Make Your Pet Comfortable When Traveling – Part 2: The Nervous Traveler
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Make Your Pet Comfortable When Traveling – Part 2: The Nervous Traveler

Not all dogs that act nervous when they get into a car, feel that way out of fear or anxiety resulting from a traumatic experience. It could be something as simple as having an accident in the car once before and the driver scolded the animal. Such an event can cause anxiety. Something more serious like a crash could also be the culprit. If the nervousness is from fear and anxiety, the animal can be retrained to accept the ride as a good thing. But it does take time and patience to help the animal.

On the other hand, some dogs and cats actually get nauseous from motion sickness. As a result of the sickness they associate the car ride with feeling ill. Some recognizable signs of motion sickness include the obvious reactions such as:

  • Heavy drooling
  • Strings of saliva hanging from the mouth
  • Hanging their heads, tucking their tail or looking distressed
  • Pacing
  • Whimpering

Dogs or cats that suffer from motion sickness will most likely require medication to travel comfortably. Consult with your veterinarian about an anti-nausea medication such as Cerenia (maropitant) which is one of the best on the market since it works on the nausea center of the brain. You can get an injection for 24 hour relief or tablets if your journey will require more than one day of travel.

You may also wish to consider alternative treatments such as Rescue Remedy which some people think acts like the equivalent of a small alcoholic drink to calm the nerves. Or the use of a pheromone collar such as an Adaptil which will give off soothing hormones to help reduce anxiety.

The one option you should always avoid, without first consulting your vet, is to assume a human over-the-counter medication will work. Dogs metabolize drugs differently so there is good possibility human drugs won’t be effective. Plus these drugs are not licensed for use in animals so the side effects are unknown. Some human drugs can be deadly to animals.

If you are not sure if you dog will get sick from their nervousness, it’s a good idea to be prepared for it anyway. You can make the trip easier on everyone, yourself included since you will be the one cleaning any messes, with a few proactive moves prior to the trip, such as:

  • Avoid giving your pet a meal just before leaving. Feed the dog at least 3 hours prior to leaving or wait until after the trip.
  • If possible take the dog for a walk before leaving. This may help get him to empty his bowels which is also good before a trip with a nervous dog, or burn off some energy and help him relax.
  • Designate a certain place or seat for your dog. A spot where they can see out the window will help. If you have small dogs consider obtaining a dog car booster seat to raise them up to window height.
  • Covering the area with a familiar blanket will provide some comfort & familiarity of home. Or even bringing along a favorite toy.
  • If your dog is a chewer, consider bringing along his bones or chew sticks to help him handle his stress.

During your travels you can also help reduce the anxiety or nervousness by following a few simple tips such as:

  • Never shout or scold your pet should he or she have an accident. This will only increase the anxiety. Speak to your pet in a calm, soft and reassuring voice.
  • Avoid overheating the car interior, smoking in the car or excessively loud music. All these things can cause nervousness or nausea in even the seasoned traveler let alone the nervous one.
  • Offer plenty of breaks. Not just for potty breaks but allow the dog some time to stretch his legs, relax or burn off some nervous energy. During each break offer your dog some fresh water, but continue to withhold food.

Most of all, when you arrive at your destination, do what you must to reassure your dog he has been a good boy. Try to end the journey with a happy ending. You can use treats, one on one play time, a game of fetch or a nice long walk. Whatever it is that will make your dog happy. Treat him to something that offers pleasure to him so he associates the travel as a good and rewarding event.


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