With the holiday season fast approaching, many of you will be planning visits to parents, grandparents, family and friends. But what to do with your pet? Some of you may consider pet-sitters, others kennels or catteries. For a few of you, you may even plan to take your pet along for the ride - but have you considered how you're going to do this?
Advice for travelling with pets
My first piece of advice on this topic is simple: consider not doing it. I know that seems flippant, but I’m serious – however well you manage it, travelling with your pets is always stressful to some degree for you and for them, and although they would rather be with you, pets generally don’t enjoy holidays as much as we do. They struggle to hold the camera, for one thing.
Assuming you’ve considered carefully whether the journey is going to be worth the worry, however, here’s some general advice to make sure it all goes smoothly.
Firstly, however long or short the journey is, never travel with rabbits, cats or rodents free in the car, and try to avoid it with dogs. You might think they’re calm and relaxed, but if they find their way under the brake pedal then you certainly won’t be. It’s really not worth the risk – make sure they’re in a suitably sized box or basket, and make sure it’s suitably secured (both so they can’t escape mid-journey, and so the box isn’t going to fly off the seat if you have to brake suddenly).
Safety with pets is an issue in any case – pet seatbelts/safety harnesses are available, but tests on these products show that the safety of many of them leaves something to be desired (namely, safety) and this is something worth considering when we take our own safety so seriously when we travel.
Escape and safety aside, there are two main pet health considerations when pets are travelling – anxiety, and motion sickness, although there is some overlap between the two. Let’s have a quick look at them on short and long journeys (we’ll cover foreign travel in a later post).
Short hops up to half an hour or so are the most common, and frequently least avoidable, type of pet journey – short trips to the park, the vets, and the groomers.
Different pets are very different with how they cope with this – one of my dogs settled down and fell asleep on most trips, another remained panting and stood up for every journey, and a third started salivating as soon as she even saw the car, and was invariably sick even if I had remembered not to feed her first (which was about one time in three).
Medication isn’t very useful for short trips, as the journey is often over before it has had a chance to work (especially, if you’re anything like me, you only remember you need to give medicines once you are putting your pet in the car) but it’s worth considering for extreme cases – well talk about this briefly in a moment.
The most useful way to reduce anxiety (and, to a smaller extent, sickness) on short trips is desensitisation, a common behavioural technique used in a variety of situations from separation anxiety to phobias. Although it’s beyond the scope of this short post, it essentially involves removing or confusing the cues that trigger stress in the first place. Practically, this means things like (however silly it feels) putting your pet in the car, sitting immobile for a few moments, and getting out again.
It takes time and patience, but it can work wonders.
If you have a very anxious pet, then trips that last several hours of more can be a huge strain for pets and owners.
It’s very important for long trips, especially on hot days, to make sure you have frequent (at minimum every two hours) stops to make sure your pet has enough water and a chance to relieve themselves – and of course, NEVER leave your pet alone in the car on a hot day.
All of this, of course, requires careful planning, and even with planning it’s very difficult to convince some pets, especially cats, to drink on these sorts of trips, so you may need to consider an overnight stop if the journey is very long.
Medication is available to help with both anxiety and motion sickness – tranquilisers, sedatives, and anti-emetics (anti-vomiting drugs) are all available, and is for the most part very safe and effective, although the most effective medications are prescription only, which means that your vet will need a check over of your pet before they can dispense them.
Make sure to book an appointment in advance of the trip, rather than in a panic on the morning of the drive (which is definitely what I would do; I am full of admiration for most of my clients, who are far more organised than I am. I have no idea how I would cope with these situations if I wasn’t a vet myself)