Traveling With a Disabled Dog

One of the perks of having a disabled dog when traveling is that they are so grateful and enjoy themselves so much. Most dogs that have limited mobility don’t get a lot of outdoor vacation time so when they do get to go, they are very appreciative. There are a few things you can do to make your vacation accommodating to a disabled dog. We spent a week traveling Michigan with our dog Hoover who had no use of his back legs. He “ran” in the sand dunes, and relaxed in the shade while we swam. It was probably the highlight of his life!

Every trip starts with preparation. You’ll want to bring washable bedding (we used old towels), baby wipes, plastic sheeting (to protect hotel carpet), the usual dog dishes, food and water, and if your dog uses one, his wheelchair or sling, and of course any medicines he needs, a supply of paper towels for clean up, poop bags, and a large trash bag to store soiled bedding or used diapers. Other items you might consider are a ramp for assisting him in and out of your vehicle, perhaps a floor protector, a circular dog playpen to protect him from other curious dogs and in the hotel to contain him on the plastic, and disposable diapers if he is incontinent. Before you leave, particularly if your dog needs veterinary care occasionally for bladder infections or sores, is to make a list of veterinarians in the towns you’ll be visiting. There are several vet finder phone apps that are very useful for finding a vet on short notice when you don’t know the area, or for emergencies. Fill all prescriptions ahead of time and take your regular veterinarian’s phone number along. Also, make sure he’s wearing up to date ID tags and if diabetic or epileptic, note that on the tag.

When traveling, you’ll have to plan your stops around your dog if he still has bladder control. Make him a comfortable spot in your car where he can rest and see out the window if possible. If he has accidents, adult diapers with a hole for the tail and a few old towels under him will work well. When you stop for the night, a hotel that has direct access to outside is best. It’s easier than trying to navigate down a hallway or up stairs. Some hotels have suites intended just for pets that are away from the other guests and sometimes even have a kitchenette. They are often reasonably priced and do give you access to a small fridge for medicines, a larger sink for cleanup and food preparation, and a linoleum floor for accidents. When you arrive at your destination, prepare a space for your disabled dog by placing plastic on the floor or carpet, then some comfortable bedding on that, surrounded by the playpen if he’s a scooter. If your dog is incontinent, note where the local laundromats are so that you can take an hour or so to wash bedding if needed.

Plan your vacation destinations so that your dog can come with you. He will likely feel insecure and scared if left alone in a strange hotel room while you go out, so plan your trip for cool/moderate weather and places dogs are welcome. Beaches, dunes, parks, dog-friendly attractions (if your dog uses a cart), carry out, outdoor restaurants, or restaurants where you can watch the vehicle from the window on cool days are good choices. If you want to tour things like museums or other non-dog friendly attractions, you may want to bring someone along the dog is comfortable with to “babysit” while you explore. A dog with a cart can go almost anywhere a walking dog can go if there are ramps and access. If not, your babysitter might be glad to stay at the hotel and just chill with the dog rather than do something they might consider boring. Make sure your itinerary is planned ahead of time and everyone is on board with who will stay with the dog at certain attractions, and know which attractions he’s welcome at. Other options are kennels and daycare, but you’ll have to do your research and book ahead if you want to use those options. Make sure you let them know about your dogs’ disabilities when you call ahead. If you use those options, make sure all vaccinations for kennel cough are up to date and that your dog is in good health.

It’s always smart to call ahead to make sure dogs are welcome at state parks and scenic sights too. Hoover even helped us house hunt on that excursion. Since he couldn’t walk, we knew he couldn’t run off so would park him in the yard while we surveyed the property. He loved it! We would get carry out and picnic at lakes and parks while he hung out beside us. He loved the sand dunes – I’d put him in his sling and run along with him – he never realized his back legs weren’t working! If your dog uses a cart, there are all kinds of fenced fields and trails he can go with you on. There is even a ski attachment for certain carts so even winter excursions are easy to have him tag along, I suspect the ski attachment would work well in sand too!

Older dogs and disabled dogs can have sensitive stomachs. Some also are fecal incontinent so it’s important to keep his diet the same. You’ll be tempted to give him treats because you are having them (ice cream, french fries), but if he’s not used to them, it can cause stomach upset and even diarrhea – which is not fun on a vacation. Therefore, keep his schedule as close to normal as possible. Also, stress can cause upsets as well, so pay attention to when he’s had ‘enough’ and allow him rest if necessary.

In general, if you plan well, you’ll all have a blast. You might even become the celebrity because your dog is cruising around in his cart! People love their pets, and appreciate owners that go the extra mile to include their handicapped pets in family activities.