[Ask the Vet] Reducing your pet’s anxiety when traveling

Whether you’re planning a road trip with your family or headed to the vet’s office, there is nothing more disturbing to an animal guardian than dealing with a nervous pet when traveling. What I often recommend to clients is to take pets on short car trips for 10-15 minutes at a time so their pets can get used to trips away from home. Most pets with travel anxiety usually manifest symptoms within a few minutes of beginning travel. Symptoms can vary; while some pets may become restless and pant, others will drool and even vomit when commencing travel.

While there are certain pharmaceuticals that may help lessen anxiety and stress, I usually prefer trying increasing time in the car and some natural remedies before resorting to drugs. One of the best natural products I have found to help take the edge off for many pets is the flower essence Be Serene. Another option is ThunderEssence, a blend of natural essential oils that has a calming effect on dogs; it comes in drops or a spray form that you can use directly on your dog, in the car or travel carrier to soothe your pet. Anxitane is an over-the-counter medication that comes in a tasty chew that can help calm an anxious dog or cat. A different approach you can consider is a Comfort Zone Calming Collar which releases calming pheromones to ease your dog’s anxiety during stressful situations. When used before trips and periodically as needed during travel, these natural remedies may often work to resolve many anxiety symptoms. The homeopathic remedy cocculus when used in 30c potency shortly before and during travel may help decrease travel-induced nausea.

Other common over-the-counter medications including Benadryl or Dramamine may also help on certain occasions. In more serious cases of travel anxiety or car sickness, prescription drugs such as Acepromazine or Cerenia may help resolve unwanted reactions.

When traveling with your pet, safety should always be a top priority. An unrestrained pet can become a dangerous projectile if you must come to a sudden stop, potentially resulting in serious injury to you or your pet. A nervous cat or an excited dog roaming the car is a distraction to the driver, and can even cause an accident should the pet get around the foot pedals. If you use an appropriate travel pet carrier, your pet will feel a sense of security and everyone in the vehicle will be safer. Nowadays, there are many different types of carriers available so it should be easy to find one that is the perfect fit for your pet, your car, and your specific travel plans. Just as you acclimate your pet to traveling with short trips, you should take time to get your pet used to his or her new carrier. If your car won’t accommodate a carrier or if your pet enjoys the view during a drive, there are other options to keep your pet safely restrained such as a vehicle safety harness or for smaller pets, a pet booster seat.

With a little advance planning, you can ensure the next road trip with your four-legged copilot is safer and more relaxing for everyone!



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  1. I have a 3 yr female that loved car rides till one day it was raining and we hit a big rain puddle !! And now she is scared to death to get in the car!! It’s very upsetting to me and the vet put her on Xanax to use sometimes!! What should I do to get my Lola but in her happy car mood ?? I hate giving her drugs

  2. Do you have any remedies for cats who stress out during car rides. My cat had a seizure the third time he took the prescription meds for this purpose. Also, any safety items for cats? Or are they just too wriggly.

  3. I too, have a cat that has crate/car anxiety. I’d love to hear some suggestions as to reduce this. Once it gets warmer hopefully I’ll be able to take him on some car rides, maybe that’ll help.

  4. When we leave our cats home alone for short periods, we open the large kennel and leave some snacks in the back and some catnip on the scratch pad in it. (They always get excited when we open the kennel…and jump right in.)

    So, when we need to transport them to the vets, we just put some snacks in a little pan in the back, and they load right up. This helps to reduce anxiety for the car ride also.

    We used to do this with our horses also. By feeding them sometimes in the trailer, they were always willing to load when we needed to travel.

  5. My dog already has anxiety separation. When ever we leave she tears up the house. We would like to take her in the car.Will she be extra anxious ? What do you recommend for home and on the road. We prefer not to cage her, but we will in the last straw. help.

  6. I have a Boykin Spaniel & he anxiety fears in the car (trucks & buses). I working on that. BUT he gets crated whenever I leave the house. He has blankets, a treat & one of his toys. A crate becomes their safe haven. When I try to get in to straighten his blankets, he tries to come in with me. It becomes his domain. Plus it’s safe for them.

  7. I have a very similar story with my dog and would be interested in feedback or comments on how to help this. I’ve tried the whole 10 to 15 minute conditioning ride (we go to Starbucks together almost every morning) but it hasn’t helped. He also FREAKS out if I pull up somewhere and he thinks I’m getting out of the car. The only time I ever do that is for 2 to 3 minutes like if I decide to run in to get coffee and not go through the drive through (and never when it’s warm outside). Would love any pointers for this same scenario…when a dog used to like the car until there was a small accident/incident.

  8. Cuddles had 5 puppies yesterday but one of them was born dead so she has 4 beautiful babies and taking good care of them

  9. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJanuary 2, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    Separation anxiety and travel related anxiety are not linked, although it is possible for a dog who has separation anxiety to also be anxious in the car. I have found the natural amino acid L-theonine quite helpful for natural anxiety relief. Dose varies anywhere from 100-500 mg. Can be used as needed. I also like be serene from 1800petmeds. May need to do some behavior modification techniques with trainer or vet specialist in behavior to help with anxiety, as well as prescription meds like prozac or clomiprimine to name two. I personally find that homeopathic and/or holistic treatment tends to be safer in my experience but takes time and patience. To learn more about homeopathy, go to website http://www.beyondflatearth.com as well as my website http://www.doctordym.com Many homeopathic vets offer phone consultations

  10. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJanuary 2, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    HI Tiffany. See my response to Michalene on this. You can consider L-theonine from health food store and BE serene from 1800petmeds. Consider working with a homeopathic vet on long term treatment of this. My website explains more about classical homeopathy http://www.doctordym.com Many homeopathic vets offer phone consultations.

  11. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJanuary 2, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    Thanks for sharing Sandy. Crates do help many dogs with anxiety, while in other cases some pets are more anxious in crates. Each situation and each patient is different.

  12. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJanuary 2, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    Best to make sure cats are in sealed carriers when traveling with them. Sometimes vets will prescribe mild sedatives like xanax or acepromazine for travel. Be serene from 1800petmeds and L-theonine from health food store are other alternatives you can try but some cats will become anxious no matter what.

  13. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJanuary 2, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    Hi Sarah…Traveling with cats can indeed be difficult. in addition to the l-theonine and Be serene product from 1800petmeds, I have also had some good results with a natural type of therapy called gemmotherapy for this as well. The gemmotherapy called Lime Tree can also be wonderfully helpful during anxious times. To learn more about Lime tree, my colleague and friend Stephen Blake has plenty of information on his website http://www.thepetwhisperer.com Also see my website http://www.doctordym.com

  14. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJanuary 2, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    Slowly increasing the time she is in car should help; first get her used to just being in parked car for a few minutes. Then gradually increase amount of time traveling. Try some of natural suggestions I mention here including Be Serene and L-theonine. Also consider working with a homeopathic vet for long term solution. My website has more information on classical homeopathy.

  15. Our 10-month old pup, Jax, has begun to be very anxious riding in the car, no matter if the trip is long or short. He started this at about 7 months of age. He takes 100 mg of Benadryl already for allergies, so we tried something else. We put a Thundershirt on him recently for a long car trip and he settled down within about 10 minutes and actually slept for an hour. We have only tried it once, but certainly will use it again. Our previous dog was afraid of thunderstorms and the Thundershirt worked for him too.

  16. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJanuary 9, 2014 at 1:53 am

    Thanks for sharing. Also try be serene from 1800petmeds, as well as l theonine from health food store.

  17. My car gets really anxious when I take her anywhere, and I was always worried about taking her anywhere. I’ll start taking her out to fun spots more often, and I hope she starts to get less anxious. Eventually, I hope to be able to take her anywhere without her freaking out or being anxious.

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