How to avoid motion sickness in dogs

Motion sickness affects some dogs much the same way as it affects some humans. If you’re planning on  taking your dog on holiday and the journey involves a long car ride, it’s worth noting the following:

Dog motion sickness is more commonly seen in puppies and young dogs than in older dogs, just as carsickness afflicts more children than adults. The reason for this is because the ear structures used for balance aren’t fully developed in puppies. This isn’t to say that all dogs will outgrow travel sickness, though many will.

Often even after the dog’s ears have fully matured, he may continue to vomit when travelling in a car because he’s become conditioned to equate travel with vomiting.

Stress can also exacerbate travel sickness, so if your dog has only ever ridden in the car to the vet or kennel, he may literally worry himself sick on the road.

Dogs may suffer motion sickness much like children do

Dogs may suffer motion sickness much like children do

 Signs of dog motion sickness

Dogs don’t turn the unflattering shade of green that people do when they’re experiencing motion sickness, but there are some signs of dog travel sickness you can learn to identify. These include:

  • Inactivity, listlessness or uneasiness
  • Yawning
  • Whining
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Smacking or licking lips

Treatment for dog motion sickness

The best way to prevent dog travel sickness is to make the car ride as comfortable as possible for your dog.

  1. Face him forward while you’re traveling, rather than have him looking out of the side windows. One way to guarantee this is by using a specially designed dog seat belt. If you choose to have your dog ride on the front passenger seat, keep in mind that air bags do pose a potential hazard to dogs. Even though you can’t be sure your dog will face forward while riding in a travel crate, many people prefer to use crates for safety — and they do have the added benefit of containing vomit, should your dog become ill.
  2. Lower your car windows a couple of centimetres while the car is moving. This helps balance the air pressure inside the car with the air pressure outside, which may help reduce your dog’s nausea and discomfort.
  3. Keep the car cool and well ventilated, as a hot or stuffy vehicle can contribute to unpleasant sensations for your dog.
  4. Limit your dog’s food consumption prior to travel. Then, right before the trip, give your dog a small sugary sweet like a jellybean, which seems to reduce sensations of nausea. Never give your dog chocolate or treats made with xylitol which are toxic to dogs.

If your dog has learned to associate riding in the car with feeling stressed and nauseated, there are a variety of conditioning techniques you can try to lessen this connection. These include:

  • Taking a break from car trips for a week or two
  • Changing vehicles to avoid association with past unpleasant experiences
  • Taking short car trips to places your dog enjoys, like the park
  • Gradually building your dog’s tolerance to car trips; start by getting your dog used to approaching the car, then spend some time in the car with the engine off. When your dog is ready, take short trips (around the block, for example) to build tolerance before progressing to longer car rides.
  • Use treats to make the car a fun place for your dog (but be careful you don’t give too many which might only add to the nausea)
  • Buy special toys that your dog enjoys and only has access to in the car

Dog motion sickness medication

Dogs that don’t outgrow motion sickness and don’t respond to conditioning may benefit from the use of medication. There are a variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications that may decrease your dog’s motion sickness symptoms.

These include:

  • Anti-nausea drugs
  • Calming medications like Calmeze liquid and pills and Nutricalm capsules, available from EberVet Vetshops
  • Antihistamines, which can lessen dog motion sickness, reduce drooling, and offer sedation
  • Prescription drugs, which reduce vomiting and provide sedation

Talk to your veterinarian before purchasing any over-the-counter treatment for dog motion sickness. You will need to know the correct dosage.