Whilst the majority of canine companions love nothing more than a road trip, there are some who dread the thought and feel very unwell on any car journey. This is the case, particularly for puppies and younger dogs.
Knowing how to prevent dog car sickness will be a blessing for both you and your dog, as you can enjoy trips away without putting undue stress on your pup and you don’t have to clean up the inevitable mess on the car seat!
Just like the motion sickness we, as humans, can experience, dogs too can suffer the effects even a short trip.
Signs of motion sickness
Whilst the signs may seem obvious, interestingly, not all motion sickness results in vomiting and so you’re beloved pup may be suffering without your knowledge. Moreover, keeping an eye out for other symptoms could help you spot a problem before the physical ‘sick’ part occurs.
Here are some of the signs to look out for…
- Refusal to get into the car
- Stress on seeing the car
- Licking lips
- Excessive drooling
- Extreme panting
- Lethargy or subdued behaviour
Cause of car sickness in dogs
As mentioned, motion sickness is most commonly seem in puppies and younger dog, this is likely associated with the inner ear structure associated with balance isn’t yet completely in puppies.
Therefore, in many cases, young pups eventually outgrow car sickness but there are some who continue to experience the problem into adulthood. In these cases, this could be due to a learned associative response i.e. where they associate car travel with feeling nauseous.
There is also another conditioned response which may be responsible which is if your dog associates car trips with stress and unpleasant situations, like visiting the vet.
Treating car sickness in dogs
All dogs are different, so do bear in mind that there isn’t a one size fits all approach and of course any treatment for dogs experiencing motion sickness can vary depending on the cause. However, preventative treatment will always be of most benefit. For example, to prevent the possibility of a conditioned response in adult dogs, ensure early car trips are introduced gradually and are mainly positive experiences. You can achieve this by mixing up the travel to include exciting and fun destinations as well as trips to the vets and of course making vet trips more fun in general can make a huge difference.
For puppies and dogs already experiencing motion sickness symptoms, it’s important to make them as comfortable as possible. One of the ways you can do this is to make sure your pup is facing forward as this will reduce the potential for nauseating visual stimuli from looking at the fast movements out of the side windows. You can train your dog to do this with repetition and treats or with the assistance of a dog travel crate or dog seat belt.
Keeping the car cool and well ventilated, by opening the windows a fraction, is another great way to help reduce nausea and discomfort. Furthermore, avoid feeding your dog directly before your car journey.
For adult dogs where is likely a learned association, similarly to the preventative measures, use positive reinforcement to change the association from negative to positive. Do be patient with this process and take small steps such as, spending time in the car without going anywhere, ensuring trips end with something positive like a fun walk, provide rewards such as treats, praise and toys every time your dog gets in the car, try a different car or vehicle, keep journeys short to begin with.
What to give a dog for car sickness
In cases where your dog is unresponsive to the above treatments and continues to suffer from motion sickness, there are some medications that can be used such as anti-nausea drugs.
Some of these are available in pet stores but some will only be accessible via a veterinary prescription. If you’re unsure at all about which would be of most benefit and especially if your dog is taking other medication which might be impacted, it is best to speak to your vet. They will be able to provide detailed advice on your dog’s specific situation and what would be the best medication to help your pup.
If your dog is experiencing a stress response, you could also try Adaptil – an artificial pheromone spray – which induces a calm state. For best results, spray it around the car and on the dog blanket prior to your road trip.