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How to Help Pets Get Over Car Anxiety

written by Ellie Walker

While some pets eagerly anticipate car rides, for others, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Unfortunately, car anxiety in pets is a common problem that pet parents face. Pets that experience car anxiety often display behaviors such as crying, shaking, or vomiting when they’re in the car or even when they are near it. The good news is that with a little bit of patience and their favorite Freshpet treats, most pets can overcome their car anxiety.

What causes car anxiety in pets?

It's not uncommon for some pets to experience anxiety or nervousness when it comes to car rides, and there can be a variety of reasons for this:

  • Motion sickness: Some pets experience – or have experienced – motion sickness when in moving vehicles, which can trigger feelings of anxiety when they need to go into the car.

  • Previous negative experiences: Some pets may have had a car ride be part of a past negative experience, such as a trip to the vet or being dropped off at the shelter.

  • Unfamiliar environment: Some pets may simply feel uncomfortable in the car’s unfamiliar and loud environment.

Regardless of the reason for your pet's discomfort, there are a few steps you can take to help them overcome their car anxiety and feel more at ease.

How to reduce car anxiety in pets

The good news is that car anxiety in pets can be reduced by following three simple steps:

  • Create positive associations with the car itself: The first step is to introduce your pet to the car and help them develop a positive association with it, in general. You can start by letting them sniff around the outside of the car, gradually working your way inside with the doors open and then closed. To make this process move more quickly, it’s a good idea to bring a good supply of their favorite Freshpet recipe or fresh treats – you can use this as a reward for their good behavior during the introduction process!

  • Get them comfortable sitting inside the car: Once your pet is comfortable being in and around the car while it's turned off, you can start the engine while your pet is safely inside. It's important to avoid turning on the engine while your pet is outside of the car, as this can be a loud and frightening experience for them. Once again, rewarding your pet's good behavior with their favorite Freshpet recipe or treat can help to reinforce positive associations.

  • Slowly build up their tolerance for the sound and movement of a car: If they seem to be handling the noises of the car okay while they’re inside and it’s stationary, try taking a short drive around the block. Again, rewarding your pet's good behavior will help to create further positive associations with trips in the car.

If this process goes smoothly, repeat it regularly while slowly increasing your driving time. Before long, your pet should be able to sit happily in your car for any length of time!

When to seek professional help to tackle car anxiety in pets

If you followed the three-step process we outlined above but your pet is still experiencing car anxiety, don’t be afraid to speak to your veterinarian. For more severe cases of car anxiety, veterinarians can prescribe three different types of medication:

  • Anti-nausea medication: If your pet’s car anxiety stems from feelings of motion sickness, they may benefit from an anti-nausea medication to manage their symptoms. If you can control their symptoms, this usually controls their feelings of anxiety when in the car.

  • Anti-anxiety medication: If your pet is still displaying symptoms of car anxiety after trying the anti-nausea medication, your veterinarian may recommend an anti-anxiety medication to reduce general feelings of anxiety. 

  • Sedatives: If the other two medications don’t work, your veterinarian may prescribe a sedative. Sedatives lower their awareness of their surroundings and induce drowsiness, which can effectively calm them down during a car journey.

Your veterinarian is here to support you in this journey and will be able to develop a tailored plan for using medication to help you tackle car anxiety in your pet.

We hope that you have a better idea of how to help your pet overcome their car-related anxiety!

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