Travelling with your dog

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We travel with our dogs for a variety of reasons; it may just be for the occasional short trip to the vet or the park, but occasionally we also like to take our dogs on longer journeys or away on holiday with us. At Castle Vets we often get asked about the best way to transport dogs and how to prevent travel sickness and distress. The vast majority of dogs travel very well, but for some dogs travelling can be incredibly stressful, so here are a few tips and tricks that you may find useful.

Top tips for easy travel

  • Make sure that your dog is secure in your car. Your dog could cause an accident if it decides to jump into your lap while you are driving, and what happens to them if you have to hit the brakes and stop suddenly? There are many options available for safe travel, for example a car harness or a carrier on the back seats, or you could put them in the boot of the car behind a safety net or guard.
  • If possible, put a blanket or a towel under your dog as this will help them feel more secure and give them something comfortable to lie on (it will also help keep your car cleaner)
  • Exercise your dog before travelling so that he or she has had chance to go to the toilet and feels more relaxed.
  • Keep your dog’s lead on in the car, so that you have something to grab if he or she decides to race out the second you open the door.
  • Make sure your dog has an id tag on his or her collar and is micro chipped in case he or she escapes while you are away.
  • Sun screens on the rear windows will provide shade and help keep the car cooler while you are travelling.
  • If you are making a trip to the vets take some treats with you (as long as your dog isn’t poorly or having an operation) to ensure the car trip stays a positive experience.
  • Don’t forget to make sure you take some water and a water bowl for your dog. Dogs can get quite warm in the car, even over short distances, and especially if they are a little anxious about travelling, so they may require more water than usual.
  • If you are going on a long journey, make sure you have plenty of rest stops so that your dog can stretch its legs and go to the toilet. Also make sure that your dog has access to water at each stop.
  • Dogs die in hot cars! It can get unbearably hot in a car on a sunny day, even when it’s not that warm. In fact, when it’s 22°C outside, the temperature inside a car can soar to 47°C/117°F within 60 minutes. Make sure you keep the inside of the car as cool as possible. In a hot stuffy car dogs can’t cool down – leaving a window open or a sun shield on your windscreen won’t keep your car cool enough. 
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There are lots of options available to keep your dog safe in the car. Car harnesses are a good investment, but if you have a slightly nervous dog then a carrier or crate may be a better option.

Distressed dogs and Travel sickness

For most dogs, travel sickness is related to stress and anxiety rather than the motion of your car but like humans, dogs can also suffer from motion sickness which can very quickly lead to stress and anxiety, which in turn can make them feel sick, making it all a bit of a vicious cycle.  Symptoms may vary from dog to dog and they may show some, all, or a combination of these behaviours.

  • Constant drooling and looking miserable for the whole journey,
  • Shaking/Trembling
  • Barking and crying for the whole journey (although some dogs will bark out of excitement, especially if they usually end up at the park!)
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhoea during or after the journey.
  • Frantically trying to escape the car

To help prevent this, the first thing you need to do is to try and help your dog associate car journeys with positive and good things. This is not always a ‘quick fix’ and with some dogs and can take a little while. Don’t be tempted to move on to the next step until your dog is completely comfortable in the car and if you are having no success it may be wise to contact a dog behaviourist (your vet can recommend a good one) to help you with the situation.

  1. Get your dog used to just being in the car without it going anywhere. Initially this involves just sitting in the car for short periods and being rewarded with treats, cuddles and praise.
  2. Next try and put them where you want them to travel i.e. in their car harness on the back seat, or in a crate or in the boot of the car. Start with a few minutes and gradually build up this time over a week. Again offering praise and treats for calm behaviour.
  3. The next step is to turn on the engine, but don’t go anywhere. Repeat the above steps for a few days until your dog seems comfortable and relaxed.
  4. Go for very short journey (5-10 mins) with a really positive experience at the end of it – usually this would be a nice walk or a game of fetch at the park. It’s a good idea to have someone else in the car during these initial journeys, because they can sooth and distract your dog if he or she starts to get anxious. When you get home remember to create a fuss and play a short game and offer some rewards.
  5. Gradually build up the travelling time but if your dog is starts showing signs again, reduce the length of the journey so that it ends before they are sick.
  6. When your dog is able to do 30 minute journeys without stress, anxiety or sickness, you have been successful.
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Offer treats or toys to reward calm behaviour in the car

Motion sickness remedies

  • Travelling on an empty tummy can definitely help in a lot of cases, so with some dogs you may need to use praise, cuddles and toys rather than treats.
  • Exercise your dog before travelling so that he or she has had chance to go to the toilet and feels more relaxed.
  • Make sure the car is kept as cool as possible, either with the air conditioning or by opening windows slightly to create a good air flow.
  • Some dogs prefer to be able to look out of a window and some dogs find this terrifying, so you could try experimenting with an enclosed carrier to see if this helps.
  • There are quite a few remedies available from the veterinary practice or from pet shops. Some of our patients have had success with Scullcap and Valarian tablets which are available at the practice. Ginger is also a good remedy for soothing an upset tummy. I have had success when my own dog was travel sick puppy by giving half a ginger biscuit about 20 minutes before travel and half when we arrived at our destination (although, as I look back now, it could well have been the anticipation of a ginger biscuit that became a positive association with travel for my dog and therefore solved the problem!)
  • Adaptil spray, which is available at Castle Vets, is useful for helping your dog feel more relaxed and can be sprayed onto some bedding in the car about 20 minutes before you leave. For more anxious dogs the Adaptil collar provides constant reassurance wherever the dog is.
  • Always check with your vet before using any human remedies to ensure they are safe and given at the correct dose.
  • Make sure you initially try any remedies on a separate occasion to travelling to make sure your dog is not sensitive to any of the ingredients.
travel sickness remedies

Ask your veterinary nurse about which travel sickness remedy may best suit your dog

If you have any questions about travelling with your dog or you think that your dog is suffering from travel sickness, please contact the surgery and we will be happy to help you.

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One thought on “Travelling with your dog

  1. Pingback: Holiday Plans For Your Pets | Castle Vets Reading

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