Frankie and motorized vehicles don’t mix. From the start, he made it clear to me that not every dog eagerly jumps into a car, ready to ride. And nothing I have done in subsequent years has ever changed that. To wit:
- Taken him to places that he doesn’t hate in the car. Check. We go for a walk on a river side trail every day, and every day he stands and shakes on the way there.
- Tried different safety restraints, including an elevated car seat. Check. I borrowed one from a friend to see if looking out of the window would help with Frankie’s anxiety. He just shook on a higher plane.
It’s true that Frankie seemed to like — or mind less — a mid-size car that I rented when my Hyundai was in the shop. Sorry, little dog, but I can’t afford to buy you a new, less gas efficient ride.
Since it seems like his automotive issues are related to both the motor sounds and the movement, I figured flying would surely stress Frankie out, especially because he’s not used to being enclosed in a carrier or riding under anything.
So I started thinking about the various things I did to try to quell Frankie’s car anxieties.
I haven’t worried about short runs around town having a major impact on Frankie’s well-being, but when I’ve driven to San Diego with him, it was another story. I figured standing and look anxious for seven hours and refusing to drink water or pee until we get to our destination couldn’t be healthy.
In preparation, I tested out various recommended anti-anxiety potions, including Rescue Remedy, lavander, Valium, Xanax, Benedryl, and (because I didn’t know better) Acepromazine.
- Rescue Remedy: No effect. Frankie was frightened by the drops, which didn’t alleviate his fear.
- Lavender, the purest variety. Aromatherapy doesn’t work on either of us.
- Benedryl at the recommended dose: Nada
- Valium and Xanax: With both of these — they’re in the same drug family, benzodiazapines –Frankie acted like a drunk who’s consumed vast quantities of Red Bull to try to sober up. He remained wide awake but staggering, wanting to play and, more than anything, to bathe my face in doggie kisses. This was not propitious for a car ride since it would: a) involve attempts to leap from the car’s back seat into the front to love me up; and b) would be extremely worrying to the owner of a diabetic dog because the drunken wobble is also a sign of hypoglycemia.
- Acepromazine (commonly called Ace): I thought this drug was effective when I used it, because Frankie seemed calm for the entire trip. I subsequently read that it only masks the symptoms of fear but does nothing to alleviate it. A guest post on Debbie Jacobs’ FearfulDogs blog has a description of its effects.
Clearly, none of these were good options. Then it occurred to me that maybe I should try a muscle relaxer that Frankie used when he injured his back a while back, Robaxin. I seemed to recall that it mellowed him out, a kind of doggie Quaalude.
So I called my vet, Dr. E, to ask his opinion.
The vet consult
We did a recap of the drugs Frankie tried, including Ace which Dr. E said he usually prescribes for anxiety. When, appalled, I asked about the masking effect described in the article I referred to, above, Dr. E said that he had discussed it with several other vets who had used it on their own dogs for thunder anxiety. He said that there were other health issues, related to breathing in some breeds, that would make him hesitate to prescribe it for certain dogs, but there was little evidence that the dogs’ anxiety was only masked. I still didn’t want to use it on Frankie, just in case, but I felt far less guilty for having given it to him on that one car trip.
The more we talked, the more it became clear that drugs didn’t really make sense. After all, we were talking about a flight of only an hour — which is why I thought it would be a good alternative to the seven-hour car ride in the first place. I don’t medicate Frankie when I take him to Phoenix or anywhere less than two hours or so away. Frankie hasn’t been eager to get back in the car after such a ride, but he’s been fine.
And then there are the altitude issues. Frankie doesn’t have breathing problems, and I thought he was more in danger of fear stress than any issues associated with respiration, but I do know that tranquilizers are not generally recommended, even for in-cabin dogs.
In the end. Dr. E suggested I take the Robaxin along just in case Frankie freaked out en route, but that he probably wouldn’t need it.
Maybe I should just take the Robaxin and stop obsessing. Hey, I used to love Quaaludes.