If your dog has motion sickness, it can really make a car trip unpleasant for both of you. He won’t enjoy feeling nauseous, and you won’t like having to clean up the mess if he vomits.
Causes of Motion Sickness
There are two main processes in the brain that are responsible for making your dog ill when he travels.
- Motion affects the vestibular system in his inner ear which then influences the part of his brain that’s involved in vomiting.
- The vomiting center of the brain is also directly affected by the increase in neurotransmitter chemicals that occurs with movement.
The result is an unhappy, nauseous and vomiting dog.
Many dogs grow out of their motion sickness; it appears that the immature structures in the ears of puppies make it more likely for them to become ill when they travel. If your dog didn’t stop getting sick as he matured, there are some things you can do to help him.
Managing Your Trip to Reduce Motion Sickness
When you’re driving with your dog, it’s a good idea to wind the window down a few inches. This allows the air pressure inside the car to equalize with that outside, and may help to reduce nausea.
If possible, give him a seat that allows him to look out the window and see where he is going. Don’t compromise with safety; make sure he is restrained in the car either in a harness or in a crate.
Whether or not to feed your dog before a car trip is a matter of trial and error. Some dogs are better off traveling on an empty tummy while others prefer a light meal a few hours before they get in the car. See which option works best for your canine family member.
Medication for Motion Sickness
Your vet can prescribe medication that can reduce nausea and vomiting in dogs when they travel. Again, some will work better than others in your dog, so you may need to try a few before you find one that is effective.
- Antihistamines are inexpensive and can ease the symptoms of motion sickness for several hours. They are safe and inexpensive. The main side effects are a dry mouth and drowsiness.
- Cerenia (maropitant) is one of the newer drugs which may not reduce feelings of nausea but will stop vomiting.
- If you prefer to use natural therapies, then try some ginger to settle your dog’s stomach. ‘¼ teaspoon of grated fresh ginger can be given before a trip. Alternatively, try ginger capsules or even gingernut biscuits. You’ll probably find your dog will be more willing to eat gingernut biscuits than fresh ginger.
- A little lavender oil can be poured on a cloth or washer and put in the car with your dog.
- Dog appeasing pheromones are chemicals produced by a female dog while she’s feeding her puppies. It relaxes her babies. These chemicals have been isolated in the laboratory and can be useful in reducing stress in dogs.
Behavioral Modification for Treating Motion Sickness
You can retrain your dog to get used to traveling in the car. It’s not a quick fix, but it can result in a permanent reduction in his symptoms. It’s important that you take your time with this process.
Start by letting your dog walk around the car and sniff at it. If he is comfortable with this, then invite him into the back seat for a pat. Over the course of a few days, start to give him his meals in the car so he associates it with good times.
The next step is to encourage him into the car then close the doors for a few seconds before giving him a treat and letting him out. When he is relaxed about being closed in, then you can start the ignition, reward him and quickly turn it off. If at any time your dog shows signs of stress then go back a step and repeat it. The aim is to have him relaxed and comfortable in the car and show him that it’s a good place where nice things happen.
You can see what you need to do next. Drive your car down your driveway then back into the garage. If that works, then drive a little further before coming home. Build up gradually until your dog can travel a few miles without getting stressed. At this point you can interrupt your journey by visiting somewhere fun such as the beach or a park.
Motion sickness can make travel with your dog frustrating and messy, and it can put you off taking him on outings with you. Unfortunately, there is no single cure for this condition that will work for all dogs, but most will respond to some of the above suggestions.