CVMA-ACMV

Developing a Happy Traveller

July 11, 2012

Suggestions for travelling with your pet to the veterinarian

Many clients express concern about bringing their pets into the veterinary clinic because travelling in a vehicle is foreign to their pets, and thus a source of stress for both the pet and owner.

Here are some simple suggestions for developing a happy traveller, so your trips to the vet are not so scary! Small dogs and cats are best transported in a carrier, secured in the vehicle. Large dogs are usually transported tied in a dog seat belt.

  • Start long before the first anticipated trip. By leaving the kennel or carrier out in your home, your pet will become familiar with it. Praise and give treats anytime the pet enters willingly into the carrier. Leave toys and treats inside so your pet can be encouraged to enter. Some pets may choose to use the carrier on their own if their bedding is placed inside.
  • Do not force your pet into the crate, as this can leave the pet with unpleasant feelings about entering the crate in the future.
  • Invite him into in the parked car at home, giving praise or treats, then just take him back into the house. This is repeated until your dog willingly jumps in for the treats, or a cat will appear relaxed and quiet. Avoid any loud noises, force or punishment as these will backfire and increase stress, so are counterproductive.
  • Take lots of time! Cats especially may need a while to relax during their transport. Animals also pick up on our emotions so if you are calm, your pet will be too!
  • Over the next while, take him or her for short rides everywhere you go—store, post office, or the kid’s school. Provide a view out of the carrier and window during transport if the pet tends to get travel sickness, as the view helps the brain’s balance system stay oriented during movement. If your pet appears nauseous during travel, ask your veterinarian about medication that is specifically designed for pets with motion sickness.
  • Using a familiar blankie, something with your scent, aromatherapy or a pheromone sprayed on a blanket or towel at least 10 to 20 minutes prior to transport may help your pet feel more secure. 
  • Many carriers are fine for transport. It is best to secure them with a seatbelt to avoid any sudden kennel/carrier movement. Seat covers are available which protect your car from soiling or hairs. Dog seatbelts can be purchased in many different sizes. These can be attached to your own vehicle seat. Many people prefer to transport their smaller dogs in a secured kennel.
  • When your pet calmly takes these short rides only then, take a trip to the veterinarian—but not to a regular appointment—go in and let the staff give him a treat and then go home.
  • Use a pet’s crate as their safe haven at home for sleeping and breaks from family activities to help them get used to trusting their cubby as a transport capsule. Never scold your pet in or near the kennel and do not use the carrier or kennel as a time out for bad behaviour so that the kennel is never a prison but always a safe and secure “den”. In addition, kennel or crate training can be an excellent way to prevent potential problems and keep the pet secure before problems arise.
  • Remember to avoid using the open back of a pickup truck for transporting your dog to the veterinarian. Traveling pets must be securely confined. Unfortunately, your local emergency clinic sees dogs supposedly trained to stay in the back come in regularly with serious injuries.
  • Keep windows closed sufficiently to keep dogs out of the wind, for their ears’ and eyes’ sake, and to avoid the pet jumping out, or people reaching in.
  • Avoid heat or cold stress during transport as this can make your pet averse to getting in the vehicle. Vehicles can overheat to dangerous levels within minutes on a summer day. Preheat the car in winter to keep your furry friend cozy. Consider the weather and safety before leaving the pet alone in the car, even for a few minutes.
  • Sometimes you may need to travel with your pet, or an emergency can arise before the travel training is complete. If you need to transport, remain calm, move slowly and place the pet in the transport, taking a carrier apart if necessary for cats so you do not shove your cat in or drag the cat out. Use treats, toys and praise to distract the pet and to reward good behaviour. Sometimes a burrito wrap (soft towel gently wrapped over and around the cat loosely) can be used to place the very reluctant traveler in a carrier if the uncooperative cat may scratch or bite. Once in the carrier, the cat may exit the wrap, or the cat may prefer to remain hidden.
  • When you come back home, note that a cat may have picked up foreign clinic odours and your other cats in the household may not accept him or her back right away. Monitor closely and if there is a problem, place the returning cat in a separate room with toys, bedding and litter for about a day, and then gradually re-introduce them, providing treats and toys to make the greeting positive. Feline pheromone may assist in this process as well.

Happy Travels!

A sincere thank you to Dr. Gary Landsberg, of the North Toronto Veterinary Clinic, a certified veterinary behaviourist (ACVB, ECVB) for review of this article.