Traveling with a Pet: Coping with Car Anxiety
Bringing a beloved pet along on a fun summer outing, vacation, or keeping an important veterinary appointment can present many challenges. For some, car rides are the BEST EVER(!). Trips like these can cause anxiety and stress, especially in cats.
Since car travel is a part of most pets’ lives, addressing issues of intense fear, phobia, or anxiety can help lessen the stress both for pet and pet owner while traveling with a pet.
Tips to Make Traveling with a Pet by Car Easier for All
The experience of traveling by car can send a lot of pets into a tailspin. Typical signs of anxiety include:
- Whining or yowling
- Vomiting (car sickness)
- Scratching at car doors and windows
Some four-legged friends will make a bolt at any chance for escape, which can make rest stop breaks and the transition from car a potentially stressful experience for both pets and pet owners.
However, there are some ways you can make car travel less stressful for your pet (and safer, too).
- Make sure you have a secure crate, carrier, or seat belt harness – Most cats need a carrier that is spacious enough to move around, but small enough to feel safe. Because seeing moving vehicles and hearing so many strange noises can exacerbate a stress response, place a large towel or light blanket over the carrier (making sure there is ventilation and access to cool air). For dogs prone to pacing or frantic attempts to escape, try the same technique. Attach the crate or carrier to safety buckles for added safety.
- Take short practice drives – Rather than waiting for that major road trip to launch your nervous fur friend into the experience, remember that practice can help acclimate a pet better than abrupt journeys. Start by taking short drives around the block or another quick trip (just be sure it does not require leaving your pet in the car).
- Reinforce positive association – During these practice runs, try rewards that are viewed positively by your pet. These could be a park visit, game of Frisbee, or visit at a friend’s home, or a praise of your fur friend for remaining calm during the trip. You can also reward kitties with a new catnip mouse or favorite treat after returning from the practice drive.
- Thundershirt to the rescue – A Thundershirt (and products like it) is a fitted jacket or garment that applies gentle pressure to your pet’s sides. This pressure on the nervous system produces a calming effect for many anxiety-prone fur pals – and it is also very useful for noise anxieties, such as during thunderstorms of holiday fireworks.
- Good timing can make a big difference – If you are feeling stressed or things are a little chaotic before a trip, this can amplify your pet’s level of distress. At least an hour before the trip, slow down and create a relaxing, fun, pre-trip experience, like a quick walk or game, or simply some cuddle time.
If your pet struggles with continued car travel anxiety, we invite you to schedule an appointment. In some cases medication or professional behavioral training can help immensely. We are here to help, so give us a call.
Happy journeys ahead!