Travel anxiety in pets occurs when pets experience a high level of stress when leaving home or traveling. If your pet experiences travel anxiety, it’s stressful for both you and them, since no pet owner wants to see their pet suffer. And, on top of that, travel anxiety can make even short trips with your pet challenging, frustrating, and just overall very taxing. If your pet has severe travel anxiety, you might even begin to stop traveling altogether to avoid the stressful situation it causes, which can quickly start to impact your quality of life. So why do some pets experience travel anxiety? How can you spot travel anxiety in your pet and what can you do about it? Below, we’re answering these questions as we go over the cause of travel anxiety in pets, the symptoms of travel anxiety in pets, and the treatments for travel anxiety in pets.
What Causes Travel Anxiety in Pets?
Just as humans experience anxiety for different reasons, pets experience anxiety for different reasons. Some of the most common causes of travel anxiety in pets include motion sickness, overwhelming stimuli, past trauma, and fear of the destination ahead.
Some pets experience motion sickness when on a car ride, which may make them feel nauseous and/or cause them to vomit. Dogs are particularly susceptible to motion sickness, due to the balancing structure within their ears. Most puppies outgrow this travel sickness as they grow older and their ears mature. However, some dogs still have motion sickness even after their ears are fully developed.
Motion sickness can cause travel anxiety in pets for two reasons. One, if they have motion sickness now, they may fear experiencing that motion sickness each time they travel. Then, two, even if your pet no longer has motion sickness, they may fear experiencing it again. For example, a dog may remember vomiting in the car on a road trip as a puppy and feel anxious that this car sickness could happen again.
Some pets find the stimuli that comes with traveling very overwhelming or even frightening. Humans may be used to the sights, sounds, and smells that come along with traveling in an airplane or car travel, but most pets are not used to these stimuli. So things like flashing lights, loud noises, and strange smells can sometimes be overwhelming to pets, causing them to feel anxiety while traveling.
Even one bad travel experience can be traumatic for your pet. So if your pet has had bad experiences while traveling, they may have connected trauma that presents as travel anxiety.
Fear of the Destination
Sometimes, it’s not the trip that causes travel anxiety in pets, but fear of the destination. For example, if your pet generally only travels in the car to go to the veterinarian or the groomer, they may associate car trips with heading to the vet or the groomer. And they may feel stress each time they ride in the car as they anticipate arriving at this fearful destination.
How Can You Recognize the Signs of Travel Anxiety in Pets?
Since your pet can’t tell you how they’re feeling like a human could, you have to look for behavioral symptoms that indicate a fear of travel. When pets are experiencing travel anxiety, they may show subtle signs of travel anxiety, like freezing up while in the car or having body language that indicates they’re stressed (flattened ears, a tucked tail, etc.). Or, they may show more overt symptoms of anxiety, such as trembling, hiding, nervous lip-licking, excessive drool, whining, pacing, barking, aggression, or urinating or defecating.
How Do You Treat Travel Anxiety in Pets?
Traditional Treatment for Travel Anxiety
The traditional way of treating travel anxiety in pets is with a prescription anti-anxiety medication. For example, anxious dogs may be prescribed Xanax or Ativan and anxious cats may be prescribed Prozac or Zoloft. But while these prescription medications can be helpful for some pets, they can cause unpleasant side effects in others. These traditional medications can sometimes cause side effects like diarrhea, lethargy, or behavioral changes.
CBD: A Natural Solution for Travel Anxiety in Pets
A new natural method of treating travel anxiety in pets is pet CBD. CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a cannabinoid that’s found in the cannabis hemp plant. The early research on CBD for pets and humans has found that this cannabinoid may have a number of benefits for both humans and animals. And two of those benefits can prove very helpful for travel anxiety in pets. CBD can both ease nausea and ease anxiety, which allows it to work on both the physical and mental symptoms of travel anxiety in pets. Many pet owners have found that trying CBD for their pet’s travel anxiety or separation anxiety has made an enormous difference in their pet’s symptoms and quality of life.
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Actionable and Behavioral Solutions for Cat and Dog Travel Anxiety
In addition to giving your pet a prescription medication or a homeopathic remedy that can help ease their travel anxiety, there are some actionable steps you can take to help your pet feel less anxious when traveling. Here are a few ways to help cat or dog travel anxiety:
- Bring Their Favorite Cat or Dog Toy: Bringing along your pet’s favorite toy while traveling can help them feel happier, calmer, and more secure.
- Create a Comfortable Atmosphere: Making your car more comfortable and pet-friendly can often reduce your cat or dog’s anxiety. So regulate your car’s temperature, crack a window to bring in the fresh air, and consider playing soothing classical music to make your car more comfortable and relaxing for your pet.
- Try an Anti-Anxiety Wrap: Anti-anxiety wraps like thundershirts are best known for their ability to calm pets during thunderstorms or firework displays, but they can also help to ease your cat or dog’s travel anxiety.
- Use a Dog Restraint: Using a travel kennel, a travel crate, or another dog restraint is important for your dog’s safety, but it can also help with dog anxiety, since it can make dogs feel more secure.
- Try Behavioral Exercises for Dog Car Anxiety: Behavioral exercises can often make a big difference in dog travel anxiety. To help your dog have a more positive association with car travel, try sitting in the back seat or cargo area of the car with them when you aren’t planning on going anywhere. Give your dog praise, pets, and dog treats. Try this for very short amounts of time at first, even starting with just a few seconds if your dog is showing signs of anxiety, then getting out of the car. Do this exercise daily or every other day, gradually increasing the amount of time you spend doing it. When done over time, this exercise should help your dog have a more positive association with being in the car.