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Questions for Dr. Shawn - Traveling with Your Pet

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"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"We plan on traveling with our dog later this summer. However, being in the car really seems to freak him out. Even short trips to the veterinarian’s office or groomer get him upset. We’ve tried a medication called acepromazine prescribed by his doctor in the past, but all this does is make him wobbly and sedated. Do you have any recommendations?"

Answer:
"Your problem is not uncommon. A number of pets really seem to get upset when they’re in the car. I think there are a few explanations for this. First, often the only time a pet gets to ride in the car is when he’s going to the veterinarian’s office, which is not always a pleasant experience. Pets easily remember and associate the unpleasant experience at the doctor’s office with the car. Second, many pets are not trained when they are young to ride in the car. Training puppies and kittens to simply ride in the car and not necessarily go to the doctor’s office is an important part of training.

Acepromazine, the drug you have used, is a popular sedative. Unfortunately, it does not relieve anxiety. Drugs like diazepam, oxazepam, amitryptilline, and buspirone may help reduce anxiety in pets that don’t like to travel. There are several natural remedies that may also work. The popular flower essence called Rescue Remedy is easily administered (orally by drops or as an ointment applied to the skin) and helps many pets with mild anxiety. For pets that don’t respond to Rescue Remedy, I have had some success with herbs. A product I have used is called Nutricalm by RX Vitamins for Pets. It contains tryptophan, valerian, kava, and catnip. Tryptophan is an amino acid which can increase serotonin levels; decreased serotonin levels are often seen in people and pets with anxiety, aggression, various behavioral problems, sleep disturbances, and obsessive-compulsive traits. Valerian is a popular herb used to reduce restlessness. The chemicals in valerian bind to the same cell receptors in the brain as those used by various drugs, including diazepam. Kava is a well known herb often prescribed for depression and anxiety. The kavalactone chemicals in the herb produce muscle relaxation and have an anti-anxiety effect. Finally, catnip also has sedating and calming effects.

In addition to trying drug or natural therapies for your pet, I would strongly suggest working with a veterinarian who specializes in animal behavior. The goal is to have your dog grow to accept and hopefully like riding in the car, which would prevent the need for any type of therapy in the future. Good luck!"

 

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