#25-Dog Panicked in Crate during Air Travel

Jeff, or anyone, I’m looking for suggestions. It’s the perfect combination: Clients who divide their time between New Mexico & Alaska, and a Border Collie who thinks too much. Zylkene for a week before the flight and 2mg alprazolam (~45 lb. dog) on the morning of, hasn’t had much effect. He’s miserable & destroys the water bowl in his crate & anything else he can. What do we try next? Many thanks in advance, Paul Malin, MRCVS

Hi Paul & all concerned NMVMA members-

This poor dog is really struggling. There is no doubt that he needs antianxiety medication but more details of his behavioral history could lead to an improved outcome.

Among the rule-out for this dog are travel anxiety, motion sickness, separation anxiety, panicking when confined, and noise sensitivity. Gathering the necessary information can be made straight-forward by having the client shoot brief videos of the dog in different situations. I suggest the following:

  • Ask the owner to aim a smart phone or iPad at the dog confined in his crate when they leave home.
  • Have them video the dog home alone with the crate open.
  • Have them crate the dog in the car and aim the camera at the dog in the back of the car while riding.

For accuracy in the interpretation of these videos there should be no person near the dog or interacting with him. He will be home alone for the first two videos. For the car travel video the camera should be fastened in place, aimed at the dog in his crate in the rear of the car. The driver should be the only person in the car, fully ignoring the dog. Ideally, the car would unfamiliar to the dog and driven by someone who is unknown to the dog.

This dog’s freak-outs in the baggage compartment of the airplane may be an indicator of separation anxiety, a disorder with its own behavior modification and management. If the motion of a vehicle is the cause of his panic meclizine may be useful. I have evaluated dogs with barrier frustration who simply did not tolerate crate confinement. On the other hand, this dog’s problem may be noise sensitivity from the plane’s engines.

If the evidence supports a diagnosis of travel anxiety I would prescribe trazodone. It has a reliable antianxiety effect, along with moderate sedation. A dog this size would likely do well with 100 mg, given 2 hours prior to flight time. This individual dog may need it to be repeated 8-12 hours later.

A home trial is the best way to establish the right dose and frequency of administration. Depending on how this dog responds (the client can shoot some video for you) acepromazine (0.1-2.2 mg/kg TID or prn) can be added. Ace has negligible anxiolytic effects but, as an add-on, it can help a dog relax and sleep through an otherwise harrowing event.

Benzodiazepines like alprazolam (Xanax) are safe and reliable anxiolytics but most have a duration of only a few hours. A longer acting benzo, like clonazepam (Klonopin) can be added to the above but you will only get about 6 hours of effectiveness at best. Careful-some generics contain xylitol.

Zylkene: I really like this supplement because it is entirely safe and versatile but, given as a sole agent, it is only useful for mild to moderate fears and anxieties. Zylkene can be added to any or all of the above agents.

Adaptil is a pheromone that, along with appropriate anxiolytic medication, can be helpful for dogs like this. Adaptil can be sprayed or wiped on the inside of the crate. This can be a valuable aid if the dog needs to be desensitized to crate confinement. This alone can be a time-consuming challenge.

Cases like this can be more complex that they at first appear. I would be happy to provide this client and their dog a full evaluation and treatment plan. You are welcome to have them call my office (505.792.5131). I will follow-up with you with a phone call and a full written report.

All the best,



Jeff Nichol, DVM
Veterinary Behavior Medicine
Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Centers
Albuquerque and Santa Fe