Canine Car Sickness

by Nancy Kay, DVM

For some dogs, the car feels like a second home. Not only do they delight in going for rides, they love just hanging out in their car any chance they get. This is not the case for dogs who experience motion sickness. These poor pups dread car travel regardless of the destination.

Vomiting is, of course, the tell-tale sign of motion sickness. More subtle evidence that your best buddy is feeling queasy may include lip licking, heavy drooling, anxiety, and/or subdued behavior.

Car sickness or motion sickness is super common amongst puppies, and may be associated with immaturity of the inner ear apparatus that regulates equilibrium and balance. While many dogs outgrow this problem, others continue to experience motion sickness throughout their lives. For some, this may become a conditioned response- the dog learns to associate car travel with nausea.

Although motion sickness does not have any long-lasting health consequences, it is certainly a major drag for the poor dog and the poor human who must clean up the mess. If your dog experiences motion sickness I encourage you to take advantage of the following suggestions with hopes that your car rides together will become far more peaceful and enjoyable.

Tips for decreasing your dog’s motion sickness
—Allow your dog to spend good quality time in your car with the engine turned off. Spend these driveway moments with a peaceful, calm mindset and provide lots of positive reinforcement.

—Graduate from the step above to sitting in a parked car with the engine running and lots of positive reinforcement. Next comes very short road trips- no more than a trip around the block. Gradually build up car travel time, ideally winding up at destinations your dog considers desirable.

—Travel when your dog has an empty stomach (no food for 4-6 hours). This means skipping a meal or timing your travel according to your dog’s feeding schedule.

—While driving, confine your dog using a crate or a seat belt setup designed specifically for dogs. Less movement will lessen the likelihood of nausea. It is thought that facing forward may help prevent motion sickness. If using a crate, cover it in a fashion that prevents your dog from looking out other than in a forward direction.

—Try a different car. Here I am giving you a reason to go out and buy that new car you’ve had your eye on! Can you imagine the auto dealer’s reaction to taking your car sick dog going along on test rides? In all seriousness, if you do have access to more than one vehicle, see if one produces a more favorable response for your dog than the other. I can attest to the fact that I am much more prone to motion sickness in some cars than in others.

—Keep the car cool by cracking windows and/or using air conditioning. I am not an advocate of allowing your dog to travel with head hanging out the window. There is too much potential for bodily harm, particularly those precious corneas.

—Ask your veterinarian for a prescription for Cerenia (maropitant citrate), a drug that was developed specifically for the prevention of motion sickness in dogs. It is safe and effective and doesn’t cause drowsiness. Cerenia comes in a tablet form that is administered orally once daily. It works best when given two hours prior to travel.

—Over the counter medications developed for people with motion sickness are not as effective for dogs as is Cerenia. Additionally, most cause significant drowsiness. Do not use these products without first checking in with your veterinarian.

—Ginger may reduce motion sickness for some dogs. Some people believe that feeding a ginger snap or two to their dog before travel does the trick.

—Aromatherapy with lavender has been shown to significantly reduce car ride-induced anxiety in dogs. While not proven to lessen canine motion sickness (to my knowledge, this has not been studied), the reduction in anxiety may prove beneficial. Unless you detest the smell of lavender, this is certainly worth a try.

Has your dog experienced motion sickness? If so, what have you tried and how has it worked?

Dr. Nancy Kay, DVM Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award

Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
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