and bustle at a rest stop can quickly lead to an unexpected situation. While dogs can easily go a few hours without food, they need enough fluids. Use every break to offer your dog some water. More common in summer than in winter.
Planning and executing a long car ride with your dog may seem like a challenge at first. But if you take the right steps and pay attention to your dog's needs, the journey can be a memorable and enjoyable experience that strengthens the bond between you two.
Proper preparation is the key to success. Make sure your dog is physically and mentally balanced before you get in the car. A suitable movement unit and mental activity help to release excess energy and reduce stress. Create an itinerary that takes into account both your and your dog's needs, including appropriate breaks and rest periods.
While driving, it is important that your dog feels safe and secure. The right equipment, such as safety harnesses, dog harnesses or carriers, will help ensure your dog is comfortable and safe throughout the journey. Otherwise, you should provide appropriate activities to keep your dog mentally stimulated during the drive and to help him stay relaxed.
Don't forget to be aware of any possible health risks that may lurk in different countries in Europe and consult a vet before traveling to ensure your dog is protected against country-specific diseases.
By following these tips and paying attention to your dog's well-being, you will lay the foundation for a successful and relaxed drive. You will explore new places together, create unforgettable memories and further strengthen your special bond with each other. Have a safe trip and have fun on your adventures together!
Do I have to take my dog to the vet before driving?
It is recommended that you consult a veterinarian before a long car trip to ensure your dog is healthy and fit to travel. The vet can also check that all vaccinations are up to date and provide travel recommendations if necessary.
How do I get my dog used to driving?
Getting used to driving is best done gradually. Start with short rides and gradually increase the duration. Reward your dog with positive reinforcement and create a comfortable environment in the car. Make sure your dog feels safe and comfortable
What equipment do I need for a safe car ride?
For a safe car ride with your dog you need safety harnesses or dog belts, a transport box or a car cover, car window protection and sun protection. It is important that the equipment fits properly and provides your dog with sufficient safety and comfort.
How often should breaks be taken?
Breaks should be taken regularly to allow your dog exercise and relief. It is recommended to take a short break every two to three hours to allow your dog to stretch their legs and relieve themselves. If your dog sleeps the entire car ride or not, a break isn't necessary. Pay attention to your dog and its individual break needs.
What should I give my dog to eat and drink while driving?
It's important to offer your dog plenty of water during the ride to keep them hydrated. However, solid meals should be avoided before the trip as this can potentially lead to motion sickness. Light snacks and small portions are good choices while driving.
How can I keep my dog busy while driving?
You can keep your dog busy with various activities such as chew toys, intelligence toys or treat balls while driving. These provide mental stimulation and help keep your dog calm and relaxed.
What can I do if my dog suffers from motion sickness?
If your dog is prone to motion sickness, there are a few steps you can take. You can't feed your dog before driving, offer him enough fresh air in the car. However, it is best to talk to your veterinarian about possible solutions beforehand.
How can I protect my dog from stress while driving?
To reduce stress while driving, create a calm and relaxed atmosphere in the car. Avoid loud noises and hectic movements. Distraction and positive reinforcement through toys, treats, and soft voices can also help calm your dog.
Are there any special regulations for traveling abroad with a dog?
Yes, each country has specific regulations for traveling with a dog. Find out in advance about the entry requirements of the destination country, including the necessary documents such as EU pet passport, vaccination card and possible quarantine regulations. Don't forget that certain rules for importing and exporting animals may also apply when traveling across borders within the EU.