Q: Grandma lives three states away. We plan to visit her this summer and would like to take Sadie along. Unfortunately, Sadie gets sick in the car. She’s excited when we say, “Let’s go for a ride,” but the moment she gets in the car, she pants, drools, whines and sometimes gets sick to her stomach. Any suggestions? – D.L., Aurora, Ill.
A: I assume Sadie is a dog. Begin by purchasing some products which will make your job easier. Start by asking your veterinarian about Cerenia, a drug which effectively eases motion sickness. As long as your dog is feeling sick in the car, there’s not much you can do to help her.
Next, buy an Adaptil collar, Adaptil spray (both are a knockoff of a calming pheromone) and a Thundershirt, a vest that fits snuggly around a dog’s chest.
The Thundershirt will serve several purposes. One is to help ease Sadie’s anxiety. Fitting snuggly around the dog’s body, somehow Thundershirts help relieve uneasiness in many dogs. Another purpose is to recondition Sadie to car rides. When she’s wearing a Thundershirt, car rides will no longer be associated with queasiness.
Here are your next steps:
Before Sadie goes anywhere near the car, first acclimate her to a Thundershirt in the house; whenever she has it on, she gets fed and played with. Now, take off the Thundershirt. It’s important for Sadie to begin to associate the Thunderhirt with impending excitement. It may take a few weeks before your dog makes that association.
Now, ask your veterinarian about a nutritional supplement called Anxitane, which also helps soothe tattered nerves. Give your dog Cerenia about an hour before putting her in the car for her first behavior modification practice session.
Put on the Adaptil collar and leave it on throughout the training period (easier than putting it on and taking it off for every car ride). Spray Adaptil on the back seat of the car before departing (test on fabric first).
Return to fetch Sadie, put on her Thundershirt and take her to the car. Either using a toy or treats, play a new game by asking her to jump into the car, and then out. Surprise her with some treats on the back seat. That’s it, then return to the house. Don’t give Sadie any opportunity to not like the car.
After several days of these car play sessions, when Sadie is looking forward to the game, close the car door with her inside and start the engine, but don’t go anywhere. Now, return to the house for Sadie’s regular meal.
Next time, play with Sadie a little in the car, offer her treats on the back seat, and drive down the driveway 5 or 10 feet. Then go back in the house for another meal.
If Sadie continues to do fine with this routine - and I’m betting she will – drive down the block, always returning promptly for a meal, so the car ride is further associated with something good. If Sadie begins to drool, whine or act anxious in any way while riding in the car, you need to back things up a step.
Other tools, which help some dogs, include a soft kind of Elizabethan collar often used post-surgically so dogs can’t scratch (brands include the Kong EZ Collar or Buster Collar). Also, some small dogs feel more secure in safety seats.
If Sadie is happy, gradually extend the length of the practice rides. If she enjoys playing with other pets, a good destination might be a pet store or dog park. Once Sadie is OK with car rides to the park, Grandma’s house might be next.
Over time, most dog owners can ease off Cerenia. If there’s still a concern about motion sickness, ginger cookies (for dogs) may help.
Q: About a year ago, I adopted a shelter cat. He’s very loving and enjoys being petted. However, sometimes his ears go back, he gets a mean look in his eyes and he bites. Then he’s really friendly again. What’s up? – B.B., Minneola, Fla.
A: Some individual cats enjoy more petting than others. It’s perceptive of you to pick up on the warning signs. Literally count how many times you can pet your cat before you see his ears go back, the hair go up on the back of his neck, see his skin ripple or his tail twitch.
Once you know the magic number, stop petting your cat well before you reach it. Then, very gradually, increase the number of strokes per session. For some cats, this builds tolerance. And certainly, offering some treats while you pet your cat could help. Still, some cats are just stingy about how long they tolerate petting.