Traveling With a Senior Dog

Travelling with a Dog

A few weeks ago, I found out a friend of mine was moving cross country with her elderly dog. I asked her to write about her experiences here.

Traveling with a senior dog
By Guest Blogger, Susan Geary

Our dog Emily has been a part of our family for the past 14 1/2 years. We’ve moved several times across the country in that time, and she has always moved with us. But even though Emily was an experienced traveler, we were faced with new challenges due to her age. Here is what we did to alleviate stress for us and our senior dog during a recently cross-country move from Phoenix, Arizona, to Roanoke, Virginia.

Planning and Packing

Because Emily has moved several times with us, she knows what’s going on long before the car trip. She sees the suitcases! She also has her own which contains food and water bowls, treats, poop bags, a brush, nail clippers, flea and tick protection, vet and microchip information, and anything else needed to keep her alive and well. If you’re contemplating a similar move, don’t forget ample towels for muddy feet and wet fur during the rainy season.

Seasonal Weather

We have moved with Emily in the heat of the summer, early spring, early fall, and this time in late January. We found the January trip to be the easiest for several reasons. . .most notably because by this time, we were pretty experienced travelers. We kept a close eye on the weather and were able to avoid huge winter storms. None of us, or our vehicles, was subjected to extreme hot weather conditions that we dealt with during summer time treks. We didn’t have to worry about leaving Emily in the car if we ran into Walmart for an item. Additionally, in late January, the hotels were empty, and interstate road traffic was fairly light. We had alternate plans in case of inclement weather. The last thing anyone wants is to be stuck in a snow storm, especially with your beloved pets.

Food and Water

Be sure to carry enough food and water for the trip. At home, my husband would always cook for Emily. For this trip he packaged chicken and rice, froze individual meals, and then microwaved as needed from the hotel room every night. The chicken stayed frozen in the car because January temperatures dipped below freezing at night. In hotels without freezer space, we left the cooler in the car.

During summer road trips, we would grab a Subway sandwich or a salad at a truck stop and then take it to a rest area so we could all get out of the car and eat together. We noticed on our recent trip that a lot of the rest areas posted signs “no pets in picnic areas”. In January, it was too cold for a roadside picnic so instead we would find a Sonic or other drive through and eat in the car.

Hotel Accommodations

La Quinta, Red Roof Inn, and Motel 6 are uber pet friendly with uncarpeted floors in most of their pet rooms and no additional charge for the pet. We also stayed at Super 8 and Hawthorn Suites, where pet charges ranged from $10-$15 per pet per night. It’s important to let the hotel clerk know you have a dog. Whenever possible, ask for a room on the first floor close to an exit. You will want that for middle of the night fast potty breaks. Never try to sneak in a dog. Some hotel properties will charge an extra $250 for not declaring an animal. Call ahead and ask about their pet policy. Some hotels only have so many pet friendly rooms and they sell out quickly. Bring your pet’s bed along. Our dog never slept in the bed with us, so in the hotel it was no different.

If your dog barks a lot, use the hotel to train for a “softer bark.” We always insisted on good behavior and taught Emily to do a “motel bark.” That’s where she was allowed to alert us that strangers were on the other side of the door, but not in a loud, nuisance kind of way. Much like the Soft Dog.

Dealing with incontinence

Emily started becoming incontinent about 8 months ago. Reusable under-pads became our friend. Mostly used in nursing homes, you can purchase them from Amazon for about $10-$20. Walmart sells them as well. Emily was good about laying on them, and whenever she had an accident she would get up and move to the floor. Then we’d change the pad and she’d move back. We brought 5 of them with us for our trip and made sure to choose hotels that had guest laundry facilities. Bringing a good amount of quarters and laundry soap also saved me the hassle of fetching change at the hotel front desk, especially when they were busy checking in other guests at the end of the day. The idea is to hit the laundry room before everyone else so you don’t have to wait for an empty washer. Then you can tend to your dog’s other needs. This includes feeding and watering, a potty break, and setting up their bed for the night.

Drive Time

We kept our driving to about 4-6 hours per day, or 250-325 miles depending on speed limits and amount of food and potty breaks for humans and critters alike. Most of the rest areas offer doggy poop bags, but it’s recommended you carry your own in case they are out. A lot of times are they are. In our 4Runner, we gave Emily ample space to stand up, turn around, and lay down. She was never big on being crated, so instead, we secured any items in the cabin so they wouldn’t go flying into her should we stop suddenly. Bungie cords kept our luggage secure.

Ramps/Mobility Aids

We acquired a ramp to help Emily get in and out of the truck about 3 1/2 years ago when it became obvious she could no longer jump into the back of our 4Runner. The ramp worked out nicely until she became incontinent and couldn’t wait for it to be attached to the tail gate. During this move, my husband Jackson lifted her in and out of the truck.

Senility / Confusion

Like people, dogs can become senile and process information slower. Emily is deaf so we used hand signals with her. New environments, such as a different hotel room every night confused her a bit, although she adapted well because she was already a well-traveled dog. It was helpful that we didn’t leave her alone. We always ordered food to-go so she wouldn’t be unattended in a hotel room or car.

In summary, traveling with a senior dog can be done successfully by planning ahead.

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