As the snow hits and the temperature drops, it is common for many to follow the birds south to warmer temperatures. Our pets often accompany us on our travels. Whether it be driving to the vet, to the park, on a road trip, moving houses, flying on a plane, or any other mode of transport, it can be a stressful event for many of our furry friends. Some of them love the experience and relish in the excitement and adventure, while others may develop motion sickness or have anxiety and stress about the whole endeavor.
Travel anxiety is a frequent topic, with many of my clients asking for sedation for travel. There are many options for treating travel anxiety, and I thought I'd share my two cents on the topic and make some recommendations.
Things like pheromone sprays (Feliway and Adaptil) can help for mild cases of anxiety. Thunder vests are another great option as well. For those cases which require a bit more, there are medications available as well.
I typically recommend anti-anxiety medications (which have a mild sedatory effect as well) rather than pure sedation medications for travel. The reason for this is that with sedatives, some animals retain enough awareness and even though they are sedated, learn to fear the scenario even more making their anxiety worse for future travels. Additionally, many sedatives have systemic side effects like decreasing an animals ability to regulate their body temperature or maintain blood pressures for example. Most healthy patients are able to tolerate these effects without issue, although ill, geriatric, or very young patients may be more severely affected. Especially when travelling via plane in cargo where the temperature may become quite cool, and the pressurization is not the same as in the cabin, these side effects may be compounded and result in an increased risk.
Anti-anxiety medications help to allow the animal to relax more and tolerate the trip better, with a mild sedation often being noted as an added benefit. While we don't see as pronounced sedation with these medications in most cases, we typically have better long term results, and avoid compromising an animals thermoregulation.
If you have an issue with anxiety, whether it be travel related, separation anxiety, or any other issues, speak to your veterinarian about options. Pills and medications aren't the answer to everything, as behavioral modification training is invaluable, but in many causes medications can be used as an aid to training, or short term for one time events like travel.