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Ask A Vet: How Traumatic is Traveling for a Dog?

Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on 7x7.com. Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB is a board certified veterinary behaviorist who counsels guardians whose pets’ issues are beyond the scope of training. Think of her as a pet shrink…at your service. Ask your own questions in the comments!

Q: I am booking my trip for the holidays and debating whether or not to take my dog with me. If I do take him, what can I do to make the experience as easy as possible?

A: How does your dog handle new situations, people and noises? If your dog is used to going places with you and enjoys novel environments and experiences - it is great to take your dog everywhere you go. I took my Chihuahua to Switzerland and he was the best travel partner I had in a long time.

What size is your dog? Will he have to travel in the cargo room or can he be in the cabin with you? Make sure you find out about all the requirements of the airline. You need to have the required carrier for your dog and make sure you make the  reservation early and tell them that you will be bringing a dog – some airlines have limits as to how many dogs can travel in the plane. You don’t want to find out last minute that you can not bring your dog and need to find a pet sitter or boarding facility.

Is your dog comfortable in a crate? Many people never use a crate for their dog and the day before find out that the dog hates the crate. Start out weeks in advance if the dog is not already very comfortable with his crate to get him used to being in the crate and sleeping in the crate. Feed him in the crate and use his favorite bedding in the crate.

Some dogs can benefit from an anti-anxiety medication just like some people like to take something for their trip. Again, ask your veterinarian early if your dog could benefit from medications on the trip. You do not want to use sedation alone with no anti-anxiety effects; some of these sedatives don’t allow the dog to regulate their body temperature and are not allowed by the airlines for good reason.

There are also some natural products you can use – I like the DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) spray you can use in the crate or place a collar (adaptil) on the dog 24 hours prior to the trip. Anxitane is a natural anxiolytic and can be used as well.

Feed your dog lightly the day before the trip and make sure he has defecated and urinated sufficiently before spending a few hours in the crate – add in the time you spend at check in and at the airport – flights might be delayed so it could be hours before you can take the dog outside again. During longer layovers it is worth it to go outside the airport and let the dog walk around a bit or play with him.  During the trip I use small, easily digestible treats especially during take off and landing or give the dog a stuffed toy to stay occupied.

It is fun to travel with a dog – but just like traveling with children requires proper prior planning.