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.