Travelling with pets can be a stressful time for both you and your furry (feathered, scaled or otherwise) friend. This blog series will focus on ways to minimize the stress of travel to help you prepare for your next trip.
Today I will be focusing on car trips! So get ready to blast some 90s music, wind your windows down and go for a ride!
Dogs are generally easy car travelers; many dogs have been exposed to the stimulus that a road trip entails, such as strangers, weird smells, loud noises and movement. But some dogs find all of that stimulus a bit intimidating, and just like us dogs can suffer from car sickness!
The first step to making car travel a breeze with your dog is to familiarize them with the car and road travel. Start by just allowing them to sit in the car with you, with no movement and give them lots of praise. You can then try turning the engine on for a few minutes while they sit with you, again giving praise if they are calm and making sure they feel safe. You can then start going on short car rides, eventually making them longer and longer. Each step should be repeated until your pet seems comfortable, then move on to the next step. Use opportunities, like going to get milk from the corner store, to familiarize your new dog with the car. Just remember to never leave them alone in the car!
Another really important topic is restraint. It is so important to ensure your dog is wearing a harness and is strapped in, or if they are more comfortable in crates the crate should be securely fastened to the car. This helps prevent unwanted accidents if your dog suddenly decides your face needs a good licking but also helps protect them in case of a crash. This photo of me below is exactly what NOT to do!!! If we had crashed poor Molly would have hurt her neck or worse! So don’t follow my example but please follow my advice. Some states have laws against free-roaming dogs in cars for exactly this reason.
Unfortunately some dogs, even with good restraint techniques and training, either continue to be anxious in the car or continue suffering from motion sickness. To help these dogs I will first recommend that you either don’t feed them at all the morning of a car trip, or feed only a small amount at least three prior to leaving. This will help reduce the risk of vomiting. Having something familiar, such as a favourite toy or blanket, can help ease anxiety for many dogs. There are also pheromone sprays, such as DAP, which can reduce anxiety levels in a more natural way.
Finally, as a last resort, there is medication available to help your dog. Certain anti-histamines can be used to help cause mild sedation and reduce motion sickness. Anti-nausea medications are also available via prescription from your vet for dogs that get really car sick! There are dogs that get so anxious in the car that they need anti-anxiety or sedative medication for long trips, although training should always be tried first, it is sometimes unavoidable. Be sure to discuss the best options for your pooch with their vet.
And a final tip – remember to have all of your pets paperwork with them if you are crossing borders! Some states and countries will require proof of vaccination, worming or even a pet passport. It is also important to have your pet microchipped before long distance travel just in case something happens and they are lost. I will discuss country-crossings in more detail in the future blogs of this series (coming in the next few weeks).
Kitties tend to be stress heads… most cats are less familiar with strangers, weird smells and the outside world, making care trips an anxiety filled ride! Just as with dogs familiarizing your cat with its carrier and the car will make a big difference. Start when they are young and start small, just walking around with the carrier will be enough at first. Then you can try putting the carrier in the car with the engine on and no movement. Slowly start going for short drives to help familiarize your cat with the sounds, movement and smells of the car.
The type of carrier and carrier size is really important. Even for small trips it is best to have a carrier large enough for your cat to stand up, stretch and turn around. For some cats covering the carrier with a towel will help reduce audio and visual stimulation, making the car a less scary place. Always secure carriers with a seatbelt or similar restraint to prevent any injuries in case of an accident. Make the carrier as comfy as possible, and consider spraying a blanket with Feliway (feline hormone spray) to create a calming environment.
For longer trips you need to consider your cat’s ability to eat, drink and go to the toilet. It is often better not to feed cats at all on the day of a trip, and simply feed each nightwhen you stop. Offer water and toilet stops every hour or so. Just remember you either need to harness your cat or have ALL THE DOORS SHUT AND LOCKED before letting them out of their carrier. And obviously the car shouldn’t be moving. You do not want someone accidentally opening a door and letting your kitty out – if they are already frightened they may run and in unfamiliar cities it may be very hard to get them back. You can purchase disposable cardboard litter trays that come pre-filled and are great for travelling. Some cats will not eat, drink or toilet in such a scary situation so it is even more important to have overnight stops at pet friendly accommodation to give them a chance to settle and go about their business.
Once again always ensure your cat is microchipped and travel with their documents just in case. For more information about going into different countries with pets check out the blog coming out in the next few weeks.
Small mammals generally travel ok in the car, particularly if they can be transported in their regular ‘home’. Just remember to use a drip style water dispenser, or remove the water and offer every ½ hour to ensure they don’t end up a sopping wet mess. Small mammals can be offered dry food for the duration of the trip; they can become hypoglycemic very quickly if food is withheld.
Birds tend to get a bit anxious in cars; there is a lot of stimulation that they are not often exposed to. Once again transporting small birds in their ‘normal’ cage can help reduce anxiety. Alternatively ensure they have a nice sturdy perch, dry bird pellets/seed available and if you can secure water without making a mess that is best. For larger parrots consider a set up similar to the one pictured we used for Zazu. We made a travel perch that could hook onto the seat and he would wear his harness to keep him restrained. We could then offer water each hour and some snacks in an attached food bowl. We also placed a poo-catching tray underneath! If your large parrot is not used to being out and about consider a transport cage that can be covered easily to keep them calm. Once again for long trips search for pet friendly accommodation so they can stretch their little wings!
Reptiles tend to be good car travelers. Most lizards and snakes are calm when placed into a pillow case or similar, and can generally go quite some time without food and water. For long trips consider a transport cage that they can be placed in when stopped to offer food and water. For snakes I would feel comfortable not feeding them at all over a few days. Like all animals, reducing external stimulus will help keep them calm.
If you have any great travel trips for pets please comment below or send them on! Stay tuned over the next few weeks for boat and plane travel, where I will discuss border crossings in a bit more detail!
Wishing you many happy tails!