My husband and I are moving to Nevada. We have two dogs who will be making the cross-country trip with us. One will be fine, but our Westie (West Highland Terrier) concerns us. He’s not a fan of being in the car. Any advice for how to make this a stress-free experience for him and all of us?
— Diane Rosen, Glenview, Illinois
Thank you for moving with your dogs. I can’t tell you the heartbreak I have witnessed working at animal shelters through the years from the depressed faces of dogs and cats left behind forever because their families were moving. Pets should always move with their families, and I am glad you are thinking of ways to make the trip easier for your dogs.
I have moved 19 times with my dogs and cats in tow, and the good news is, it’s much easier today to move with a pet than it was 20 years ago. In addition to finding accommodations along the way that accept pets, there are also more things than ever to calm anxious pets during long car trips.
Going from your house to the vet’s office is going to be different than a long-distance road trip. You will likely have blankets, crates, or dog beds for their comfort and maybe a few toys for their entertainment. So, start pre-conditioning your dog by introducing those things into the car now while making short trips to fun places around town, like the dog park or pet store. Increase the length of these car rides over a few weeks’ time to see if your Westie adjusts to the travel.
Also, consider getting your Westie a pressure wrap, like an Anxiety Wrap® or ThunderShirt®, for car trips, which can make him feel calmer and more secure.
If he still isn’t enjoying these short trips, then he may be suffering from some motion sickness. There are natural “calming” and “travel” over-the-counter supplements for dogs; I give my dog a “calming chew treat” before every visit to the vet to take the edge off. While these may not have enough staying power for a long road trip, they might help during the pre-conditioning exercises described above.
If your Westie still doesn’t improve, then talk to your veterinarian about an anti-anxiety medicine that also addresses nausea. Try the medication during short car rides and monitor how long it lasts so you can plan your long-distance trip accordingly. The goal is for your Westie to rest and sleep during most of the trip.
Also, feed your dog a little less on the morning before travel, and at least an hour before getting on the road, to reduce nausea. Fresh air helps nausea, so crack open the car windows a little throughout the trip and plan several stops where the dogs can spend 10 to 15 minutes out of the car.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to email@example.com. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal