Traveling with Dogs
by Darlah Potechin
The most common complaint one hears is “my dog doesn’t like traveling in the car”. While some dogs jump at the chance to go for a car ride, others do not do well with it for a variety of reasons.
Over time, there’s a good chance you can reduce or do away with even an older dog’s anxiety and subsequent car sickness.
You should always start preparing your dog for an extended car ride early. But car conditioning should be a daily thing. Trying different things to accomplish a positive result takes effort but is well worth it.
Dog motion sickness is more commonly seen in puppies and young dogs than in older dogs, just as carsickness affects more children than adults. The reason for this is because the ear structures used for balance aren’t fully developed in puppies. This isn’t to say that all dogs will outgrow travel sickness, though many will.
If the first few car rides of your dog’s life left him nauseated, he may have been conditioned to equate travel with vomiting, even after his ears have fully matured. Stress can also add to travel sickness, so if your dog has only ever ridden in the car to go to the vet, he may literally worry himself sick on the road.
Here are some tips to help but all take effort. We tend to be a quick fix society but good things always come with a sense of accomplishment. The effort is well worth it.
1. Introduce the dog to the carrier in ample time before the trip. Make it as comfortable as possible, including any favorite and comforting toys. Depending on the dog, the door can either be left open to provide convenient access at the dog’s discretion, or the dog can be placed in the carrier for short periods of time, gradually increasing it to larger intervals. Keep in mind, the carrier should be well ventilated and large enough for the dog to sit, stand, and lie down and puppies comfortably. Realize that some dogs prefer a cocoon environment in the car but if this is the case in summer months air conditioning is necessary.
2. If the dog is not accustomed to riding in a car, go for short rides, always ending on a positive note despite what occurs. The idea is to create a perception that the car equals fun at least when it is done. It makes the anticipation a more positive one.
3. Do not feed your dog before travelling. They should always have access to water but by feeding them before you set up a chance of them spitting up their food. Instead give them something to chew on. It will help them to have another focus.
4. Dogs pick up on their owners’ emotional states. If you are anxious, most likely, your dog will be anxious as well. It is important to plan all aspects of your trip in a way that will insure your own peace of mind. If you fret your dog will pick up on it and act accordingly. You should always be positive and upbeat. This is called setting them up for success.
On any long ride where your pet seems under the weather, maintain your cool and don’t get frazzled. Your calm demeanor will reassure him, even if he’s still car sick.
Dogs form associations with places, things, animate and inanimate objects. Dogs are very forgiving and treat each day, each experience as a new beginning if you give them the support that they require. You must let the past experiences go. You must not anticipate that the past will and must repeat itself. Let it go from your mind. Envision a new future in which you forget about what has happened before and focus instead on what you would like to happen - a nice peaceful ride in the car with your dog. Stay positive.
When you change your thoughts from negative to positive you relax - this allows your dog to do the same. You are leading by the right example.
When you relax you not only make your dog’s experience a more positive one but you do the same for yourself.
And remember to give him a big hug once you’re safely arrived at your destination! Good things always must happen at the end of your trip.
5. If they do get sick, simply layer the crate or carrier with towels and remove the top one. You can also dress your dog in a waterproof shirt and simply remove it making cleanup easier. When this occurs the biggest issue is some owners decide my dog doesn’t like this or I don’t like this and then traveling stops.
To condition your dog you must keep at it in a positive way to reach the destination you will enjoy. What destination is that? You want to achieve one of toleration or enjoyment or something in-between.
6. Some dogs do well in front of an air vent looking out. Some dogs do well on the floor with the crate covered. Some do well in a seatbelt harness. But all dogs should be contained for their safety.
Another option is to face your dog forward without side views. If your dog is facing forward he will see less movement. Looking out of the side windows causes objects to blur and that can cause or compound motion sickness. With others, it might help to avoid allowing your dog to travel in the farthest backseat. In some vehicles the most motion is felt in the furthest part of the back of the vehicle.
7. Lower your car windows a couple of inches while the car is moving. This helps balance the air pressure inside the car with the air pressure outside, which may help reduce your dog’s nausea and discomfort. Also, be sure to keep the car cool and well ventilated, as a hot or stuffy vehicle can contribute to unpleasant sensations for your dog.
8. Homeopathic and herbal remedies can go a long way in calming a pet during stressful times. Some resort to medication especially for long trips. Whatever you decide realize you must continue the process to get the end result you desire. If you are giving your dog a natural rescue remedy make sure you read the instructions - some need to be given well in advance of the car ride (i.e. an hour prior to getting into the car). Be sure to consult with your veterinarian before purchasing any over-the-counter treatment for dog motion sickness.
9. Some people use thunder shirts and thunder jackets. See http://www.thundershirt.com It’s not only for storms but for stress, anxiety etc. The gentle pressure works similar to a cocoon affect you can do in a crate.
Some rave about this remedy but you still must do the work and take them for a car ride on a continual basis with a positive end result.
10. Should I try pheromones? Pheromones are substances produced by the body that act through the senses, typically smell, of nearby animals of the same species. For several days after giving birth to a litter of puppies, a female dog releases a pheromone that calms and soothes her puppies, giving them a sense of security and comfort.
This pheromone has been copied synthetically and is available in both a spray and collar form. This dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) is available either through your veterinarian or certain pet supply stores. Using the collar version on your dog with travel anxiety may well help to decrease that anxiety.
11. A relaxed dog is a tired dog. Before taking a trip take him on a long walk, play a game of retrieve. Do anything to expel energy. When we have pups going to the vet that first time we tire them out before the journey. It does help. They not only sleep most times but their minds are not busy.
If your dog has learned to associate riding in the car with feeling stressed and nauseated, there are a variety of conditioning techniques you should try:
a. Taking short car trips to places your dog enjoys, like going to the park.
b. Get your dog used to approaching the car, then spend some time in the car with the engine off. Give access to toys they can only get in the car. Be upbeat and playful.
c. Take short trips (around the block, for example) to build tolerance before progressing to longer car rides. Praise heartily and give them their favorite toy or treat at the end of the drive.
d. You could try homeopathic preparations: Essences of flowers and plants make up homeopathic remedies that may help to calm a pet’s anxiety. One of the more popular is called Rescue Remedy for Pets; it’s got a distinctive yellow label. Some people swear by it.
e. Create a relaxing condition
within the car: Some dogs might travel better if there’s soothing music or fresh air in the car. Try playing classical music and/or opening the windows a bit. (Just don’t let your dog put their head out the window; it poses a risk for injuries to their eyes, ears, nose, throat, and skull.)
Should I resort to Medicating?
Sometimes, no matter how much acclimation and calming you try, your dog may just need medication to relieve their anxiety and help them enjoy car travel. In these instances you’re going to have to consult with your veterinarian for specifics. I prefer natural solutions and conditioning but natural solutions don’t always allow the conditioning to work if the stress and anxiety level is too high.
For informational purposes only, below are some of the types of medications that your veterinarian may prescribe to help your anxious dog travel better. Again, these drug types are mentioned just to provide you with some information, these are not my recommendations or prescriptions.
For specific recommendations and prescriptions, speak with your veterinarian.
f. Antihistamines: Medications in this drug class can lessen your dog’s travel anxiety and reduce their chances of carsickness through a variety of mechanisms, including their drowsiness-inducing effects and their direct action on your dog’s balance centers.
g. Anxiolytics: This class comprises a wide range of drugs that your veterinarian may prescribe for your pet with anxiety, of the travel variety or any other type. As a drug class they can reduce or block a dog’s anxiety, and some may also cause a degree of sedation.
h. Sedatives: Sedatives reduce your dog’s level of awareness, basically reducing their agitation by decreasing their perception of their surroundings and all stimuli. There are medications that are specific sedatives and others that have sedation as a side effect. Only your veterinarian can decide if a sedative is right for your dog’s travel anxiety.
i. Neurokinin receptor blocker: Pfizer makes a unique drug that is highly effective at blocking the center within your dog’s brain responsible for the vomiting reflex. Translation… it is highly effective at preventing vomiting. However, it is only available by prescription and is not indicated for every dog, or in every situation. It’s called Cerenia®, and if these other measures have failed to control your dog’s carsickness, it’s certainly worthwhile talking to your veterinarian about it.
It’s not fun for your dog to stay home alone all the time as it wouldn’t be for you if your family members always left you home. Think about it this way. If you had an issue with car sickness would it be fair if you were left home while everyone else had fun? No! You would find a solution so your life would be as rich and enjoyable as it should be. Your dog deserves that too! Remember patience and understanding is key! Just like people, every dog will progress at its own pace some faster, some slower. Many people give-in and give-up too soon. Your dog is worth the effort!
Havanese Breed Magazine -May/June 2014