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Don't Tranquilize Your Pet During Air Travel - There's Better Options

Published on: October 7, 2021  |  Author: Starwood Pet Travel


Allaying your concerns about pet travel is part of our job here at Starwood. We’re happy to do that because we’re pet owners and lovers ourselves. We understand nothing is more important than your pet’s health and safety. And we know that, if you’re about to embark on a journey with your cat or dog, you need accurate information so you can plan properly.

One of the most common questions we get about pet air travel is, “Should I tranquilize or sedate my pet?” The answer is NO. But you may have heard otherwise, and you can find seemingly reputable online sources that still recommend sedation. This is why we work so hard to help you separate fact from fiction. And, in this case, we can suggest several alternatives that are better than drugs.

So why not tranquilize your pet during air travel?

Sedation puts the brain to sleep. For a long time, pet owners (and pet health professionals) believed the best way to treat anxious dogs and cats was to simply “knock ‘em out, and they won’t know the difference.” Over the years, though, medical research has taught us this is not a good idea, because there are potential dangers to dogs and cats that could be much worse.   

The problem with sedating your pet’s brain is that she cannot think or process normally. Wooziness will confuse and worry her, and she could even panic. She won’t be able to maintain her balance. That could also confuse and worry her, putting your pet at greater risk of injury during her trip. And tranquilizers affect more than your pet’s brain. Sedatives reduce heart rate, respiration, and body temperature. If your pet has a snub nose (brachycephalic breeds), respiration problems could be even more dangerous. Animals can even become dehydrated, though that’s rare.

No loving pet parent wishes any of that on their cat or dog! That’s why the American Veterinary Medical Association strongly recommends against using tranquilizers or sedatives. Airlines won’t even accept sedated/tranquilized dogs and cats. For example, "American Airlines will not knowingly accept a dog or cat that has been or appears to have been sedated."  You can take a look at their Sedation Policy here

It's also important to note that if you're working with Starwood Animal Transport, our drivers cannot and will not administer any sedatives to your pet.  Additionally, if we see you administer a sedative in front of us, then we may need to reschedule your pet's travels.     

Thankfully, there are better ways

Many dogs and cats respond well to various herbal stress-relievers. However, it is important to keep in mind that every animal will respond differently. What works for one dog may not work for yours. Before you use any of these options on your pet, talk with your vet. Many veterinarians these days regularly prescribe herbal or “alternative” options for pets. And no matter what you give your dog or cat, the correct dosage is essential.

Perhaps you enjoy a cup of chamomile tea to relax before bed at night. Studies have shown that chamomile also helps reduce stress in animals. It helps the brain relax without dangerous side effects, so a spot of tea before travel could help your pup or kitty relax. Cats may prefer dried chamomile flowers.

Valerian, another herbal often used by humans for insomnia, is also recommended for both dogs and cats. Valerian does not affect the brain, though it does help reduce tension and anxiety.

The scent of lavender oil is relaxing, too – it has actually been tested on dogs. You don’t want your girl to ingest the oil, so give her a nice whiff shortly before travel, but don’t sprinkle it in her carrier.

It's important to note that more holistic methods to calm your pet during travel are not "quick fixes." Every pet is different, so you may have to try using these alternative options at least a month prior to travel to see if there is any effect.  

Practice traveling with your pet

Travel-readiness is perhaps the best way you can help your pup or kitty feel less anxious on her flight. During her journey, she will experience sights, sounds, smells, and people that are new to her. The less “foreign” it all seems, the more naturally comfortable she will be. Of course you can’t familiarize your pet with every aspect of her airplane journey, but the things you can do will give her greater confidence. 

You can train your girl to be less fearful by exposing her to unfamiliar surroundings with plenty of positive reinforcement. But the single most important thing you can do is to help your cat or dog get comfortable with her travel crate. This will be her home-away-from-home on her journey. Recognizing it as “her” space will help her feel calmer on her journey.  You should also review our Ultimate Guide to Stress-Free Flying for additional resources.   

Your pet takes her cues from you

The wackier you are, the more worried your four-legged friend will be. There’s always a lot to do getting ready to travel. If you’re moving, it’s worse. And if you’re moving overseas, the to-do list is extensive. We understand. But dogs and cats do not. And you can’t explain it to them. So you have to show them the way. 

Take a cleansing deep breath (you’ll probably need several), and try to achieve a more Zen-like state despite the chaos. And make a plan to spend time extra time with your pet, no matter how busy you are, so she knows she’s still your #1.

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Starwood Animal Transport has rebranded to Starwood Pet Travel. We are still the same great company with the best team, just now with a slightly different name.