Travel anxiety in dogs is the fear of car travel stemming from not knowing or understanding what’s happening, or associating an undesirable destination—the veterinarian’s clinic, for example—with car travel. Symptoms of car travel-induced anxiety in dogs include drooling, shaking, and vomiting.
Travelling with a dog does not always entail a long road trip or vacation—there are times when taking your dog in the car for quick jaunts is essential. So it’s important for her to adapt to car rides without anxiety.
A dog’s anxiety may be less about the car itself and more about the destination, particularly when the journey always ends at the vet’s, the groomer’s, or a boarding facility. Or something specific might trigger her anxiety, for example the sound the car makes when you drive over rumble strips.
And sometimes dogs anticipate travel with anxiety because they’ve learned it will make them sick—in other words, they suffer from true motion sickness, which in turn makes them anxious about travelling in the car. But this is rare—there is usually another underlying reason for dog anxiety.
Your dog will respond well to medication if she has true carsickness. While vomiting in the car is commonly called carsickness or motion sickness, true carsickness results from an inner ear problem; consult your veterinarian about the specific medicine and dosage to try.
If your dog is prone to carsickness, avoid feeding her for a couple of hours before your trip. She may still get queasy in the car, but you’ll at least avoid cleaning up a huge mess. If you’re taking her on a long car trip, smaller treats given at well-timed intervals in lieu of a large meal before travel will help keep her sated enough for comfort over the long haul. (And this is not the time to experiment with new treats—stick with the tried and true.)
For many dogs, though, vomiting in the car is an expression of dread and fear of travel; motion sickness meds won’t help these dogs. Some routinely react to car travel this way, others grow out of it as they become more accustomed to it.
The best way to treat your dog’s travel anxiety is a simple series of exercises in the car to desensitize her. It’s important to take your time and acclimate your dog to the car gradually:
Once she seems comfortable with the car, take your dog on short trips to fun destinations—to the park, on play dates with a doggy pal, or to the pet store, for example. You can use the same fun destination each time, but vary the route and make it longer as you repeat the exercise. Your dog will grow to associate car rides with more than just visits to the vet.
Quick Tip: Notice triggers for anxiety in your dog when you’re travelling, and address them. If your dog can’t bear going over rumble strips, for example, be prepared to treat her every time you drive over them.
There are several effective strategies to use before and during car travel with your dog to help calm and reassure her:
Failing these strategies, talk to your vet about medications to help your dog with travel anxiety. Examples are antihistamines, anxiolytics, sedatives, or a neurokinin receptor blocker called Cerenia®, which stops the vomiting reflex in a dog. But be advised that over-medicating an anxious dog can make her lethargic for days after you reach your travel destination; that’s no fun for anybody. Only a veterinarian is qualified to weigh in on which meds are right for your dog’s specific needs.
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