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Are we there yet? Don’t leave home without this one road trip essential for dogs

Some dogs leap around with excitement at the thought of a car ride, while others tremble and shake with fear. Often dogs develop car phobias because their only car trips are to the vet or to groomers. Whatever the reason, if you have a dog who is anxious in the car, taking him along on a road trip poses a challenge. Luckily there are things you can do to help make road travel a more positive experience for your pet.

Positive motivation training is a great first step in desensitizing your dog to car rides, say behavioral experts at Best Friends Animal Society. Using treats and praise, you can help your dog make a positive association with the car. This training begins when the car is parked and progresses to short trips around the block. If all goes well, your dog will eventually look forward to taking a ride to the local dog park, laying the groundwork for longer trips. Unfortunately, this training doesn’t work for all pets, and some dogs will need additional help to avoid being miserable in the car.

Sad Irish setter in a car.

What can I offer my dog to help calm him during a car ride?

If, despite your best training efforts, your dog shakes, paces, or whines in the car, a natural calming product is your one road trip essential. Be sure to check with your veterinarian before choosing among the wide variety of products on the market. Here are a few popular options.

  • In a PetMD article, veterinarian Wailani Sung recommends Adaptil products to help a nervous or anxious dog relax.  For example, the Adaptil On-the-Go Calming Collar for Dogs is activated by body heat and releases a constant calming pheromone that helps put dogs at ease during stressful situations.
  • According to veterinarian Angie Krause in her article for Boulder Holistic Vet , CBD oil can help calm anxious dogs. This oil is extracted from the flower of the cannabis plant and doesn’t produce the high associated with cannabis. The best CBD oil for dogs has to be specially formulated, and Krause recommends HempRxForte by Rx Vitamins for Pets. It comes in an oil and a chewable form.
  • Rescue Remedy Stress Relief Pet Supplement offers natural stress relief for pets. It’s often used by animal rescue workers and pet parents to help dogs relax during stressful situations such as thunderstorms or car travel.

What can I use to sedate my dog for travel?

While most dogs adjust to car travel with the help of positive reinforcement training or natural calming products, some may need medication to help them relax. According to a VCA Animal Hospital article, the following medications are sometimes prescribed to help dogs relax when traveling:

  • Trazodone (brand name Desyrel)
  • Gabapentin (brand name Neurontin)
  • Alprazolam (brand names Xanax and Niravam)

The veterinarians who authored the article advise that any anti-anxiety medication be tested at home to know how a dog reacts before heading out on vacation.

What remedies are available for a long car ride?

Some dogs may do fine during short car rides but can suffer from motion sickness when traveling for long periods. Not feeding your dog before traveling can minimize the risk of nausea and vomiting. When necessary, your veterinarian can prescribe medication to prevent nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness. This medication is best given ahead of travel and can be used for several days in a row.

What do I need to pack for a dog on a road trip?

Just as you have a packing checklist for human family members, you need one for your dog. Be sure to include the following:

  • travel crate or pet seat belt to restrain your dog in the car
  • collar, harness, and leash (include backups of each)
  • water and food bowls
  • fresh water
  • food and treats
  • a can opener (if your dog has canned food)
  • bed and blanket
  • favorite toys and chew bones
  • medications
  • pet first aid kit
  • towels
  • grooming supplies
  • poop bags
  • cleaning products and paper towels
Woman sitting in the back of a car with her dog.

Before hitting the road, make sure your pet’s ID tags are current and easy to read. For extra protection, have your dog microchipped and register your pet’s microchip with a microchip agency. Hopefully, your dog will stay close during vacation, but if he does get lost, updating his tags and microchip greatly increases the chances of a happy reunion.  

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