How to reduce your animal’s travel sickness

January 16, 2020

If transport by car or airplane is a source of distress for your animal, they’re probably suffering from a fear of travel

The moment your dog gets into the back of the car or you put your cat in their travel carrier, they start to tremble, vomit or become unusually agitated. If this is a familiar scenario, it’s likely that your animal is suffering from a form of car-related anxiety. It can become so extreme that some pet owners decide to travel without their animals. Or, even worse, they may stop visiting their veterinarian because of the stress it causes their animal—a decision which can allow diseases to develop or worsen. Here are some ways to help reduce your animal’s travel-related discomfort.

Therapy for dogs
This simple method will help your dog become more comfortable during car rides.

With your car in your parking spot and the motor off, leave the doors open. Sit on the back seat calmly reading a book. Your dog will come and sit next to you of their own volition. Give them a treat once they’ve climbed onto the seat, then get in and out of the car several times, each time inviting your dog to join you and rewarding them when they do. You can also distract your dog with a ball or a game (both outside and inside the car). Repeat for 10-15 minutes, for several days within the space of a week. Close the car doors every once in a while, and continue to read. Your dog will become increasingly comfortable with the inside of the car.

After several sessions—taking care to pet and reward your dog—you’ll be ready for the next step which involves the same procedure but with the engine turned on for a few minutes. Once you have a couple of weeks of daily practice under your belt, you’ll be ready to make short trips, preferably with someone else driving so that you can comfort your dog on the back seat. As a rule, this therapy should diminish your dog’s fear of car trips. It’s easy to do at any time, except during the thick of winter!

Therapy for cats
When it comes to cats, you’ll first need to make them comfortable with their transport carrier within your home environment. If you only use the carrier for trips, it’s not surprising that your cat isn’t thrilled about it! With cats, as with dogs, it's a good idea to start training them when they’re young. You can also spray your animal’s carrier, or the inside of your car, with synthetic pheromones which will help calm your animal and reduce their levels of stress. It’s also a good idea to put an old sweater in your cat’s carrier or cover them with a towel to keep them in the dark.

Travel sickness
Your animal’s symptoms of distress may be related to a physiological reaction rather than a phobia. Shaking, groaning, agitation, hypersalivation or nausea, excessive vocalization, vomiting, defecation or urination can all be symptoms of motion sickness. When a cat or dog is in a moving vehicle this condition, which affects roughly 1 in 6 animals, can have varying degrees of severity. Don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian for help, which will likely include both medication and behavioural components.

Rules to follow in the car
Here are some tips for happier transport:

  • If you brake rapidly, an unattached animal in a moving car can rapidly turn into a projectile—it’s a dangerous situation for everyone. Never leave them unattached, in your arms or on your lap. Use a harness that attaches around their chest and to the seat belt strap or the seat belt anchor buckle. When transporting your cat, you must securely attach your cat carrier.
  • Because of airbag-related dangers, never place your dog, even when attached, in the front seat.
  • Open windows are dangerous for your animal: riding with their head out the window can cause ear infections and conjunctivitis, on top of the danger of them falling out.
  • During the summer, beware of extreme temperatures in cars: never leave an animal in a car, even for just a few minutes.
  • Make sure your animal doesn’t eat 2-3 hours prior to your departure.
  • In case they manage to run off, make sure your cat or dog is wearing their identification tag and bring a good leash for rest breaks.
  • For longer, out-of-town trips, always bring your animal’s health booklet. Ensure that their vaccinations are up to date and bring all necessary medications.
  • Don’t forget their food, bowls, treats and any toys or objects that will reassure them when you reach your destination.

Air travel
If your animal is travelling to a foreign country, make sure to get a Canadian International Health Certificate. If you wish to import an animal to Canada consult this Canadian government website. Consult your airline to find out about their policies on travel onboard and in the hold, which are guided by the rules and regulations of International Air Transport Association (IATA). To find out more and get costs for multiple airlines, visit Skyscanner.

Bon voyage!


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