It’s time for your dog or cat’s annual visit to the vet, but they don’t want to go. Your dog starts panting or whining in the car. He’s pacing in the back seat and can’t decide if he wants to look out all the windows at once or hide from the world. You may not be able to find your cat because she decided to take off for the next three days rather than willingly go into her carrier. Does this sound familiar? Do you wish you could explain that you and your vet are trying to help your pet stay safe, happy, and healthy?

What are some reasons for fear of traveling?
Think about when you take your pet for a ride in the car. Where do they go? If your dog only leaves to go to the vet’s office or to the boarding kennel, they may have some inevitable anxiety about getting in the car. Cats are incredibly territorial. If I had a carrier with a big gaping mouth that only came out when I was about to be taken somewhere with strange sensations and smells, I would run away too. How can we help pets feel more comfortable?

As long as your dog does not get carsick, bring some treats in the car to give them something else to think about. You could also play soft, calming music in the vehicle. Once in a while, take your dog for a ride just around the block or to a park so that they do not always associate the vehicle with unpleasant destinations. Talking with a dog trainer is also a great place to start in terms of a personalized approach for your pet.

Adaptil is a very helpful dog pheromone that can be helpful when sprayed on a towel or blanket that is near your pet. Animals use pheromones to communicate, and this particular one can have a calming and reassuring effect. At Lake Road Animal Hospital, we spray Adaptil on the bedding before dogs arrive for surgery, and we have noted that it helps to calm the nerves of many of our patients.

Let’s go back to that image of the carrier? How can we help make those carriers less intimidating and easier to use? First, our favorite carriers are ones that have multiple openings. It is helpful to have an opening on the side and top. It’s also helpful to have a carrier where the top comes completely off. Some cats are happiest if they can sit on their own familiar towels in the bottom of the carrier while the veterinarian conducts the exam.

Keep the carrier where your cat can see it and spend time in and around it on their own terms. Make getting into the carrier part of their usual routine so that when it is time to go for a ride, it’s not a new, scary contraption that comes out of storage only once in a while. Getting your cat comfortable in the carrier can significantly reduce anxiety when it needs to be used. Some kitties like to see everything that is going on, but many prefer to hide to feel more secure. Draping a towel or small blanket over the carrier can help your pet feel more comfortable and
less exposed.

Hold carriers at chest level, close to your body to reduce the swinging motion that occurs by carrying by the handle at the top. This allows your cat to keep their footing and it’s also a safer method of transport. At Lake Road Animal Hospital, we use Feliway, a synthetic feline hormone that helps to calm the kitties in our office. This is helpful to use as a spray on towels or in a diffuser that plugs into the wall.

Anti-anxiety medications coupled with training may be a consideration depending on your pet’s medical and behavioral history. Talk with your veterinarian to determine the best action plan for your pet’s unique needs.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please call your veterinarian. Our goal at Lake Road Animal Hospital is to make vet visits as Fear Free as possible for our clients and patients. Many of our team members are Fear Free certified, and we have a special cat room dedicated just for feline appointments to reduce stress for everyone. We are on a mission to change your pet’s opinion of the dreaded vet office. Visits to the vet don’t have to be frightening!

Written by Rebecca Burns, LVT at Lake Road Animal Hospital