Dear Dr. Fox:
Max is a 9½ -year-old female domestic shorthair cat I adopted from the Arlington Animal Welfare League when she was 6 months old.
She has never liked car travel. During the five-minute drive to my vet (while she is in a cat carrier), she meows loudly, with anxiety. I once took her to my beach house 2½ hours away, and it was clear by the nonstop loud meowing and her stress level that she hated it.
Fortunately, on the trip back home, she was a bit better and was fairly quiet, but she kept her tongue moving in and out, breathing shallowly, indicating how stressful it was for her.
I am retiring and moving, first to a nearby apartment for four months, and then to Clearwater, Fla., and taking Max on the flight in her carrier on my lap. I'm worried about how loud and stressed she might become in the airport and especially on the flight.
I have asked vets how to keep her calm during the trip and have gotten different answers. One said that "kitty Xanax" would work well. The next time I asked, another vet recommended a Benadryl-type substance.
I would really like your advice on how best to help keep my Max as comfortable and relaxed as possible on the plane.
B.K., Falls Church
DF: Traveling with cats (and dogs) can be facilitated by having them get used to sleeping and eating in the airline-approved carrier that will be used for travel.
In your instance, I think it would be best to let your cat spend a short time (10 to 15 minutes) in the container she will be flying in once or twice a day for a few days. She will soon learn that there is nothing to fear in the carrier and that she will soon be released. Offer her favorite treats while she is confined.
I am opposed to giving animals any medications for travel other than nausea remedies (ginger or Dramamine). A few drops of oil of lavender or a spritz with a cat pheromone product such as Feliway on a blanket or pad the cat will lie on in transit might help calm her.
Medications such as Xanax and Benadryl can make animals fearful in strange places because they are more vulnerable and have less control, especially as the medication wears off. Such medications are especially ill-advised for long flights, because they will wear off and can put animals at risk if they panic while feeling drug-disoriented.
D ear readers:
Some animal shelters and animal-holding facilities still provide insufficient or no exercise for dogs. Veterinary clinical researchers have documented the benefit of an exercise regimen for dogs living a sedentary life and suffering from chronic diarrhea.
Turn these findings around, and they indicate that dogs getting regular exercise are more likely to enjoy better health than those that are confined in a home dog crate, commercial kennels, animal shelter or research laboratory cages.
From behavioral observations of my own dogs, I have found they will pass a few stools when let outdoors in the morning to urinate, but only when they are setting off for a long, fast walk do they fully empty their bowels. Living a sedentary life, rarely aroused and often being trained to evacuate inside — especially when living in high-rise apartments or confined in a cage or pen — could well lead to longer retention times before evacuation, resulting in inflammation of the bowels. Physical activity might also improve circulation and help alleviate and prevent lymphangiectasia, the accumulation of lymph in the bowels seen in some forms of canine inflammatory bowel disease.
Considering the multiple stressors to which dogs taken to animal shelters and rescue facilities are exposed, this veterinary report on the health benefit of exercise for dogs supports what should be a standard policy of providing all dogs with regular, brisk walks, ideally twice daily for 15 to 20 minutes. Dogs under quarantine should be taken to enclosed areas for walks, unless medically contraindicated. Safety harnesses are preferable for dogs not used to wearing a collar and those that are fearful or likely to pull and injure their necks and throats. Walking on a leash also socializes dogs to their handlers and is a time to train them to comply with basic commands, which will enhance their adoptability. Walking with a sociable "buddy dog" used to being leashed can help shy dogs accept and eventually enjoy walks while leashed.
Dogs out of quarantine also benefit from being placed in small, compatible play groups in recognition of the benefits of physical activity and social and emotional stimulation. Running stimulates the release of "feel-good" and anti-inflammatory neurochemicals. Many shelters are also adopting group housing for dogs, which, along with regular walks and one-on-one and group human interaction, enhance their adaptability and adoptability.
Private and municipal animal shelters that do not make such provisions and are not open to public assessment might be in violation of state and federal anti-cruelty laws. They are also violating the conditional responsibility of properly caring for animals that the public has entrusted to them.
My thanks to animal protection advocate Helena Servis of St. Louis for bringing this issue to my attention.
Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Send letters to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106