So Your Dog Suffers from Motion Sickness: Here’s How to Help

With the holiday season just around the corner, many families will be hitting the road to spend time with relatives. And while this is a busy time of year for pet sitters and boarding kennels, many people opt to take their dogs with them. For dogs who suffer from motion sickness, getting to the destination can be a miserable experience. Motion sickness is usually seen during travel by land, sea or air, and signs usually disappear once the trip ends.

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What Causes Motion Sickness

Motion sickness is more common in puppies and young dogs because the equilibrium of the middle ear necessary for balance hasn’t fully developed said Peter Falk, a veterinarian and managing partner at the Ocean County Veterinary Hospital in Lakewood, NJ, and co-chair of the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association Public Relations Committee. If people are in any doubt as to what’s causing their dog to be sick, it’s important that they visit with a veterinarian to rule out other health issues, Falk said.

Stress can also add to motion sickness. While most puppies and young dogs outgrow motion sickness, some continue to have a negative association with traveling.

“For these dogs sometimes just going to the car will be anxiety provoking and can trigger a motion sickness episode,” Falk said.

Symptoms of Motion Sickness

Not all motion sickness results in vomiting. Other signs of motion sickness in dogs include:

  • Anxiety
  • Yawning or panting
  • Whining
  • Excessive drooling
  • Diarrhea
  • Fear of cars

How to Help Relieve or Overcome Motion Sickness in Dogs

  • If you suspect your dog is suffering from motion sickness due to a negative association with traveling in the car, there are steps you can take to desensitize the dog. In her post on Combating Dog Car Sickness on the Pet Health Network, Veterinarian Nancy Kay offers the following tips:
    1. Begin by spending quality time in the car with your dog when the engine is turned off. Just sit in the car together and provide lots of positive reinforcement. For example playing with a favorite toy or rewarding with a treat.
    2. When your dog seems happy with this step, start the engine and continue with the positive reinforcement.
    3. Once the dog seems relaxed with steps one and two you can begin taking short trips around the block. When your dog manages these short trips without getting sick, you can increase the length of the trip and go someplace that your dog enjoys.
  • To help dogs overcome stress associated with visiting the vet’s office, Falk suggests that clients bring their dog to the animal hospital when they don’t actually have an appointment.“ We tell them to bring the dog into the waiting room and give him/her a treat, then leave again,” Falk said. “This gives the dog the experience of being at the animal hospital when nothing bad happens (getting an injection, for example).”
  • When planning a trip don’t feed your dog for four to six hours before you hit the road. This means you will either skip one of your dog’s meals or you need to time the travel according to your dog’s feeding schedule.

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  • During the trip, confine your dog using a crate or a seat belt designed specifically for dogs. For safety reasons it’s important to keep dogs restrained in the back seat, Falk said. Be sure that the crate is secured in place as less movement will lessen the likelihood of nausea. Positioning the dog so that he can face forward may help alleviate motion sickness. When in the crate cover all sides except the one facing towards the front of the car.
  • Just like people, dogs can get sick in one car when they might not in another. Falk’s clients have told him, for example, that their dog is fine when riding in the husband’s car but gets sick when traveling in the wife’s car or a friend’s car. So if you have more than one vehicle in the family, see if your dog is more comfortable in one over the other.
  • Allowing fresh air into the car by opening the windows a crack or using the air conditioning can help alleviate motion sickness.
  • Some people have found that feeding a ginger snap or two to their dog before travel has helped prevent motion sickness. For others, aromatherapy with lavender has proven to significantly reduce sickness or stress associated with travel.

Using Medications to Help with Motion Sickness

If you’ve tried all of the above and your dog still suffers from motion sickness, you can talk to your veterinarian about medication. There are some dogs, Falk said, who get anxious before the trip even begins. It’s not that they are suffering from motion sickness, they just don’t want to travel at all.

“We can prescribe anti-anxiety pills or a little tranquilizer to help these dogs deal with the stress,” Falk said. “This doesn’t mean they have to be sedated every time they travel. It helps them get through the first few trips and then they are less stressed when traveling.”

Falk said many veterinarians will prescribe anti-anxiety medications such as Acepromazine and Sileo to help dogs deal with the stress of traveling. Whether you choose anti-anxiety medications or alternative treatments, he recommends trying them at home first to see how the pet reacts before actually heading out on a trip.

The exception to this, Falk said, is Cerenia. This medication has been out for a few years and is the only one that is FDA-approved to treat and prevent vomiting in dogs (and cats). It is a non-drowsy medication that comes in two formulations—an injection given by a veterinarian, or tablets that can be given at the hospital or at home.

“You can give one pill an hour or two before traveling and it’s good for the whole day,” Falk said.

The bottom line is there are things you can do to help your dog overcome motion sickness.

“People are often reluctant to call their veterinarian for advice and rely instead on Dr. Google,” Falk said. “Most veterinarians are accessible by phone and it’s better to get advice from an expert who knows your dog.”

Photo credit: Thinkstock

156 comments

Kerrie G
Kerrie G6 days ago

Thank you.

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Kayla M
Kayla M8 days ago

Thanks for sharing!

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Renata B
Renata B8 days ago

Thanks. It would be nice to find the same amount of information about cats: they are always the poor relation on Care2, I wonder why.

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Richard A
Richard A9 days ago

Thank you for this article.

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Sheila Miller
Sheila Miller10 days ago

This was a very interesting article. Thank You! I do not think any of my dogs ever experienced motion sickness in the car. They do not travel often, but seem to do well. They must not be nervous while in the vehicle.

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Peggy B
Peggy B11 days ago

TYFS

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Julia S
Julia S12 days ago

Thank you!

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Sandra V
Sandra Vito12 days ago

Thanks

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Mike H
Mike H12 days ago

Thank you

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caroline lord
caroline l15 days ago

many thanks

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