You’re probably used to the idyllic image of a shaggy-haired, happy-go-lucky pooch hanging his head out the window of an old beat up pickup truck. His tongue’s flapping in the wind as he and his lucky owner roll on down the road.
Well, road trips don’t always happen that way (nor should they, for pet safety). Sometimes, pets aren’t happy at all, much less idyllic.
Here are 12 tips on how to keep pets calm in a vehicle.
1. Take practice rides. If your pet isn’t used to riding in vehicles, take a few practice drives. Start a week or two before the trip, increasing the distance each time. Practice drives help soothe pet anxiety about driving and keep pets calm during the drive.
2. Exercise your pet before the drive. Take a long walk or jog together, or play fetch. Dangle some feathery cat toys around or encourage your feline to get frisky on the jungle gym. Exercise gives your pet a way to burn off nervous energy (and maybe help her sleep during the drive!).
3. Massage your pet. Hey, a good kneading helps us relax–why not our four-legged friends? A good massage can help calm dogs and cats.
4. Keep the energy positive. A pet can often sense his owner’s emotions. Instead of approaching the drive with anxiety and dread, treat it like a fun experience. Use a friendly, happy tone as you pack the car and help your cat into her crate.
5. Pack familiar items. As you prepare for the trip, include your pet’s favorite toys and the blanket she normally sleeps with. These familiar items (and smells) especially help alleviate cat and dog anxiety and keep your pets calm throughout the trip.
6. Occupy your pet’s mind. Keep your pet calm with activity items like bones, treat-dispensing toys, and catnip playthings. These toys distract your pet from the potentially scary car ride. (HINT: Try the treats and catnip toys during your practice rides, first, to make sure they won’t cause car sickness.)
7. Consider calming products. For some pets, calming chews and anti-anxiety sprays work wonders for soothing nervous pets. Some pet owners use natural remedies for anxiety like essential oils like lavender to keep their pets calm. For especially long trips, you might talk to your vet about pet anxiety medication for pets or sedation medicine.
8. Research pet anxiety apparel. If you don’t want to use substances, consider apparel. ThunderWorks makes a ThunderShirt for both cats and dogs. These vest-like shirts apply gentle, steady pressure on the pet’s chest and back areas, which helps keep pets calm and relaxed. Research other kinds of pet calming products, too, like pet anxiety wraps and and calming caps.
9. Avoid loud, unfamiliar noises. Loud noises can make even the calmest pet a nervous wreck. Keep your windows rolled up going through construction zones and save the radio-blasting, American Idol auditioning practice for solo trips. Try soothing tunes to blot out offensive noises and calm your pet.
10. Bring another human. If you’re traveling with a friend, have her stroke your pet and scratch his ears from time to time. Contact helps your pet know he’s not alone or forgotten.
11. Talk to your pet. Chatting to your pet as you normally would works wonders for providing anxiety relief for dogs, cats, and other critters. You’re the center of his world, after all (unless your pet is a cat, in which case you’re merely tolerated), and hearing your reassuring voice means everything is okay.
12. Take breaks. We’ll talk more about venturing outside the vehicle later, but for now remember to stop and give your pet a chance to stretch his legs and recharge. For cats that aren’t leash trained, think about stopping the car and letting him roam around the seats for a while, or simply pay some attention to him while he’s still in the cage.
Do you have experience traveling with pets in cars? Any sure-fire tricks to keep pets calm during drives? We’d love to hear them! Share with us in the comments below!