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Handling separation anxiety in your pet before travel

Separation anxiety and pet travel do not make the best of companions. International pet travel is complicated enough; adding an anxious pet in the mix can make it more challenging. It is possible to move a pet with separation anxiety to a different country with some training and a whole lot of patience.

If your pet struggles with separation anxiety, here’s what you can do to keep him or her stress-free during their international relocation.

What is separation anxiety? How can you tell if your pet has separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety affects dogs and cats alike. Pets that display extreme distress and other behavioural problems when left alone are said to suffer from separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is not a rare phenomenon; a significant number of pets – both cats and dogs – face this problem. If you are planning to travel internationally with a pet with separation anxiety, it is vital to address the issue before the move.

Separation anxiety manifests in pets in different ways; dogs resort to destructive chewing, howling, barking, urination and defecation even in house-trained dogs. Cats become unusually moody, destructive, or hide in closets. They can also exhibit extreme behaviour such as excessive grooming, vomiting, and refusing to eat.

How can I handle my pet’s separation anxiety during travel?

When your pet travels to a different country, he or she will fly in a pet-friendly area in the cargo hold of the aircraft. Once the flight takes off, this area cannot be accessed by the airline staff, and your pet will be alone for the duration of the trip. It is very important for your pet to stay calm and not agitated during this time. Helping your anxious pet get over their separation anxiety will go a long way in making their flight comfortable and stress-free (for both the pet and the pet parent).

Consult an animal behaviourist

If your pet suffers from anxiety that makes it very difficult for him or her to spend any time alone, it is best to consult an animal behaviourist to help with the condition. A behaviourist will be able to pinpoint the reason behind the anxiety and work with you and your pet to help conquer the fear.

An animal behaviourist will assess your pet dog or cat and present a plan to help your pet deal with the anxiety. Modifying anxious behaviour in pets can be a long process and requires patience and practice. If your pet displays extreme anxiety, it is best to work on correcting this behaviour before you make your travel plans.

Start crate training early

Your pet’s travel crate will be his or her home for the duration of their travel and making them feel comfortable in the crate is essential for a stress-free and relaxed trip. If your pet displays anxious behaviour or suffers from separation anxiety, crate training your pet is a necessary step in their travel.

Measure your dog’s dimensions carefully and invest in an IATA-compliant travel crate for your pet. The crate must be big enough for your pet to turn around and lay down comfortably. It is a good idea to begin crate training your pet as early as possible. Some cats and dogs take to the crate very quickly, while others take some time to get used to being in the crate.

Remember to use positive reinforcement during crate training and make sure your pet associates the crate with happy memories. With the right crate training, your pet will soon see the travel crate as their happy place and will not be anxious to get inside.

Pets with separation anxiety may take longer to get used to the crate. Remember to be patient and start by leaving the pet in the crate for a short time first before slowly increasing the time.

Leave familiar and comfortable things in the crate

When your pet is surrounded by familiar smells, he or she is less likely to feel anxious. While it is not recommended to keep a toy in the crate while travelling, you can reassure your pet by placing a favourite blanket or an unwashed item of clothing in the crate during the flight.

Practice short trips

One method of acclimatising your pet dog or cat to travel is to practice short trips in the car with them. It is a great way to gauge how your pet will react to new and unknown situations. Use these short trips to help reassure your pets and build their confidence.

Make sure the crate training is complete, and your pet is comfortable staying in the crate for the duration of the trip. Start taking practice trips as early as possible so your pet can handle the actual move effortlessly.

Pack up when your pet is not around

If your pet is extremely anxious, chances are he or she can get triggered when the packing begins. Some pets display extreme anxious behaviour as soon as they sense a change. Dogs are known to stop eating, drool uncontrollably and self-harm by licking themselves continuously, and cats can completely withdraw, refuse to eat and become destructive when they sense the impending change.

Reassure your pet by faithfully following all routines that they are used to on the days preceding the move. It is a good idea to send your pet to a boarding kennel or drop him or her at a friend or relative’s home when the packers arrive. The sight of all familiar things being packed and sent away might stress your pet.

Most international pet transport agencies can arrange for boarding at a pet hotel a few days before the date of departure. It may be in your pet’s best interests to take advantage of this offer; your pet will be stress-free, and you will also be less anxious for your pet.

Try natural calming products

Natural calming sprays can help ease a pet in distress. Spray the travel crate with calming sprays that mimic pheromones to reassure your pet. Natural oils such as lavender oil, chamomile and valerian are well-known for the calming effect they have on both cats and dogs. Spraying the crate with these oils can help calm your pet during travel. These products are best used under the supervision of the vet.

Do not sedate your pet before travel. Many pet parents plan to sedate their anxious pets before the trip so that they can sleep during the journey. Sedating a pet before air travel is dangerous and not recommended. Sedated pets cannot regulate their body temperature, and sedatives hamper a pet’s natural ability to process all the changes that occur during a flight. Sedated pets are at considerable risk because they are unpredictable and dangerous for your pet. Pets should not be sedated for travel under any circumstances.

Keep calm

An international move with family and pets can be time-consuming and stressful for everyone involved. It is very natural for pet parents to be anxious during the move. Pets are sensitive towards your emotions and can pick up on your anxiety and stress. The best way to calm your fur baby is to be calm yourself, so they do not get affected by your anxious behaviour.

It is challenging to navigate the complex process of international pet travel, with the constantly changing rules and regulations, and complicated veterinary conditions. An accredited pet transport agency can help you with all the processes and paperwork required for the relocation.

Travelling internationally with an anxious pet?

International travel with an anxious pet is not the easiest thing to accomplish, but with patience and planning, one can successfully relocate a pet with separation anxiety issues. If you are planning an international relocation with an anxious pet, reach out to us at Petraveller for more information on hand-holding your pet during travel.