Calming the Timid Traveler - How to Effectively Manage your Pet’s Car Anxiety

Calming the timid traveler – how to effectively manage your pet’s car anxiety

Everybody knows that dogs love car rides, right? It’s practically a cliche by now! The truth is, not every dog goes crazy for car trips. For many dogs, a car ride is an unpleasant event that can cause stress or anxiety, or even make them feel unwell. This is especially true for dogs who are new to car travel.

“We definitely have a lot of people looking for supplements to help their pets manage travel stress,” says Miranda Carney, Growth Marketing Manager of Pet Releaf, an award-winning manufacturer and distributor of CBD supplements. “Travel can definitely be a stressor for pets. When a pet is stressed, even for a few hours, their overall health is affected, so being able to manage your pet not only at the beginning of the trip but throughout your entire road trip is very important.”

Fortunately, there are real, effective strategies pet parents can use to help allay unease, discomfort, and stress, and make car rides a more positive experience for their dogs.

Reasons for pet stress

Pets can become stressed on car rides for a number of different reasons.  Young pets or pets who are unused to car travel may be frightened by the new experience. Some pets may associate riding in the car with an unpleasant memory. Other pets may feel uneasy when their regular routine is disrupted, or apprehensive in confined spaces. Pets may be bothered by the unfamiliar noises, or unsettled by the sense of movement. Or, they may feel unwell from motion sickness. Anxiety can be a cause for anxiety, but the opposite can also happen: feelings of motion sickness can create stress and anxiety, which can then make motion sickness worse.

Stress presents itself differently in dogs than it does in people, and pet parents may not perceive all the signs. Dogs may whine, cry, or yelp. They may also drool, fidget, pant, shake, or move to and fro in search of an exit. While humans usually yawn when they’re relaxed, bored, or sleepy,  yawning can be a sign of stress in dogs. In some cases, dogs may vomit, urinate, or defecate, even if they are usually well-trained.

Effective stress prevention

The process of alleviating travel stress in your pet can begin long before your next car ride. The first thing you should do is check in with your vet. Signs of anxiety can mimic signs of motion sickness, and a quick evaluation can help you figure out what you’re dealing with. If your vet determines that your dog is suffering from motion sickness, she may prescribe an anti-nausea medication that will help to alleviate his symptoms. If your dog’s motion sickness was caused by stress and anxiety, the problem should resolve.

A behavioral approach can work well for dogs whose problem is psychological rather than physical. Like people, pets can be gradually conditioned to face and let go of their fears. The first step is to find a comfortable, yet secure restraint that’s right for your pet, whether that’s a carrier, a pet seat belt and harness combination, or a car seat. Give your dog a chance to sniff out and investigate the new gear. Then, show him how it works. Then, gradually get him accustomed to using/wearing it.

You can help your dog adapt to riding in the car in a similar way: first, introduce him to the car. Walk him around it, open the door, and let him sniff inside. Then allow him to explore the inside of the car while it isn’t running. Next, have him sit in the car for a short amount of time every day. Slowly get him used to sitting in a running car, then taking short rides around the neighborhood. As you gradually get him used to the car, you can simultaneously try acclimating him to sounds he may hear on the road, such as loud engines or car horns.

There are also strategies you can try that can help your pet associate car rides with positive, happy things. Keep an old clothing item that smells like you or a favorite blanket of his in the car so that he feels at home. Bring toys and stuffies he already loves, or a special toy or stuffy that only appears during car rides. When your pup is ready for short rides, take him to fun, exciting places, like pet stores, hiking trails, dog parks, or dog bakeries, so he can begin to associate car rides with happy experiences.     

Managing stress the day of your trip

To minimize stress before you take off on your car ride, make sure your pet gets plenty of exercise. A tuckered-out pet will be calmer and more relaxed. While you should feed him a bit if he’s hungry, avoid giving him a large meal. Full tummies can more easily become unsettled, and unsettled tummies make vomiting more likely.

Once your dog is in the car, check to make sure he’s comfortable. He should be secure, but have a good range of motion, and he should have a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Check the temperature where he’s sitting; cars can heat and cool unevenly. Speak to him in a cheerful, calm, steady voice,  Offer him a familiar blanket or stuffy to cuddle up with, and/or bring along familiar people who can pet and reassure him from time to time. Some pets respond very well to music, so playing calming songs in the car during your ride may help sooth him and make it a more positive experience.  

Benefits of supplements for nervous travelers

Many pet parents have successfully used CBD supplements to alleviate discomfort and stress in their dogs during car rides. These supplements are safe and effective, and they don’t cause sleepiness or grogginess, so your pup can still enjoy the journey. They can be given to dogs of all ages, so even puppies and elderly dogs can benefit from them.

Pet Releaf CBD supplements get our vote for a number of reasons. First of all, they’re certified organic and made with high-quality ingredients. They’re also third-party tested, which means you can trust the efficacy and safety results. And, we like all of the different available options. They come in different doggie-tempting flavors, there are options that address specific stressors, and you can choose between pre-portioned chewables tailored for different pet sizes and high-potency oils that can be precisely dosed.

CBD supplements a really versatile option that’s both proactive and reactive. You can give your dog CBD supplements on the same day you travel, and they will work. However, they will be even more effective if you plan ahead and begin giving them to your dog every day two weeks before the trip.

In the end, you may not ever transform your travel-phobic dog into a canine road warrior, but with a little preparation, hard work, and positive reinforcement, you can make car trips a much more pleasant experience, both for you and your reluctant traveler.    

Photo credit: istock/Acracut