Travelling With An Anxious Dog
Travel. Some dogs love it, some dogs tolerate it and some dogs just hate it. If you’ve got a reluctant or anxious dog you’re planning to travel with there are some steps you can take to make their trip at least that little bit bearable.
Travelling With An Anxious Dog
First and foremost see our post on Travelling with your pet, which covers all the functional nuts and bolts about planning a journey with your pet. But being scared of the car, nervous in crowds at the station or hating motorway noise, is not something even the best planning can take out of most journeys.
The other option is to try and take some of the anxiety or stress out of the dog doing the miles. The last few years have seen the release of a host of non-prescription dog calming products, many of which are specifically designed for a dog on the move.
Now the most popular dog calming product the Adaptil Diffuser is useless when travelling as it needs to be plugged into a three-pin socket. So with that ruled out you’ll be left with three major options to calm your anxious dog on the road: calming collars, calming sprays or calming supplements the dog eats. Importantly none of these products seeks to make the dogs drowsy, they all look to calm, reassure or just take the edge off the scary bits of the trip.
"Oh the places you’ll go.” - Dr. Seuss
Choosing the right one is largely a matter of balancing the delivery system (they either do or don’t take tablets) against efficacy (A just doesn’t work as well as B on your dog). Each does require a little research, as some can be deployed on the day, while others need to be built up to offer maximum benefit.
So we’ve done that bit for you, read on.
These work by creating a scent that makes the dog feel reassured or comfortable and is particularly useful for travel as you can give the back seat a squirt just before you load up, and at the motorway services when you pop them out for a leg stretch and pee!
Adaptil Spray is pheromone based and is best used 15 minutes before the dog enters the car. Each 60ml bottle has ‘50 uses’, which we take to mean squirts although you’re always tempted with a second or third squirt. But each bottle has enough for one holiday, including a few day trips when there.
Pet Remedy Spray comes in a 15ml bottle which can be re-filled (from a 250ml bottle). It can be sprayed every 1-2 hours and starts working almost immediately. It can also be sprayed directly on the sides of the dog – but not the face.
So think ahead and spray the necessary ‘favourite blanket’ or the upholstery (hey, it is a rental car) or carpet in the car before you set off. But do it after you’ve packed, as open doors will let the smell escape and decrease the effect!
Adaptil Calm-On-The-Go Collar. These work as a second, not a replacement collar. They are not strong enough to take a lead, so they are only worn as a calming accessory. As the collar is in constant contact with the dog their body heat starts to warm and evaporate the pheromones in the collar. It is these pheromones that provide the calming and reassuring scent. The collars come in different lengths, which you cut to fit your dog. They need changing once a month but work within minutes of being put on.
Adaptil Junior Collar, much the same as the adult version, just for puppies and are mostly used to promote socialisation. Again they come too long and you cut them to length and need changing once per month. Remember to allow for room for growth.
If you’re using collars, get them on at least a day before the journey, so the dog is fully attuned to the new pheromone and the fact that they have got another collar on. Then leave the collar on for the entire journey, ideally the whole holiday and return trip too!
Tablets, gels and powders
These are the classic calming solutions and are ideal if your dog will take the tablets, or eats too fast to notice them being scattered in their food. If you take this route there is no simple ‘single pill’ solution. You will need to feed a course of tablets, quite possibly for a long time before you travel.
Serene-um & Xtra. Serene-um comes in tablet liquid forms and Xtra is simply for bigger anxious dogs. It works within 6-8 hours but is best if given 24-36 hours before the journey and should be administered twice daily. So be sure to take the packet with you. It contains inositol, vitamin B3, taurine, L-tryptophan, calcium, vitamin B6, zinc and vitamin E.
Zylkene is a complementary supplement derived from casein (a protein in milk). It can be used to help pets cope with stressful situations including travel and its associated loud noises. To be at its most effective you’ll need to start adding it to the dog’s food 2 days before they travel. It comes in different strength capsules for different sized dogs. The milk protein evokes memories of when they were being weaned and in the protective care of mum.
KalmAid is best given 1 hour before the “event” (so, in this case, the journey) and comes in packs of 30 tablets and 250ml solution – so giving you two different ways to sneak it past their defences. It is a complementary feed that contains L-tryptophan, L-theanine and thiamine.
Anxitane tablets come in Small and Medium/Large versions. They are given twice daily for a 2 month period, so are longer-term de-stresser and use L-Theanine (an amino acid naturally found in green tea). It is more designed to be used in conjunction with a behaviour modification program rather than for a one-off trip but could be used to help get the dog to be more Clarkson (and just love cars).
YuCalm tablets are one of the newest calmers on the block. It recommends a 6-week program, so would elegantly book-end a family holiday. Starting a week before the trip, throughout the holiday, the trip back and for a week to re-acclimatise to ‘home’. It contains Lemon Balm, L-Theanine and fish protein hydrolysate.
Don’t worry - these are not knockout drops! They look to relax and not sedate your dog so they can enjoy the journey and be raring to go when you reach your destination!
If tablets and solutions are your choice then like any medication you’ll need to think ahead giving the drugs plenty of time if they are to take proper effect before popping the dog in its crate and whizzing up to Scotland. Be sure to keep the pills with you as you travel as any journey there, will inevitably involve a journey back. While the holiday home/caravan/tent is going to be ‘no place like home’ and so may unnerve the nervy.
Most importantly trial the solution you’ve chosen well before the trip to make sure your dog is comfortable with it. Experiment beforehand not on the day, as there will many other things to concentrate on, and have in your mind what your dog looks like ‘relaxed’ so you know if it is working.
This post is an opinion and should only be used as a guide. You should discuss any change to your pet’s care or lifestyle thoroughly with your vet before starting any program or treatment.
If in doubt contact your veterinary practice
And always keep your vet's phone number handy - just in case!