Can I Sedate My Dog for Travel

If you have a very anxious pet, you know what it’s like. For example, they might act terrified of strangers or situations. However, it could seem like aggression to others. Further, taking them to the vet may feel like a huge ordeal. Or taking them on any kind of outing, even one that’s fun, can be challenging. But what if you want to take them with on vacation, or you’re moving? So, you might have wondered at one time or another, Can I sedate my dog for travel? Or my cat? We’ll explore these questions and some possible alternatives for traveling with your pet.

Not long ago I mentioned that my family and I were making a trip to South Dakota. Plus, we’re taking Itty and Sophie, our house pets. And we’re renting a vehicle. Thus, to prepare, I had both of them seen by their veterinarian. Since Sophie is super nervous in car trips, even short ones, the vet prescribed a sedative for her. But there are different thoughts on the issue.

What’s the Problem

Most mammals, including cats and dogs, can suffer anxiety. Moreover, sometimes the anxiety and fear is so bad, it affects both pets and pet parents.

Though, for our purposes, we’ll focus more on travel anxiety. Yes, travel anxiety is a real issue. And not just for pets. It also affects people. And travel anxiety has some of the same symptoms as generalized anxiety. Below you’ll find signs that your cat or dog might have travel anxiety.

Travel Anxiety Symptoms

Dog Travel Anxiety Signs

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  • unwillingness to get in the car
  • whining, panting, and/or barking
  • restlessness or pacing
  • drooling
  • yawning
  • lip licking or smacking
  • shaking or trembling
  • urinating or defecating
  • wide open eyes
  • trying to hide or escape
  • and attempts to sit with you or on you (if not in pet crate)

Cat Travel Anxiety Symptoms

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Photo by Noemi Ji on
  • excessive meowing or howling
  • pacing or restlessness
  • lip licking or smacking
  • diarrhea or vomiting
  • and trembling or shaking

Causes of Travel Anxiety

So, what causes travel anxiety in pets? Well, it’s possible your pet is afraid of your car or strange situations if they lack good socialization. Or they could associate the car with anything scary or traumatic. For example, your cat might have travel anxiety, because she associates your car with the vet. Or your dog might have travel anxiety, because his first pet parents abandoned him at your house.

But both cats and dogs can experience motion sickness. Although, it occurs more often when they’re babies. And they can outgrow it when adults. Thus, that can be the issue as well. Or the memory of motion sickness can be the problem, if your pet is an adult.

How to Prevent Pet Travel Anxiety

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Obviously preventing cat and dog travel anxiety is preferable to sedating our beloved fur babies. Therefore, if you have a kitten or a puppy, use what’s referred to as desensitization. When they’re little, start training them for car rides. That’s similar to socialization. Anyway, desensitization is basically just getting your pet comfortable with your car. Taking small, extremely small steps, while giving praise and treats to your pet along the way. But, over the course of some time, you will, eventually, take your cat or dog on a short drive. You can read more about desensitization in detail here.

However, if, like me, your pet already has travel anxiety, you still need a solution. And you can’t travel back in time to change the past. Thankfully there are options. People in the know refer to this option as counter-conditioning. This assumes you have time to put this into practice. Though, if you do, counter-conditioning teaches your pet that your car, and thus traveling is super fun. As I mentioned, it takes time, particularly if your pet already associates your car with something absurdly un-fun.

Counter-conditioning uses some of the same techniques as desensitization. Although, along with car rides, you take your pooch somewhere fun, like the dog park. For example, if you’re flying with your pet, you would take either your cat or dog to the airport to get used to the airport sounds and smells. But after the session at the airport, take your dog somewhere fun. However, counter-conditioning looks different for cats. Since cats get scared easily, it resembles desensitization more. Rather than taking your cat anywhere else, offer more rewards, like added treats and playtime.

OTC Calming Aids

Say you’ve tried the suggestions above, but your pet is still nervous. Or maybe you don’t have the time to work with them. What do you do in that case? Don’t worry. You don’t have to cancel your trip or board your pet.

First of all, there are over-the-counter and homeopathic aids available, such as

black and white Australian Shepherd wearing a pink ThunderShirt inside on tiled floor

According to their website, ThunderShirts or -Jackets are similar to swaddling a baby, by applying a gentle, constant pressure to your pet’s torso. And research suggests that this type of pressure can release a calming hormone like oxytocin or endorphins.

  • cat or dog pheromones

Both cats and dogs release pheromones after giving birth, to calm their babies. Plus, these pheromones have been copied synthetically, And both are available in a variety of forms: diffusers, sprays, or collars.

  • Rescue Remedy specifically for pets
yellow and white container of Rescue Remedy for Pets, a homeopathic remedy for anxiety

For years people have been using Rescue Remedy for anxiety. It’s a homeopathic remedy, made from the essence of plants and flowers. But make sure you get the one that’s alcohol-free.

  • and playing pet-specific music

Species-specific music has been going on, at least, since 2009. And animals like their own music simply, because they can hear it and feel it. Unlike with our music, they have no idea what’s going on. Also, there’s cat-specific and dog-specific music. I guess when we go on our trip, we’ll just have to take turns playing each.

Prescription Medication

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If you still observe any of the signs listed above in your pet, then notify your vet. As I mentioned, car sickness is one of the main reasons why pets dislike cars and traveling. Additionally, motion sickness and travel anxiety share symptoms. Thus, if your pet shows signs of travel anxiety, call and discuss the symptoms with your vet. And the veterinarian will be able to confirm if your pet has motion sickness. Plus, if necessary, they can prescribe medicine to help.

Sometimes your pet may still need, or even benefit from a prescription sedative. However, it’s important to discuss this with your veterinarian. Moreover, if they prescribe something, do a trial run before your trip. For instance, give your pet the recommended dosage while at home to make sure there are no side effects. While some pets won’t experience any effect, including sedation, others will have the opposite effect. Therefore, it’s essential to try it in a safe place first. You absolutely don’t want your dog to be super hyper while on a long drive.

Experts like the AVMA discourage veterinarians from prescribing sedatives to pets for travel by air. They argue that pets that have been given sedatives or tranquilizers are at a higher risk of respiratory and cardiovascular problems at high altitudes, especially snub-nosed breeds. Plus, most airlines won’t allow pets that are sedated.

Pointers for Traveling with Pets

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  • Make time to train your pet for travel

Over the long-haul, counter-condition your dog or cat to travel with treats, playtime and praise. And continue to expose them to airports, cars, and pet carriers. Also, leave their carrier or crate out several days to weeks till they get used to it, and get in it on their own. This will make traveling with your fur baby much easier to manage.

  • Tire your fur baby out before travel

Because exercise helps dispel nervous energy, take your dog for a walk. Or play hard with your cat the night before your trip.

  • Limit food consumption

By limiting your pet’s access to food, it’s less likely they’ll have motion sickness or need to use the bathroom. Also, a pet that needs to use the bathroom might be more distressed when traveling. This is particularly important while traveling by plane.

What to Pack

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Your fur baby’s necessities are important for a happy and successful trip. So, depending on whether you have a cat or dog, you want to bring

  • collapsible food and water bowls or their own
  • your pet’s food
  • leash
  • halter
  • favorite toy
  • treats
  • toy or bone that’s safe for chewing (for dog)
  • blanket that smells like you, that you don’t mind getting dirty
  • litter box, litter, plastic bags, unscented baby wipes
  • and hand cleaner

Take Away

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Pet travel anxiety and generalized anxiety look a lot alike. Plus, the causes for both are very similar. However, there are both ways to prevent and treat travel anxiety in your fur baby. By using desensitization when they’re little, you can teach your pet that traveling is fun. Though, if your pet is currently suffering from travel anxiety, then use counter-conditioning.

Additionally, there are over-the-counter remedies to help you and your pet. From anxiety wraps and essential oils to pheromones and species-specific music, there’s something for every pet. And lastly, there are a number of prescription medications available, including actual sedatives, in the event your pet needs one. But that is best discussed with your pet’s veterinarian and under their guidance.

Our Experience So Far

calico cat and Australian Shepherd lying beside each other on a bed
Sophie and Itty are best friends.

I’ve been concerned about both Sophie and Itty regarding our upcoming trip. Itty absolutely does not like the car, crate, or her backpack, I think, because she associates all with the vet. But both Sophie and Itty were abandoned before they came to us. So, our vet prescribed Acepromazine, which is the most commonly prescribed pet sedative. I gave them each their appropriate dose a couple of weeks ago.

I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to make Sophie even more hyper than she already is. But it wasn’t until everyone else left the house that they both started showing the effects of sedation. And it didn’t knock them out. It just made them a little wobbly. However, after a few hours, Itty ate some cat-grass to make herself throw up. She definitely didn’t like being drugged. Additionally, the days following that, she didn’t trust that I wouldn’t drug her food again.

For our trip, I’ve invested a ton on just Sophie and Itty. I’m trying to make sure they’ll both be comfortable and stress-free. We have their prescriptions as the absolute last option. But I also have Rescue Remedy, ThunderShirts for both of them, their toys, so many treats, pet pheromones, etc. Something is bound to work, right? I’ll keep you guys updated.

Thanks for stopping by! Do your pets get anxious when traveling? What are your go-to methods? Please post a comment and share. And if you don’t already, please don’t forget to follow!