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Dear Lisa: Travel with my dog this Christmas is filling me with dread

Our Pharmacovigilence manager Lisa worked as a veterinary nurse for over 20 years before joining Johnson’s in our head office. To help pet owners with their furry friend health worries, we have introduced our newest blog series ‘Ask Lisa’ so that you can confidentially ask any burning questions or concerns that they may have about your pet. This week, we are responding to one pet owner who is struggling with their dog’s nervousness around travel…

Dear Lisa,

I am planning to travel to my parents for Christmas, however, I am so worried about how my dog will cope with the travel that I am considering not going.

I own a two-year-old pug who gets very agitated and stressed during car journeys. I have only ever travelled to my parents with him once and it was a nightmare – for two hours he cried and was heavily panting, getting himself into such a state that he then threw up all over my backseat. The only time I ever take him in the car now is for routine vet check-ups – where he displays the same behaviour but luckily not for long as the journey only takes ten minutes.

What do I do? I would hate to cancel Christmas with my parents as the pandemic has already caused issues with me being able to see them over the past year, however I am dreading the journey with my pug and worried that the stress of it will be too much. Any advice would be appreciated!

Lisa’s Response

Dear Reader,

I am sorry to hear about the stress you and your dog are going through. It would be awful after the tough year we’ve all had if you were not able to visit your parents, although I do understand the concern you have for your pug’s wellbeing.

There are many reasons why some dogs hate car rides – they may have anxiety, sense your stress (especially if you are worrying about how he is going to act in the car!) or they could be affected by motion sickness. You mentioned in your email that your pug often gets sick in the car – pugs are a short-snouted breed that have more difficulty breathing in stuffy cars, which can contribute to motion sickness.

If you suspect that this may be the culprit for why your dog is getting so agitated, I recommend if possible breaking up your journey with short walks so that your pug can get some fresh air to help with the nausea.

Alternatively, if you believe that your dog’s nervousness around the car is anxiety-related, it is possible that you can re-train them to associate your vehicle with more positive experiences. You mentioned in your email that you only ever take your dog in the car when he needs to see the vet – if your pug also gets nervous at the vets then maybe he associates the car with that negative experience?

Luckily, you still have some time to train your dog so that he gets used to the car. Start by simply walking him to the car and opening the door with him by your side. Reward him with some of his favourite treats so that he begins to associate the car with something positive. Then, continuing to use this method, progress to sitting with your dog in the car with the doors open, then with the doors closed, then with the engine on etc. If your dog starts to show any signs of distress during this process, then return to the previous stage until he is comfortable with it – the trick is not allowing your dog to get agitated or pushing him too hard.

For particularly nervous dogs, Johnson’s also provides a natural herbal remedy called Calm-Eze, which can help calm pets stressed out by thunderstorms and fireworks in addition to travel. If your dog has however been diagnosed with severe anxiety, make sure you speak to your veterinarian – who may be able to prescribe him something stronger.

Johnson's Calm-Eze Tablets for Dogs & Cats
Johnson’s Calm-Eze Tablets can help calm and soothe travel anxiety in dogs and cats

Finally, my last piece of advice would be to please try and remain calm and relaxed yourself when driving with your dog. Our pets are very attuned to our emotions, so if they sense that you are also stressed then they may replicate your behaviour.

Good luck!

Go a pet-related question for Lisa? If you want your question to be featured in our next blog, drop us a message via email or using our contact form.

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