Dogs who suffer from motion sickness are not fun travel companions, but there are methods to make trips more comfortable for all. Motion sickness is most common in puppies because of their immature inner ear structure, which affects their balance. A dog can become nauseated when her body, inner ear and eyes transmit conflicting signals to her brain, according to Randy Kidd, DVM, in an article he wrote for DogChannel. Fortunately, many dogs outgrow their carsickness when they are about a year old.
Causes, Symptoms and Signs
Dogs who travel infrequently or whose car trips are associated with stressful experiences, such as going to the veterinary clinic or to a boarding kennel, might connect the car with a negative experience. A dog’s anxiety and stress can result in vomiting, diarrhea, trembling and fear of the car itself. Motion sickness does not always cause vomiting or gastrointestinal symptoms. Other signs include yawning, drooling, whining, lethargy, panting, agitation, or panic, which can occur even before the dog gets into the car.
Desensitizing an Anxious Traveling Companion
Desensitization exercises can benefit puppies who have been nauseated during early car rides. This also can help dogs who are nervous or fearful travelers because of unpleasant experiences or infrequent opportunities to associate the car with positive events. Conditioning techniques help dogs overcome resistance to going on trips and eventually might help quell the nausea. Desensitization is a slow, careful process. Avoid rushing your dog or getting angry and impatient if she reverts to anxious behavior. A progression of exercises will show your dog that being in the car does not always make her feel sick. Start by spending a little time together in the parked car, then turn on the engine but go nowhere. After a few days, go for a drive around the block. When you notice your dog is exhibiting fewer signs of anxiety, try taking a short drive to a park or someplace your dog enjoys.
Your veterinarian might suggest that you try giving your dog anti-nausea medication before you go on a trip. Some of the newer prescription drugs for motion sickness in dogs include Cerenia, which is one of the only veterinary-specific anti-nausea medications. Cerenia or maropitant citrate does not induce drowsiness, and one dose can last 24 hours. Anti-nausea medications should be given at least two hours before you leave, and your dog can take maropitant the night before if your trip begins early in the morning, according to Dr. Laura Monahan, whose article appears on the Atlantic Veterinary Hospital website.
Some veterinarians recommend natural, holistic or homeopathic remedies for dogs who experience motion sickness. Pet care companies sell homeopathic chewable treats that can help relieve motion sickness and help keep your dog calm while traveling. Herbal products for upset stomachs and nausea include flower remedies, peppermint, ginger, fennel, dill, horehound, passionflower and chamomile, to name a few. Aroma therapy with lavender or dog pheromones can relax your dog if stress and tension are the cause of her carsickness. Dogs do not tend to like the dried herbs, so administering the natural remedies in teas or tinctures is more pleasing to them. A homeopathic remedy called Cocculus might help animals who vomit on car rides. Do not give your dog any natural remedies before consulting your veterinarian.
Some over-the-counter drugs treat motion sickness as well as other conditions, such as anxiety or vestibular disease, which can exacerbate carsickness. Anti-nausea medications, such as dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or antihistamines (Antivert, Bonine) help alleviate carsickness, but also cause drowsiness or lethargy. You and your sleepy companion might benefit from the calming effect and stress reduction these nonprescription medications can have on some dogs. Remember to talk to your veterinarian before buying or administrating any over-the-counter treatments for dog motion sickness.
Physical Comfort in the Car
If your dog faces forward in the car, he will not be affected by the nauseating views that come at him when looking out the side windows. One way to make sure he is facing forward is by using a seat belt or harness designed for dogs. Roll down your car windows enough for fresh air but not enough for him to try to jump out. This also helps balance air pressure in the car with outside air pressure. Always keep your car cool and well-ventilated when your dog is in it, because hot, stuffy cars add to feelings of nausea and discomfort. Withhold food before traveling, but bring water and healthy treats to offer while on the road. If your dog indicates he is about to vomit, pull over and take your pet out for a brief walk. Try to make frequent stops so your dog can get out of the car, drink some water and stretch his legs.