Warm weather means travel plans for many pet owners. And what could be more fun than bringing your dog along with you on your next road trip? But that fun may quickly turn to frustration if your pet is anxious or scared when traveling.
Travel can induce anxiety in pets, even for those that are generally calm. “Dogs and cats are creatures of habit,” says Dr. Jeffrey Levy, a Manhattan-based veterinarian. Whether you’re flying with a dog or cat, or taking a long road trip with your pet, the unfamiliar sights and sounds during travel can be overstimulating and frightening to dog and cats, says Dr. Levy.
Anxiety is not just confined to during your trip. Pets may become anxious before a plane ride or long car trip—especially if you have any travel anxiety yourself. “Pets pick up on your own stress about an upcoming trip,” says Dr. Levy. “You can literally see anxiety on the face of a dog when the suitcase comes out.”
Common signals of anxiety when traveling with pets include trembling, panting and unusual behavior in dogs (such as blocking a door to prevent you from leaving). For cats, anxiety often manifests as hissing, scratching or meowing that seems out of the ordinary. Both dogs and cats may try to twist out of your arms, escape or hide before a trip, says Dr. Levy.
What can owners do to reduce anxiety before and during pet travel? These three tips will help ensure a peaceful trip for you and your pet.
1. Start early. Behavioral conditioning can begin before your trip, says Dr. Levy. “Put out your suitcases well in advance and offer treats to reassure your pet.” You can also start now to get your pet used to his travel carrier, Levy says. “Feed him in his pet carrier, and gradually close the door for periods of time.” Don’t skimp on the rewards and praise as your pet gets used to any new travel items.
2. Practice makes perfect. Plan for upcoming road trips by taking your pet on short practice rides, suggests Dr. Levy. Even if your pet is used to traveling in the car, try to increase the frequency of your rides to make it part of his everyday routine.
3. Plan (and pack) in advance. If you’re flying with a dog or cat, call the airline in advance to make sure you understand their policies. “It’s preferable to travel with your pet in the cabin,” says Dr. Levy. Whether you’re in the car or on a plane, he suggests putting a towel or light covering over the carrier, since darkness can be calming (make sure to leave adequate ventilation from the carrier). Bring plenty of food and water, as well as some of your pet’s favorite toys—and plenty of treats.
In addition to these tips, owners traveling with pets can turn to other sources of support such as nutritional supplements and wearable items. These helpers can take the anxiety out of pet travel and make your dog or cat much more comfortable away from home.
Many of the same ingredients that make humans calm and even sleepy can also reduce anxiety when traveling with pets. Think of your evening tea with chamomile, the tryptophan in your Thanksgiving turkey, and the valerian root some people turn to for insomnia relief.
For dogs, these natural treatments work in much the same way. Chamomile works to calm the nerves and help your dog sleep, even during stressful situations. Thiamine calms the central nervous system, while valerian root reduces tension and overexcitement. The Vet’s Best Comfort Calm Soft Chews Dog Supplement has these three ingredients plus others that work to calm your dog quickly. You can use the supplements once a day or as needed. And pets with ingredient sensitivities can rest easy, since these chews are made without wheat, corn or gluten.
In times of extreme stress, look for a supplement that works quickly and can be taken in increased dosages if needed. The VetriScience Composure Behavioral Health Bite-Sized Dog Chews work in as little as 20 minutes to alleviate stress-related behavior without making your dog tired or groggy. These chicken-flavored supplements have thiamine as well as L-theanine, which help bring your dog’s neurotransmitters back into balance, and C3 Colostrum Calming Complex to reduce stress while supporting overall cognitive function. VetriScience also makes a liquid composure supplement for both dogs and cats.
Some anxious dogs may need ongoing support. Consider a daily supplement such as Zuke’s Enhance Calming Peanut Butter Formula Dog Treats, which are good for travel and can also calm your dog in instances of separation anxiety, meeting strangers, a trip to the vet, or even during a thunderstorm or a fireworks show. These grain-free dog treats contain calming ingredients like chamomile and valerian root, as well as hawthorn berry, which is a pet-safe herb that both strengthens and stabilizes your dog’s heart over time.
You know that cozy sweater you put on when you need to wind down? The ThunderShirt Anxiety & Calming Solution for Dogs works in much the same way. This washable and adjustable dog shirt provides gentle, constant pressure around your dog that works almost like a long hug. ThunderShirts work almost instantly and come in a range of sizes for tiny pups to massive dogs—and they come in sizes for cats, too.
Anxiety is common for both owners and their companions when traveling with pets. But with some good advice, prior planning, and a little help, you can make your summer pet travel stress-free.