With spring in full swing and summer around the corner, more and more people will be planning on going on a trip and perhaps this involves taking Fido along for a plane ride. If plane travel can be scary to humans, it should not be hard to imagine how it must feel to dogs. While dogs cannot talk about their fears or join a fear of flying chat room for support, there are several ways to assess how they react emotionally and physiologically to plane travel. A study conducted back in 2002, evaluated how dogs reacted during air transportation and their findings confirm that yes, air travel can be quite stressful to dogs. Knowledge is however power, so if you are planning to travel with your dog, there are many things you can do prior to departure day to make the trip less stressful for both you are your four-legged travel companion.
In the study, physiological and behavioral reactions to air transport were studied by observing several beagles. Some beagles were sedated prior to travel and some were not. It was found that the cortisol concentration levels of these dogs were high after ground and air transportation.
During their whole trip, the highest increase in heart rate was registered during the loading and unloading procedure. During the trip, dogs were found to spend 50 percent of their time lying down and they were found to be inactive 75 percent of time, except during take-off.
Since these findings were similar even in the sedated dogs, this seemed to suggest that the sedative used (acepromazine) didn’t seem to affect the dog’s physiological and behavioral stress responses.
This though could have been likely because it was administered 5 hours prior to take off when pharmacokinetic studies had shown that its sedative effect tend to last about 4 hours when given at a dose of 1.3 to 1.5 mg/kg.
So How Stressful is Air Travel?
Not surprisingly, the study revealed that air travel is indeed stressful for dogs. Despite the study showing that transportation by road or by air were both stressful for dogs, their levels of stress though were lower than the levels measured by Beerda et al in a study where dogs where exposed to a loud noise, a falling bag or electric shock. However, there are chances that the discrepancies are due to the fact that, by the time the samples were collected, the dogs may already have habituated to the transport stressor.
What To Do
While the study revealed that both ground and air transportation can stress out dogs, there are many thing dog owners can do to reduce the stress. It’s quite normal for dogs to get stressed out by unconventional forms of travel due to the novelty of it and the fact that dogs are taken away from their comfort zones. Taking steps to get the dog more accustomed to travel can help make it less stressful and less scary, here are a few tips:
- Purchase the crate your dog will be traveling in several weeks before the big travel date and get him accustomed to it from day one. Make the crate comfortable and cozy and make great things happen in it. Feed your dog his favorite treats in it and let him chew on his favorite bone in there. You can start off by keeping the door of the crate open at first.
- As the study has shown, ground transportation can be as scary as air transportation. Get your dog used to traveling in his crate in the car weeks before travel date. Make fun trips to places your dog loves.
- If you live near an airport, take your dog to the airport for brief “practice trips” and to get him gradually used to the noises. Make the trips there fun and don’t forget to bring high value treats to feed while there.
- If the airport is far, you can play recordings of airport noises and planes taking off and landing while you play with your dog and feed him treats so he can form positive associations with the noises. Make sure you start paying these recordings at low volume first and then increase the volume gradually.
- Since loading and unloading seems to be the most stressful part of the whole trip according to the study, it might not hurt to place your dog in the travel crate, place the crate on a cart, and stroll around as you talk to your dog in a happy, reassuring tone. Make it fun!
- Do not sedate your dog! The International Air Transport Association’s Live Animal Regulations warns against tranquilizing pets for air travel. Sedatives may lower blood pressure and may interfere with an animal’s ability to regulate body temperature which can become problematic during airline travel. Also, sedatives may interfere with the dog’s ability to balance in the case there is turbulence during the flight.
- Dr. Jeannine Berger, a board certified veterinary behaviorist suggests using Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) spray in the kennel or the collar version which can be placed on the dog 24 hours prior to the trip. Anxitane (L- theanine), a natural anxiolytic can also be used help reduce your dog’s anxiety and fear.
- According to a study by Wells DA, aromatherapy may also be helpful. A touch of lavender on a cloth in the car may help sooth mildly anxious dogs.
- Walk your dog prior to having him board the plane and give him the opportunity to relieve himself.
” It is recommended that you DO NOT give tranquilizers to your pet when traveling by air because it can increase the risk of heart and respiratory problems. Short-nosed dogs and cats sometimes have even more difficulty with travel.”~American Veterinary Medical Association
- Renée Bergeron, Shannon L. Scott, Jean-Pierre Émond, Florent Mercier, Nigel J. Cook, Al L. Schaefer, Can J Vet Res. 2002 July; 66(3): 211–216.
- Beerda B, Schilder MBH, van Hooff JARAM, de Vries HW, Mol JA. Behavioural, saliva cortisol and heart rate responses to different types of stimuli in dogs. Appl Anim Behav Sci 1998; 58:365–381.
- Beerda B, Schilder MBH, van Hooff JARAM, de Vries HW. Manifestations of chronic and acute stress in dogs. Appl Anim Behav Sci 1997;52:307–319.
- Wells DA. Aromatherapy for travel-induced excitement in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2006;229:964-967.