Travel Anxiety makes it Hard to go to the Veterinarian

Question:
We have an older female German shepherd that for the past couple of months has ‘matter’ in both eyes off and on. I wipe off the material and rinse the eyes with “Eye Relief’ but in a few days it returns. She is terrified to leave the yard and go in a car so I hate to cause her the stress!

Dr. Nichol:
With the wind, dust, pollen, and – worst case – wildfire smoke, New Mexico summers can bring on the eye discharge and snot for anybody. Continued assault from airborne debris may lead to low-grade infections and even damage to your shepherd’s eyes.

This girl needs a physical exam. A fluorescent stain applied to her eyes, and then illuminated by an ultraviolet light, will help the doctor check for corneal damage. If injury and infection are ruled-out, simple eye cleaning may be all your dog needs to get her eyes safely and comfortably through the rest of the summer. Doggles, a stylin’ canine accessory, can provide excellent protection. They’re available in multiple sizes; most dogs accept them readily.

Your shepherd’s travel anxiety needs attention too. Many dogs tremble with tail tucked, hide behind the seat, or even try to escape the car. Ignoring it or forcing Nervous Nellie into the car would worsen her fear. Your veterinarian can prescribe an antianxiety medication to prevent much of that. Lorazepam or trazodone can make a big difference. They are safe when given separately; for really scared dogs we use them in combination.

You can help your dog learn to associate a positive emotional state with the car. Lead her quietly to the parked car and then play or feed her dinner. Gradually share more good times inside the car before starting the engine and finally driving slowly. This is a repetitive process. It could take a few weeks or longer for Nellie to lose the heebie jeebies.

Reducing her fear triggers will also help. Allow your dog to ride in a dog crate in the back of the car. Cover it with a sheet or towel so she doesn’t have to look out the windows. A pacing, panting dog in a moving car is dangerous. You should be the designated driver.