Frankie says "Just get me to the beach, already!"

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.

The meds

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.

The results:

  • 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.

To see more about my extended worrying process, see Pet Travel Planning, Pt. 1 and Pet Traveling Planning, Pt. 2

34 thoughts on “Pet Travel Planning, Pt. 3: Frankie’s Drug-Free Policy”

  1. how is Frankie in a crate? Dexter shakes in the back seat of the car also, but when i put him into his crate and stap it in with the seatbelt, he is able to relax and actually lie down for the ride.

    Also, i know rescue remedy might not help, but if it is the drops he is afraid of, you could try to put the drops on a treat and feed it to him to at least alleviate the fear of the drops. *shrugs* just a suggestion. every dog is different and i hope you guys find something that helps frankie! maybe in a comfy crate he will feel more secure? poor little guy.

    1. Thanks for the suggestions, Alana. That’s very interesting about Dexter being able to relax in his crate in the car. Frankie isn’t crate trained — I’ve been getting him used to the carrier, and only tried it a few times in the car — but who knows? He might like being in that little cozy space, which would be wonderful. And you’re right about the Rescue Remedy. Putting it in his food couldn’t hurt!

      1. SOMEONE PLEASE READ AND HELP ME!!! In sorry I may have missed it in the story somewhere but did Frankie go on a plane? My dog flew with me yesterday I gave her Trazodone per vets recommendation. She freaked out the ENTIRE flight! She was breathing heavy, panting, shaking, it was HORRIBLE!! It was only a 55 min flight but tomorrow I have a 5 HOUR flight AND A 3 HOUR FLIGHT after that! I’m looking everywhere for help! I was a mess not being able to help my baby!!!

        1. Frankie went on a plane and he did fine. I’m afraid it was a long time ago and I don’t recall, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t use drugs. It sounds like Trazadone didn’t work well for either you or Jessica so I would suggest not using it. Sorry I can’t be more helpful. Best of luck!

  2. for car rides, you might try the calm canine music, puts my cici straight to sleep… but then she loves riding in the car… but there should be no side effects other than listening to classical music made for dogs ears. through a dog’s ear has some samples of the music on their website. test it out and see how Frankie reacts at home and see if that helps.

    1. Actually, I’ve written several times about Through a Dog’s Ear, which kinda, sorta helped Frankie and has been hugely helpful for many others, but unless I get Frankie his own little headset it wouldn’t work in the plane!

  3. We moved cross country with 4 cats and a dog. We tried the Acepromazine for 2 of the kitties, but it was such a mess – one was totally out of it and the other screamed like he was terrified . .we gave up and they did better without the drugs. Good luck to you and Frankie on your flight!!

  4. Have you tried the dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) with Frankie? We didn’t see much difference either … spraying it on a bandana or using the diffuser at home, but Janet @ AboutVetMed swears by the collars (which last up to a month).

    I picked one up in the exhibit hall at the ACVIM conference last week. I’m going to try it on Lilly.

    1. Haven’t tried it yet, but it’s on my list. I did try an aromatherapy collar which, along with Through a Dog’s Ear, did seem to have some effect — until we hit traffic! Then all bets were off.

  5. You might look into the ‘Thundershirt’. It supposedly works miracles on dogs with actual thunder anxiety and is reported to do te same for travel anxiety. We have a LARGE boxer with severe seperation anxiety and have ordered one for him in the hopes it will help.

    Good Luck!

    1. I’ve heard great things about the Thundershirt, and it’s on my list of possibilities. I usually travel when it’s very hot in Tucson so adding clothing gave me pause, but if it works…

      Please write back if you remember and let me know how your Boxer responds to it.

      Update: you inspired me; see my comment to Kenzohw.

  6. We used D.A.P. as a spray with Viva, it did help for her anxiety inside the car itself. But did nothing for all the other “scary things” that happen to her on the roadl. The one thing I noticed is that you see immediatley if it has an effect. So you could make a short car trip just to try it out. But what I heard from others is it doesn’t always help. It probably depends on the individual dog and the level of anxiety attached. Whish I could be of more help than all this hear-say… Taking some Robaxin with you on the trip just in case as you mention seems like the best option.

    1. Well, I just went to the feed/pet store to buy more food for Frankie’s trip — that’s a whole other post — and saw D.A.P. there. The only size they had cost $46, which seemed very expensive for something that I was afraid wouldn’t work. Then I saw they also carried Thundershirts, which were not cheap either ($40) but seemed more likely to have an effect — and which Frankie could wear if he was cold!

      So I’ll report back.

  7. I attended a seminar with Dr. Dodman in May. He’s now recommending the use of Clonidine for quick-acting, short-term anxiety relief. He says it is less likely to cause paradoxical excitement than Xanax, and has few side effects other than possibly sedation. Recommended dosage for anxiety is 0.1 mg for dogs <20 lb, up to 0.05 mg/kg (about 1 mg for a 40-pound dog) twice a day or as needed. You could contact the Tufts Behavior Clinic to make sure it's considered safe for airplane travel:

    1. Thanks very much for the info, Mary. It’s too late for this trip in any case, but I’ll check it out for next time. As it happens, I write for Your Dog fairly often and have interviewed Dr. Dodman several times for that publication, so if I have a chance to talk to him, I’ll ask him.

  8. Sorry to hear that Frankie has such a hard time! 🙁 We’ve had car troubles too, but Bella’s issue is really motion sickness rather than fear. We had her on Ace at one point… it just seemed too harsh, so our vet now has us using Cerenia (which is more for vomiting). I hope that the Thundershirt works for you – I’ve heard great things about it from friends!

    1. The good news about motion sickness is that dogs often grow out of it. I’ve heard good things about Cerenia for motion sickness too.

      So far Frankie’s not hating on the Thundershirt, as in trying to remove it, though there’s been a little lip licking and yawning… I was told to try to get him used to it rather than just springing it on him tomorrow.

  9. By the time you read this your flight is probably over. I hope Frankie (and you) came out of it unscathed. Poor pups. All they want is for us to be farmers who are always at home.

    While it’s too late for this trip, have you ever seen TTouch demonstrated? I read a book on it once and I’ve been very impressed by the videos of mellow dogs zoning out while a nice lady strokes their ears and legs. I have used the ear stroke and some of their other touches with good success.

    The good news is there aren’t side effects. And if it doesn’t work, at least you’ve gotten to enjoy touching your wee pup.

    Here’s a link:

    1. Thank you! We’re here in San Diego and no one had to resort to drugs (although I did drink quite a bit of wine). Frankie did great and I’m recovering from the trauma!

  10. One of our pups has felt much the same about car rides in the past. It is a pain trying to make them comfortable, because we so often fail…even with medication.

    Crossing my fingers that Frankie has a non-eventful, not-so-scary ride in the plane.

    On the bright side, you’ll be there with him. =]

    1. I think it’s important, too, to let people know that some dogs have problems with car rides. One of the most upsetting things for me was my fear that Frankie was a freak because “all dogs love cars”!

  11. I saw your post about combining xanax and valium for Frankie. I was told to do that with my Cali who hates flying and have been leary of doing it. The xanax like you said made her the same way not tired at all and drunk, I am debating whether to mix it with valium another benzo. I was thinking of halfing the xanax dose if I did. Just worried need to figure out something for flying and Ace I am againist havent tried and refuse to try second vet set it was more a calmer for hyped up dogs after surgery and their mind does still race if it is a anxiety issue.

    1. Yes, definitely bypass the Ace. As for the other options, I wouldn’t do any mixing without consulting a(nother) vet. Even if they’re in the same family, even if you’re only doing a half dose, you don’t know how the drugs will react with each other. Good luck! I know how stressful that is.

  12. My dog is fine travelling except when the drive involves going through high elevations. About half way up the elevation she stands in her crate and begins to whine. Would this be associated with the effect that the higher the elevation the more pressure/pain to her ears. As with people, on air travel take offs and landing can be very painful and antihistamines taken prior to flying offer some relief.

    1. Your theory makes a lot of sense to me, but I suggest you ask your vet before administering antihistamines to confirm both the diagnosis and the dosage.

  13. thanks for a great blog, Edie! I’m traveling across the country (EWK > LAX) with my 4-year old mini-dachshund in 2 weeks. the vet prescribed trazodone for the flight. have you heard anything about this drug mixed with flying? The last time we flew she was panting the entire flight! I do not want to her to be so anxious, but I also want to be safe with medications at high elevations. I see mixed opinions online. do you have any advice or info on this? thank you!

    1. Hi Jessica, and thanks for your nice words about this post. I’m afraid I don’t know anything about trazodone but if you trust your vet and he or she prescribed it specifically for flying, it sounds like it’s worth a try. Good luck!

    2. How did the flight go?? I have never flown with my dog but will be over Christmas. My vet suggested Trazodone. My dog doesn’t have anxiety but she said it is super safe and will most likely just help her sleep and be calm. Wondering how it worked out for you??

    3. Hi Jessica can you tell me how it went??? We used it yesterday for a SHORT FLIGHT AND MY DOG FREAKED OUT THE ENTIRE FLIGHT!

  14. I feel your pain! My mini-Aussie, Dolly, has motion sickness unlike any dog I’ve ever had. Definitely learned to not feed her anything after dinner the night before and carry a kennel water bottle so she can stay hydrated. We tried rescue remedy, Benadryl, Cerenia, lavender, chamomile, booster seat, no booster, you name it. Everything comes right back up about 45 minutes into the trip. After 4-5 stops and she literally has nothing left to puke, then we can continue the road trip. I’ve got it down to a science … lining the front seat with blankets, towels and covered with 2-3 giant piddle pads. She gets sick, I hold up the corners and confine the ick. Pull over, extract her, roll up the piddle pads, lay out new ones. Wipe her down, throw her back in and away we go until the next time. This weekend we are trying Trazadone. I’m hoping and praying (A LOT!) that this works. Sheesh .. she’s fine within 30 minutes of anywhere we arrive but the trip there is exhausting.

    1. Wow–that does not sound like fun! Poor Dolly, poor you — but how wonderfully persistent you are in search of a remedy. I love that you are determined to travel with Dolly, no matter what. Best of luck to you with the Trazadone. Hope it works!

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