Gas prices are lower than they’ve been in years, meaning more Americans likely will take family road trips this year. And many of them will be making the journey with one or more pets in tow.

The first consideration when taking a pet over the proverbial river and through the woods, according to VetIQ.com, is to determine whether a dog or cat is in fact welcome at one’s destination, whether it’s a hotel or relative’s house. Then there’s the issue of whether or not a pet is fit for travel. Health is an obvious concern, but so is the pet’s demeanor; spending hours confined in a vehicle with an unduly distressed or carsick pet is no fun for all parties concerned. Most cats don’t enjoy car travel on a good day. See a veterinarian if you think your pet will benefit from sedatives or anti-nausea medication.

Otherwise, experts suggest owners feed their pets lightly before disembarking and provide fresh water along the way for longer trips, but only when the vehicle is stopped to avoid spillage. Be sure to bring along a comfortable mat or bed and a favorite toy to help make the trip less stressful for them. And ensure the pet is wearing an ID tag with your name, address, and phone number in case he or she gets loose at some point and wanders off.

If it’s a particularly long trip and if you’re traveling with one or more dogs, make frequent rest/exercise stops en route; cat owners should bring along small disposable litter boxes created for such situations. If you’ll be encountering colder weather, bring extra blankets for yourself and your pet in case of a breakdown, or if your vehicle slides off the road in a storm.

But all sources we consulted agree that it’s paramount to properly restrain a pet passenger in a carrier or kennel (the latter with a harness) that’s appropriate for his or her size and is secured at the rear of the vehicle. This is both for the safety of both the pet and human occupants in a crash and to minimize potentially perilous driver distractions.

Driving with an unrestrained pet in the car is not only distracting, but a serious safety concern for both passengers and pets. A 65-pound dog traveling close to 35 mph can become a deadly projectile having a kinetic energy equivalent to a 750 pounds weight falling on your foot from a height of 3.5 feet. If a pet strikes an occupant during a crash the results could be devastating.

And even if you’re riding with the smallest of unrestrained cats, it’s neither fun for the feline, nor pleasant for passengers should Tiger or Lucy come flying forward in a panic-braking situation with claws out.

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