We all have very busy lives; between work, kids, hobbies, and of course, our pets. Our hectic schedules can often lead to more time in the car for your pets. Anxiety in the car is a very common problem among both dogs and cats. For pet owners who have had a dog or cat with car/travel anxiety, you know how difficult it can be to manage.
The end result? Families either avoid taking their pets in the car, sometimes increasing separation anxiety at home, or the pet is super stressed during the trip.
The plus side? There is hope for behavior modification or veterinary intervention for a stress-free travel future!
Car Anxiety For Cats
The problem arises for cats mostly because they are only put in the car once or twice a year when going to the vet, so the car becomes a negative association as a precursor to an event they might find traumatic.
The dramatic change in temperature can also be a shock to some cats. If you think about it, 99% of most cats’ lives are spent in a temperature-controlled environment. Going straight out into the cold or heat outside to the car is pretty shocking to them. When you combine that with being placed in a small carrier that is unfamiliar or has bad associations – it’s a recipe for high stress!
- Leave your pet carrier out all the time and make it a fun place for your cat to retreat to when resting around the house. This will help to minimize the negative associations and make future trips much easier!
- Warm-up or cool down the car, depending on the season, prior to leaving for your destination so your cat is more comfortable.
- Use a calming pheromone spray, like Feliway, to help mitigate anxiety. It only takes a few sprays to help their demeanor. This is the same method we utilize in our office waiting room as part of our “Fear Free” protocols to help keep cats calm during their appointments with us.
Car Anxiety For Dogs
If your dog rarely leaves the house, then it is worth noting that they may feel similar anxiety to cats in that a car is always a strange place and a precursor to an event they do not like. However, for other dogs, car anxiety may stem from a different point.
For many dogs, nausea (vomiting, hypersalivation, etc.) in the car is a common occurrence, especially in young puppies. Some puppies will outgrow this with repeated good experiences in the car. However, just like people, some dogs truly do get car sick in the car. For these dogs, using either over-the-counter products, like Dramamine, or prescription products, like Cerenia, can make a huge difference. Make sure to check with your veterinarian before trying anything new to find the proper dosage for your pet.
For dogs that are nervous or afraid in the car, working on desensitizing them can make a huge difference. The level of fear that your dog has of the car will dictate where you will start. Essentially, you want to start at the closest point to the vehicle that you can be, without your dog reacting. You then start to gradually increase how close you get, all while pairing it with positive reinforcers, such as food, treats, favorite toys, etc. Most people tend to rush and go too fast during this part of training, but it is important to go at the speed your dog is most comfortable with. This may take six weeks, or it may take six months. Either way, it’s important to remember that progress takes time and patience is crucial to success when it comes to dog training. And, like all training, work on these behaviors when they are puppies if possible and get them used to ride in the car. It’s much easier to prevent a behavior problem at a younger age than it is to work on it when they are an adult!
- Use calming music in the car, like “Through a Dog’s Ear” or other soft classical music.
- Use a calming pheromone spray or collar, like Adaptil, to help alleviate anxiety. Both the calming music and calming spray are methods we utilize in our office waiting room as part of our “Fear Free” protocols to help keep dogs calm during their appointments with us.
- Utilize a crate in the car if your dog feels secure, and consider covering the crate to reduce the outside visual stimuli.
If you have any questions about your pet’s car anxiety, please give our office a call to speak with a member of our staff, or feel free to start a telemedicine conversation to send your questions directly to one of our doctors.