Chevromist: Car sickness in dogs

Just like people who feel ill or unwell while in on car trips, dogs can also get an upset stomach while travelling in a car, boat or plane. The medical definition of dog motion sickness is an observable discomfort felt by some dogs during transportation, whether by car, bus, train, aeroplane or boat and is quite a common problem in domestic dogs. Motion sickness in dogs usually becomes apparent very early into a car ride. Dogs will typically start by constantly licking their lips to drooling excessively, then whining and refusing to move to eventually vomiting. If the dog is allowed to work themselves up enough, they may even urinate or defecate inside the car. It’s important to get your dog used to car rides from a young age.

What causes car sickness in dogs?

There are a number of different causes of motion sickness in dogs. Essentially, motion sickness is physically caused by irregular or unfamiliar movement that affects the dog’s sense of balance or equilibrium. In young dogs and puppies this condition occurs more frequently because their equilibrium has not yet fully developed. Many dogs who suffer from car sickness will actually “grow out” of it, if the motion sickness is due to the immaturity of their equilibrium. The most common cause of motion sickness in dogs is an emotional or behavioural reason often linked to a bad experience during or after travel in early in their life. One of the ways to test if your dog’s motion sickness is caused by the motion of the car or by an emotional issue related to the car is to place the dog into your car while the car is still stationary. If your dog shows no sign of motion sickness while stationary then it is a pretty good indicator that your dog is affected by the motion. If your dog begins to display signs of being car sick it is likely to be an emotional response to the car.

Preventing and treating motion sickness in dogs

As in the case of many illnesses, prevention is far better than treatment. The simplest form of prevention is to condition the dog to become familiar and comfortable with car travel to alleviate the stress and high emotional toll car travel has on dogs who get motion sickness. There are a number of ways to do this but the simplest is to start by placing the dog in the car while the car is turned off and stationary and feed the dog a treat and removing the dog after just a few seconds. Extend the length of time that the dog remains in the car until they look comfortable with being in the car (you may find that the dog will voluntarily get into the car once they realise that that is the fastest way to the treats!). Then repeat this process while the car is still stationary and turned on. Then repeat the process again with very short trips of a few meters travel and again keep increasing the length of the trips until your dog or puppy no longer becomes sick.

Top 5 ways to avoid dog car sickness or motion sickness
  • Don’t feed your dog a large meal immediately before travel as this will make your dog sick during the trip but a very small amount of food about half an hour before travelling can help as it will help absorb gastric juices.
  • Start with short trips to local destinations and then gradually work up to longer trips as your puppy becomes more comfortable with travel.
  • Let your dog or puppy see the outside world going by as you travel if possible as this will help them get their bearings as to where they are to let the dog’s internal sensory balance pathways adjust to the motion. This also provides a distraction to the dog and takes their mind off the actual motion of the car.
  • Make sure that the car is well ventilated and cool, and also make sure that your dog or puppy has enough room to stretch, stand, lie down and turn around.
  • Be sure to provide regular short breaks during the trip to allow your dog to get their “land-legs” back and also to allow them to relieve themselves.
Drugs to help dogs with motion or car sickness

Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) will reduce drooling and will also have a sedative effect to calm your dog during travel. Some over-the-counter medications that may help your dog include meclizine and dimenhydrinate as these drugs reduce nausea and vomiting but generally don’t cause sedation. If you are going to use any medication on your dog, be sure to consult your veterinarian first to make sure they are safe for your dog and that the right dosage is administered. A holistic treatment that can be used for car sickness in dogs is ginger. It is available in pill form from health food stores and even in cookie form. Ginger snaps and pills are used to settle a nervous stomach in people when given about half an hour to an hour before travel and also work for dogs, still consult with your vet before giving ginger to your dog in any form to ensure that it is safe for your dog. In a very severe case of travel sickness in dogs a stronger sedative drug such as acepromazine (PromAce) may be prescribed by your veterinarian as a last resort.

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