Reducing Travel Stress in Pets

Author: Dr Quixi Sonntag BVSc Hons PGCHE MEd, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria, South Africa


Thousands of animals are transported by air and other means on a daily basis the world over. Due to increased awareness, animal welfare has become an important consideration for anyone involved with transporting animals, especially pets such as dogs and cats. It is incumbent upon all pet shippers to ensure that the animals they ship are as comfortable as possible, both physically and mentally, so that the journey is completed with as little stress as possible.

Any novel (new) experience, or an experience that has previous negative associations, is potentially stressful for a pet. Travelling in a crate, alone and unable to escape can be very distressing for pets. In addition, dogs especially are predisposed to fear of loud noises and simply being in the airport warehouse in the presence of machinery sounds could be highly stressful for some pets.

In many cases, the fear and stress associated with travel can be significantly reduced. The two most important measures to achieve this, are habituation (to the crate, sounds and motion) and the use of medication and pheromone products. Please refer to our article Crate training tips to ensure good preparation of your pet for the trip. This article focuses on the use of medication during travel.

Historically, the use of medication for travelling pets has a bad reputation. The main reason for this is the type of drug that was traditionally used. One of the phenothiazine drugs, acepromazine (ACP), was for years the only medication used to sedate pets during travel. Its side-effects (such as a drop in blood pressure, a drop in body temperature, an increase in aggressive behaviour) are often severe and can even lead to the death of the animal. Furthermore, ACP does not reduce anxiety, but actually sensitises animals to certain stimuli. The use of ACP has been generally referred to as“tranquillisation” in the pet travel industry.

Since then, newer drugs have appeared on the market and instead of tranquillising the pet, actually reduce the anxiety. These newer anxiolytics can play an important role in improving well-being for pets during travel.

Read more

Feliway Calming Aid

This product is perfect to help with cats peeing outside the litter box, scratching the furniture, fighting with other cats in your home and travelling.

Read more about the features and benefits of Feliway

Adaptil Calming Aid

This product is perfect to help your dog cope with staying home alone, loud noises, visitors and travelling.

Read more about the features and benefits of Adaptil

Winter Comfort

It has always been our policy to ensure that our guests are warm during the winter months. Based on our own research where we compared temperatures using different types of heating we have started upgrading and added rooms for dogs which are totally indoors. These buildings are built with bricks and mortar, have insulation in the roof as well as fitted ceilings and weather strips around the doors. This provides a relatively constant temperature in the sleeping area with the added benefit of being able to regulate the temperature more effectively by means of panel heaters fitted in strategic places inside these buildings. Some of the rooms are already fitted with rubberised flooring to enhance the insulation.

It is an expensive undertaking to house our guests in the same comfort as what they enjoy at home but we feel that it is an important aspect of their wellbeing whilst in our care. As the budget allows we are converting more rooms in this manner and moving away from the infrared heating lamps which does not allow for effective temperature regulation like an indoor, well insulated sleeping area. The ambient temperature during the winter months can fluctuate rather dramatically and to have a heating source which supplies the same constant heat without being able to regulate it is not ideal.

It is hardly ever necessary to provide additional heating during the day but we have the means and capacity to do so during cold snaps.

The units in our cattery are still heated by infrared lamps during the winter months – May to August.

For some interesting statistics, please visit this link for more information on ideal and safe temperatures for your pets.