Medications, Supplements, and Products For Calmer, Easier Pet Travel

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pet Travel Sedatives

As the holidays approach, we’re all looking forward to a much-needed break in our daily routines. Travel, especially, is what I look forward to most. But what about all the stress that attends holiday airport and automobile escapades? … especially when you have pets in tow?

Sure, that takes its toll. But some of us find that traveling with pets makes it all more manageable. Others, however, have endured the opposite experience. They’ve suffered through messy motion sickness, non-stop panting, relentless yowling and generalized misbehavior, among other issues.

Given their unpleasant experiences, these people are right to ask, “Isn’t there a better way? How can traveling with my loved ones feel more like an adventure and less like a bad sitcom?”

Mercifully, there is a better way. Or, rather, there are a great many possible ways in which traveling with your pets might be made more manageable. Regrettably, however, these possibilities must be attempted and explored via trial and error before finding what works and what doesn’t for your particular pets.

If you’re a newcomer to traveling with animals, you’ll quickly learn that every single pet is different. Here’s where having experience with children can be helpful, if only because it’s taught you patience, but also because you’ll know that one size does not fit all. Which means you’ll undoubtedly benefit from practice over time. But we all have to start somewhere, right?

To that end, here are some veterinary tips and tricks that have helped me and my clients over the years:

Motion Sickness

Is there anything worse? Not if you’ve ever had to clean vomit off a stranger’s suit. Those of us who know your pets are prone to this particular malady would do well to ask your veterinarian for a pet-approved motion sickness preventative. Cerenia® is made just for this kind of thing. It works great. Get some.

Pet Travel Anxiety

Products for Travel Anxiety

There are as many approaches to travel-related anxiety as there are pets. Some just need dark, quiet spaces (cats especially) and actually get more stressed when pharmacological interventions are employed, while others need a cocktail of meds to make travel even remotely bearable (though they’re still considered a last resort). Here are a few products that are commonly used:

Lavender oil: Soothing aromas do help. Studies bear this out with respect to lavender in particular. A few drops of oil on a cloth collar, carrier bedding, or bandana can be all any pet ever needs.

Feliway® (for cats) and Adaptil® (for dogs): These pheromone sprays can be very effective for some pets and at the very least they’re worth a try. They have zero down-side and they may make other drugs and products more effective.

Thundershirt (and similar products for both cats and dogs): These swaddling methods work by “hugging” pets so they’re less stressed. It works for babies and, in my experience, it works great for pets with all kinds of anxiety issues, not just for storms.

Bach flower extracts and other herbal remedies: Some trainers and behaviorists swear by these. Beware of those with lots of alcohol included in the mix. I always worry that some are effective only because they make our pets drowsy (like any martini might).

Benadryl®: This mildly-quieting antihistamine is commonly recommended to help promote sleepiness during travel. Ask your veterinarian for the correct dose for your pet.

But what if, after a veterinarian-sanctioned trial, these prove “too light” or otherwise ineffective for your pets? Consider talking to your veterinarian about the following common pharmacological interventions:

Drugs for More Serious Anxiety

Sileo® (for dogs): Approved for storm phobia in dogs, this relatively-gentle drug has also been a boon to some travelers. It seems to make them care less about being moved around while keeping them from being too dopey or sleepy.

Alprazolam, diazepam and other benzodiazepine drugs (for both dogs and cats): These can be very effective but the effective dose is highly variable. As with Sileo® and acepromazine, trial and error is often required to get the dosing right. And you certainly don’t want to worry about that in the middle of a flight or drive.

Acepromazine (for both cats and dogs): This “old school” tranquilizer works. Which is why it’s still around. Because less dopiness-inducing methods are available nowadays (some dogs can actually become aggressive when it’s administered), this drug has fallen out of favor somewhat.

Trazodone: Used commonly as a mild tranquilizer for humans, this safe and effective sleep-inducing agent works great for dogs too.

These drugs may be effective for travel anxiety … but at what price? Dogs and cats may remain sleepy or depressed for a day or more after being given these. Others can actually become aggressive, noise-sensitive, or even more anxious. That’s why we always recommend trying these out before any travel experience. Trial and error in an at-home setting is the way to do it.

But you want to know the best method of all? Start early and practice often. Pets who travel frequently and start at a young age are the best at it. In fact, the vast majority of these never need a single drug or product to make travel easier. They love it! And why not? It means they get to go everywhere with their people.

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