Ahhh sweet summer is finally here! Along with the gorgeous warm weather comes many people’s favorite summer pastime: traveling. This can include visiting a cabin on the weekends or traveling to a more distant family vacation. Because many of us think of our pets as part of the family, oftentimes they come with us. But what about those pets that really don’t like the car? Some dogs get very anxious in the car and start pacing, drooling, and maybe even barking or whining. These behaviors are concerning for both the welfare of the pet and as a distraction to the driver. Cats can howl endlessly and sometimes get so stressed that they urinate, defecate, or vomit in their carrier. If you leave your pet to wander the car they can end up getting in the way if they try to crawl onto laps or even injure themselves if a sudden stop is made or they wedge themselves and get stuck somewhere under a seat.
A lot of times our dogs start the stress response if they only associate car rides with unpleasant things happening, like trips to the vet or groomer. You can work on countering this by making sure at least half the time the car brings them somewhere fun, like the dog park, or even just somewhere to go for a walk. If your dog already has a negative association with the car you may have to work slowly.
Some steps might include:
- Being near the car (with it off of course)
- Being near the car with it running
- Getting into the car and then right back out
- Getting into the car and having the door shut
- Getting in the car and having it move a little bit -maybe even just down the driveway
- Short driving trips to fun destinations
The key with all of these steps is finding something that your individual dog really enjoys. Maybe your dog enjoys his food, or a special treat or ball, it could even be just going for a walk. With the short car trips you can drive down the block, get out of the car, and go for a walk before returning to the car to drive home. Rewards should happen during the car experience, not only at the end. If you reward after you are out of the car back home you are rewarding getting home and not the car ride. Carsickness can be pretty common in puppies but many dogs do outgrow it as they mature. If you happen to have a dog that still gets carsick with vomiting or drooling, there are medications that your veterinarian can prescribe to help with that.
Cats can be a little more difficult since they don’t really have any fun places they like to go. The main thing that can help your cat is to make sure their carrier is something they enjoy and feel safe in. Leaving the carrier open around the house for them to play in and explore can help as well as throwing treats in it periodically to encourage exploration. If your cat has already had bad experiences in their carrier sometimes getting a new one in a different style can help to break the negative association. Make the carrier a fun place to be by adding a favorite blanket or toys. You can find pheromone sprays like Feliway at most pet stores that can help cats to feel more calm in new situations. Once they are comfortable going in and out of the carrier at home you can start shutting the door on them for short periods of time before moving to the car and then starting short trips there as well. Cover the carrier with a towel to reduce visual stimuli to help keep cats calm as well.
If you have gone through some of the beginning steps of getting your dog or cat used to the car or carrier and they are still extremely anxious and wound up, it may be time to visit with your veterinarian about other options. Medicating our pets is not usually our first option since most medications do have side effects and if used while traveling and away from help they can have drastic consequences. If your dog or cat does end up needing medication it is recommended to give a dose before your trip to see how your individual pet reacts to that medication and if it would be enough to calm them for the trip.
Also remember when traveling that it is always a good idea to have a copy of your pet’s rabies certificate with you just in case. While not often enforced, it is technically required when traveling from state to state within the US. If you are traveling across the border to Canada then you need to get a health certificate from your veterinarian stating that your pet is healthy enough for travel and is up to date on their vaccines. Travel by air gets even more tricky. Make sure to check with the airline for their specific pet requirements. Some airlines allow certain size dogs/cats in the cabin with you, while bigger dogs will need to fly as cargo. That can be very stressful for some dogs and dangerous depending on weather conditions or delays. Most airlines will also require a health certificate to fly and depending on if you are flying internationally some countries have much more specific requirements that can require months of prep work before traveling. In these cases sometimes it is better to have your dog stay at home with someone to watch them or even at a boarding facility.
As part of the family a lot of people want to include their pet in their family vacation, but making sure our four legged friends are happy and safe is important as well. Hopefully with some of these tips you can make any travel, whether by car or plane, more enjoyable and less stressful for you and your pet. And remember sometimes the most comfortable place for your pet is safely at home with a friend coming in to feed and give them company instead of coming with you on the open road.
Article written by: Heather