Tips for a Quiet Car Ride
By Emily Hoppmann, DVM
We never want our pets to be stressed and car rides can be very stressful for them. Noise is a major anxiety trigger for pets during car travel so we wanted to give you a couple of tips on how you can help reduce your pet’s stress.
What pets hear on their car ride influences their anxiety level before they ever arrive at their destination, whether it is the veterinary hospital or a play date. You may not be able to avoid some car noises, such as highway noise (rumble strips are especially bad) and other environmental sounds – including sirens, horns blaring – and/or construction equipment. If you can keep your pet calm on your drive, they may be less stressed overall. This is especially helpful if you are heading to the veterinarian since they may be an easier patient than they would be if they were already feeling amped up.
One thing that you want to do is speak in your normal voice. It may feel very natural to want to reassure your pet with baby talk, but this can actually work against you. While your pet may not understand your words, your pet may have learned to associate your tone and type of talk, along with body language, with the idea that something bad is about to happen. When you talk to your dog it is much more soothing to use a matter-of-fact tone and relay instructions (such as “play with your toy” or “settle down”) with confidence and then offer a reward for the good behavior. Pets pick up on our anxiety, so the more calm and collected you are the better your baby will feel.
It can also be helpful to try to distract your pet with calming noise so they do not notice the loud environmental noises as much. You may try playing calming music in the car to ease tension for you and your pet. Consider music designed for pets or classical music that offers calming qualities and drowns out excess road noise that may be nerve-wracking for your pet. It is important that the music you pick does not become associated with the stress of a car ride, so it is critical to play this music around the house during a routine day. For smaller pets it can also be helpful to have them in a secured carrier covered with a towel or blanket to decrease the noise and stimulation.
It is best to start getting your pet used to car rides at a young age, but you want to start with short trips and then work up to longer trips or trips that result in arriving at a location that may be stressful for your pet (such as grooming appointments or veterinary visits). It can also be helpful to take trips to the veterinary hospital for a fun, reward-based visit where there are no procedures or treatments taking place. This will help your pet to have more positive associations with unfamiliar places.