Pet Meds for Traveling Guide

Labrador dog lying next to bottle of pills and medication, close-up
A few of those medications would make this dog's next road trip enjoyable, but be careful to follow directions.­ See more pet pictures.
David Young-Wolff/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

­You're taking a cross-countr­y trip with your two dogs. How do you make sure that your best friends can make the trip in style and comfort? You're not alone ­in traveling with your family pet, as more and more people are going Greyhound with animals in tow. But how exactly do you make this work? While options abound, some people medicate their pet to ease its stress.

Travel medications work to reduce the chance of vomiting and other accidents on the road. They also calm your furry friend during long and stressful road trips. Your veterinarian can help you plan your trip so that bringing your pet won't be a hassle for either of you.


­If your pet isn't used to hitting the road with you, you should take a few short trips first so your pet c­an see the car and feel it in motion. While boat, train or plane access might not be possib­le before your first extended trip, it is a good idea to prepare your pet for travel as much as possible before you go, whether you medicate or not. All animals respond to medication and stress in different ways, but knowing your pet's habits, preferences and stamina helps.

There are hundreds of pet-friendly medications available, so let's examine some important aspects of pet medication. In this article, we'll introduce you to meds for motion sickness and discuss bladder control, and we'll point out a few rules of the road when using sedatives -- such as always consulting your vet before medicating your pet.

Let's start with the crucial issue of bladder control.


Bladder Control Pet Meds

When it comes to pets, one month equals one hour. What does that mean, exactly? For each month your dog ages, for example, he'll be able to "hold it" for another hour, up to eight hours [source: Guarr]. That's great news if you've got a dog that's a few years old and you're going very far, but if you've got a bouncy pup and a six-hour stretch, what can you do to keep that that Springer spaniel from springing a leak?

The $49 billion-a-year pet products market includes beef- and smoke-flavored meds for a variety of conditions, but veterinarians insist that asking your pet to hold it, or restraining its need to urinate, is unnatural. The bottom line is this: If you plan on traveling with your pets, have diapers, pads or newspapers handy. Budget some time for bathroom breaks and walks. If pit-stops aren't possible, limit your animal's food and water intake a few hours before travel [source: Vlahos].


Extra pit stops for territorial sniffing and exploration might work well with dogs, but if you're traveling with cats, you'll need a portable litter box [source: Pet Travel Store]. Check with your vet or local pet store for items in your price range, but be warned: Cats may refuse to use unfamiliar litter or urinate while moving in a car.

When carrying your kitty around with you, remember that she's not urinating on the hotel floor out of spite. Sure, it might be a little peeved at you for leaving its favorite scratching post at home, but its behavior probably has more to do with stress than anger [source: Kansas Humane Society]. As with dogs, limit cats' water intake before you travel.

One other reminder: As animals get older, their ability to hold their urine decreases, so more frequent stops might be necessary for your mature pet [source: Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine].

Let's move on to motion sickness. Don't get woozy!


Motion Sickness Pet Meds

­Like their human caretakers, dogs ­and cats can develop motion sickness wh­en their inner ear's delicate balance mechanism is thrown off-kilter [source: American Kennel Club]. In 2007, the Food and Drug Administration approved the very first anti-nausea treatment for dogs, Pfizer's Cerenia, which can be injected or given orally [source: Herndon].

Cerenia works by blocking your dog's urge to vomit, and the drug can be given with a small amount of food [source: Higgins].


You'll know your pet is nauseated when it begins to drool, act skittish or even develop diarrhea. Unfortunately, your kitty won't respond to antihistamines because it lacks the histamine receptor needed to make this type of medication work. Instead, talk to your vet about phenobarbital or chlorpromazine to block potential vomiting [source: Merck].

Besides the mess caused by a sick pet (or two), the biological stress of vomiting can take its toll on your four-legged companion. Animals that vomit for long periods of time can become dehydrated. This can lead to death in extreme cases. You don't want to deprive your animal of water, but remember that pets will travel better on an empty stomach [source: Drs Foster and Smith].

You shouldn't lose sleep over traveling with pets, but make sure you employ extra caution when using sedatives. You'll learn why in our next section.


Pet Sedatives

­Sedatives work by putting the brain to sleep [source: Brown]. This type of medication, which includes anesthetics, is used to calm an animal or make it sleep for short periods of time (or sometimes permanently). Sedatives are used for everything from nail trimming to travel, but you should take caution when choosing one for your pet.

Testing has shown that an animal's respiration, heart rate and temperature all drop under sedation. Animals also become dehydrated [source: Amarpal], James Cargo]. This could have serious consequences: If your pet gets stuck in a hot cargo hold - or even under your seat -- without water, its health could be in jeopardy. Should your pet wake up confused and alone once the sedative wears off, the resulting panic and grogginess could be just as bad as the stress you'd hoped to avoid.


All told, traveling with your pet shouldn't be any different than traveling alone or with other family members. If you plan ahead and take necessary precautions, you should be able to share an enjoyable trip with your four-legged friend.

For more information, see the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • Amarpal, "Anesthiology." Journal of Veterinary Science. Wiley InterScience. (01/10/09)
  • Cohen, Billie. "Traveling with Charley." The New York Times. 03/21/08 (01/04/09)
  • "Companies cash in on pet travel boom." USA Today. 4/1/05 (01/03/09)
  • Donn, Jeff. "Like human meds, pet drugs spawn safety fears." USA Today. 3/10/07 (01/03/09)
  • Dunn, T.J. "Antibiotic Use and Misuse." The Pet Center. (01/10/09)
  • Guarr, Jean. "The Dog Housetraining Method that Really Works." Forrest City Area Humane Society. (01/03/09)
  • Herndon, Michael. "FDA approves Cerenia" FDA. (01/03/09)
  • "Moving: How to Move Your Pet Safely," The Humane Society of the United States. (01/03/09)
  • "Pros and Cons of Sedation for your Cat." PetPlace. (01/10/09).
  • "Puppy Prozac Promises to Ease Pet Separation Anxiety." ABC News. (01/04/09)
  • Robinson, Narda. "Feline Focus. Treating Cats Holistically." Veterinary Practice News. (01/10/09)
  • "Traveling with Your Cat." Foster and Smith. (01/10/09)
  • "Types of anesthesia, Sedatives and Tranquilizers in Animals." Pet Education. (01/10/09)
  • Vlahos, James. "Pill-Popping Pets." The New York Times. 07/13/09 (01/10/09)
  • "Travel." Dogtime. (01/10/09)
  • "Urinary Incontinence." Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. (01/03/09)
  • Veterinary Institute of Integrative Medicine.