Are we there yet? Pet travel tips for the car

An increasing number of hotels, resorts and businesses are now accepting dogs – and occasionally other species - and so more and more of us are taking our pets away with us when we go on holiday.

When you are planning a trip with your pet, it is important to check that they are prepared too, so, your first stop should be to the vet.

Make sure that your pet is healthy, up to date with his flea, tick and worming treatments and you have enough medication – if you need it – for your time away.

If your trip involves a long car journey and your pet is not particularly used to the car, it is sensible to acclimatise them to the vehicle to help reduce any anxiety they might have. A good first step would be to take them on a few short trips so they become used to the experience.

Including their favourite blanket or bed in the car can help relieve stress too because the familiar scent will calm them. For a little extra help you could also use a calming product such as Adaptil for dogs, or Feliway for cats, which mimic the pheromone produced by nursing cat and dog mothers to promote the bond between them and their young.

 

These journeys will also help to get them used to being restrained while you travel. It is important to restrain your dog when in a vehicle, using a travel crate for example, because if they are allowed to roam about they may distract the driver and therefore cause an accident, or, if you have to make a sudden manoeuvre, for example, they may become injured on something.

With these short journeys, you will also be able to discover if your pet suffers from motion sickness, and as a result, have time to rectify the situation or prepare yourself with the appropriate medication from the vet.

Signs of motion sickness

Motion sickness is shown in a number of ways including

  • Inactivity
  • Pacing
  • Restlessness
  • Yawning or panting
  • Whining
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting (even on an empty stomach)
  • Fear of cars

A reported 1 in 6 dogs suffer from motion sickness, and it is more common in puppies than dogs. As it is with humans, younger animals suffer because the balance structures in their inner ear have not fully developed; however, there are steps you can take to prevent or reduce the problem.

(Even if you pet doesn’t have motion sickness these are good practices to keep in mind whenever you take your pet on a car journey)

  • Use a pet vehicle restraint, for example canine seatbelts or harness, and make sure you strap your dog in face forward– by facing forward they will experience fewer disorienting visual cues
  • Disable the passenger airbags or seat your dog as far away from them as possible – if they are deployed they could seriously injure your pet.
  • Consider using a size appropriate travel crate – they are usually safer. Unlike other methods, they allow for some movement so should your pet feel uncomfortable they can reposition themselves safely. You pet will therefore feel less anxious and less likely to feel as sick.
  • Keep the car cool – warm, stuffy air can increase the feeling of sickness
  • Limit their food and water intake prior to travel – most animals are less likely to feel sick if their stomachs are empty or close to empty
  • Make comfort breaks every few hours – this will give them (and you!) time for bathroom breaks, to exercise and for fresh water. Remember! NEVER leave them in the car by themselves – cars can heat up to dangerous levels very quickly - see our summer safety article for details
  • Distract your pet with a toy or something else to help alleviate symptoms

 

If all else fails you can always speak to your veterinarian about motion sickness medication for your pet – assuming all other possible causes have been excluded. However, evidence suggests that most car-sickness in pets tends to be due to stress and anxiety, so in addition to the above, your vet may well suggest that time and other forms of behavioural training are the best remedy. So don’t despair, successful car travel is usually possible with a little patience. So don’t despair, you should be going on that road trip with Fido in no time!

For more information on travelling with your pet, see our dedicated pet advice page.

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