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Now's the time to plan those summer getaways, and more people are traveling with their dogs than ever before. If you're taking your pup on the road, you know you need to find a pet-friendly hotel and fun things for both of you to do. But you may not be aware of everything you should plan in advance to keep your dog healthy while traveling. We talked with Dr. Marty Becker about what to do to make sure you have a happy, healthy adventure together.
It's important to consider what diseases and parasites might be common where you're going that you don't need to worry about at home. Talk to your vet well before your trip, because you may need vaccinations or preventives that should be started in advance, such as for heartworm, fleas or ticks.
"There are very few fleas and ticks where I live in Idaho," Dr. Becker says. "Say you're going back east. Lyme disease is a huge risk back there. We want to put your pet on a really good flea and tick medication, and I'd give the Lyme disease vaccine."
If ticks aren't common where you live — or if you're, say, hiking the Appalachian trail when normally you only walk on city sidewalks — be sure to learn how to check your dog for ticks and remove them. Ignore the old stories about burning ticks with a match or squeezing, both of which are ineffective and can spread the bug's infected contents all over you and your dog.
"Use tweezers or pliers and grasp them close to the head, and if you take off a little skin, that's all the better," he says. There are also specialized tick-removing tools you can buy.
Some diseases and parasites are spread from other animals, so keep your dog away from wildlife. "If they see a dead ground squirrel or something, don't let them touch it," he says. He also suggests avoiding the pet-walking areas at highway rest stops.
Be aware of where there are disease outbreaks that may require vaccinations your dog doesn't already have. One that's made the news lately is canine influenza in the Chicago area. Dr. Becker says there's an outbreak of distemper in the Seattle area, and there's been an increase in cases of leptospirosis, so make sure your dog is up to date on his routine vaccines, even if those diseases aren't a concern for you locally.
If your dog is not accustomed to car travel, it's best to start with short trips to fun places like the pet store and the park and to reinforce with tasty treats. Even so, some dogs will still find the experience stressful. Fortunately, there's plenty you can do, starting with simply keeping the dog's mind off the problem: If your dog is in a crate, cover it with a sheet. "It reduces the visual stimuli and they'll be a lot calmer," he says.
Dr. Becker says there are excellent and relatively safe sedatives now that he prescribes for travel, but there are more natural options you can try first, and the first is calming pheromones.
"Pheromones are the proverbial 'magic carpet ride,'" he says. "These pets have not smelled it since they were puppies and kittens and all of a sudden they're looking around like, 'where's momma?'"
You can get a plug-in diffuser and plug it into your car's power adapter or get the spray and spray a towel and lay it on the pet's bedding. Then, it's easy to refresh and carry from the car into your hotel room or wherever you're staying.
There are natural chewable calming pills — Dr. Becker recommends the types made with green tea extract or milk protein. "They are highly palatable and really calm a lot of pets down," he says. You can also try calming compression garments like the Thundershirt.
In a totally different vein, Dr. Becker recommends the dog-specific music produced by Through A Dog's Ear. Much as you love your pet, it may seem like going too far to let him choose the music you play in the car, but you don't have to do it the whole time. "Play it till he falls asleep," he says. "It's really calming."
Another problem in the car can be motion sickness, which is uncomfortable and stressful for the pet — and the end results are no fun for anyone. Your pet can't tell you she feels sick, but there are often obvious clues. "You'll see them licking their lips and salivating," Dr. Becker says.
If you have a pet who hasn't traveled before or you know he is prone to car sickness, Dr. Becker recommends asking your vet for anti-nausea medication, which is generally safe, inexpensive and highly effective.
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