Desensitising your pet to car travel

Cat sitting in packed suitcase

You may be lucky enough to be going on a summer break soon, but does your pet enjoy travelling as much as you do?

Pets pick up on changes in routine, starting with the suitcases coming out or bags being packed and the general pre-holiday panic before leaving the house. Without you realising, this is already starting to cause your pet anxiety.

The fact that your dog may then get locked in a cage, put in the car and made to endure several hours of travel only increases the level of stress they may experience. For cats the stress of a long car journey to a cattery can be just as stressful if not managed in the right way.

If you can, it’s worth putting some time and effort in to getting your pet used to being in the car on a regular basis, before they need to take any long journeys. Ideally this training would be from a young age so it’s best to start when they are a puppy or kitten but it can be done at any time.

Most pets associate the car with trips to the vets or catteries/kennels so, getting them used to the car without these outcomes will help to reduce their initial worry.

Tips on making sure your dog enjoys travelling with you:

  • Let your dog explore the inside of car while you sit quietly and calmly in the front.
  • The following day, repeat but put some treats in the back (where your dog will travel). After a while, turn on the engine. Do this a few times throughout the day, each time making sure you remain calm too.
  • If you’re going to put your dog in a crate, get them used to it at this stage (ensure the crate or carrier is big enough for your dog to sit, stand and lie naturally – never tie them in).
  • All animals have to be suitably restrained in car, so specialist seat belt harnesses, pet carriers or dog cages/guards are necessary. This is to prevent injury to both you and your pet and will also help make sure your pet feels safe when travelling.
  • The next step is to take a very short trip, just round the block. Gauge how your dog reacts, if it whines or appears unhappy, maybe go back a stage.
  • Gradually build up the journey time. For dogs, make the trip to the park or somewhere they can have fun. The idea is that your dog gets used to the car and doesn’t always associate car travel with a negative experience.

Tips on making sure your cat feels less stressed in the car:

  • When travelling cats are usually put in a carriers so it’s important to make sure your cat doesn’t find the pure sight of the carrier stressful. Leave the carrier open at home with a comfy blanket in for them to get used to it – don’t simply get the carrier out when they’re off to the vets or going on a long trip.
  • Once cats are familiar with the carrier, start the same process, put them in the car and switch on the engine. It’s all about getting them used to the noises and the environment. The strange noises your cat will hear in the car will all take some getting used to.
  • Take a few very short trips, each one ending calmly back at home. You want your cat to associate the car with positive experiences not stressful visits to the vet or long journeys.

Although this process can take time, it is worth persevering if you know your pet will have to take car journeys regularly.

Calming supplements

Desensitising your pet to car travel can be made less stressful with the use of calming supplements. These are natural supplements designed to help pets cope with stressful situations such as long journeys and changes in their routine caused by the holiday season.

Zylkene contains a natural ingredient derived from casein, a protein in milk, it is non-drowsy and promotes pet relaxtion.

  • Start giving your pet Zylkene 1-2 days before a stressful event.
  • Zylkene is available as a tasty chew or capsule. This gives you the flexibility to choose what you think your pet will prefer.
  • Capsules can be broken open and the contents can be sprinkled onto food, making them ideal for cats.
  • Ensure you keep giving your pet the supplement until their routine goes back to normal.
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