Did you know 1 in 6 dogs suffers from motion sickness?
If you have a motion-sick dog, then you have my sympathy. Knowing your dog will arrive shivering and salivating (at best!) takes the fun out of a trip to find a new beach walk or woodland trail.
Some dogs even learn to anticipate the feelings of nausea, and this makes them reluctant to even get in a car. If you avoid car travel with your dog or always travel with a full cleanup kit, help is at hand. But don’t expect a quick fix — the answer takes time and dedication.
1. Positive Associations
Some dogs only have to see a car to start drooling because they link road travel to feeling sick. This makes them unwilling to get into the car, which means you end up forcing the dog in — which only adds to the dog’s anxiety and feelings of unease.
Put an end to this vicious circle by teaching your dog to associate the car with good things.
- Play with your dog’s favorite toy in the back seat of your parked car.
- End each session on a high by giving him a treat.
- Hop out to go for a walk before he gets anxious.
- Reward him for being calm while inside the car with another tasty food treat, and praise his bold behavior.
Another option includes spending at least a couple of weeks engaging him in a game inside the car but with the doors open so he doesn’t feel trapped. Also try other strategies, such as feeding his meals inside the car (perhaps invest in a waterproof seat cover) so he sees the car as an extension of the home.
Once he’s willingly jumping into the vehicle, you’re ready to progress. Take things slow, though — only move on to the next stage when your dog’s tail is in the air rather than between his legs.
Introduce one new change at a time, giving him plenty of time to accept each step.
A retraining journey includes:
- Shutting the car doors
- Starting the engine but keeping the car in park
- Reversing a few feet, then driving back to the parked position
- A short, straight drive up the road
- A short drive around the block, then back into the drive
- A short drive in the neighborhood
All the while, remember the 3 golden rules:
- Praise his calmness.
- Stop before he becomes distressed.
- End on a positive note.
2. Car Climate
There’s nothing worse than a hot, stuffy car for making me feel sick when traveling, and the same is true for dogs.
Make sure the vehicle is cool with fresh air circulating. It also helps some dogs if they can see out of a window — for smaller dogs, consider a booster seat or dog pod.
Most dogs travel best with a handful of dry biscuits in their stomach, given 1–2 hours beforehand, rather than traveling with a totally empty stomach. Also, stop frequently to let your dog stretch his legs and drink water.
3. Travel Medications
If you have an urgent journey to make, you may not have the time to desensitize your dog to car travel. Medication may be your best way forward. At least then the dog will be spared the nausea associated with car travel.
Some people swear by traditional remedies, such as ginger or peppermint. There are also herbal options, such as skullcap and valerian, or quick fixes such as Rescue Remedy. That said, these are not scientifically proven to be effective and are best not relied upon, especially for a long trip.
There are also these medications:
- Acepromazine (ACP): This is a sedative with an anti-motion sickness action. ACP isn’t suitable for short journeys, as the dog is groggy for around 8 hours. Also, some dogs have an adverse reaction where they become “hyper” rather than sedated, so test it out before committing to a long journey.
- Maropitant (Cerenia): This drug acts on the nausea center in the brain and turns it off. This makes it the ideal motion sickness tablet — it works for 24 hours without sedating the dog. The only drawback is the price.
Here are a few more great tips from Pet Health Network:
In short, reintroduce the car as a fun place to be, and use medication to stop your dog from feeling sick.
By preventing nausea and building new associations, you’ll find that along this path lies the promise of stress-free travel with your dog.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Oct. 11, 2018.