A car ride! A car ride! A car ride! For most dogs it’s the greatest thing since the cookie. But a dog can get motion sickness just like people do, which can mean that even a short car trip becomes stressful for the dog — and disgusting for the owner. Fortunately, there are ways to ease or eliminate a dog’s motion sickness, including conditioning and medication.
Motion sickness is much more common in puppies and young dogs than in older dogs, presumably because the ear structures used for balance aren’t fully developed in puppies. If the first few car rides of a dog’s life result in nausea, the dog may begin to equate travel with uncomfortable sensations, even after his or her balance system fully matures. Therefore, a dog who suffers motion sickness should be treated as soon as possible.
Stress can also add to motion sickness; if a dog rides in a car only to go to the veterinarian the negative sensations associated with travel can be more pronounced. If a dog continues to appear ill even after several car rides, the owner should consult a veterinarian about treatment for motion sickness.
Signs and Identification
Not all motion sickness manifests as vomiting. Signs of motion sickness in dogs include:
Yawning or panting
Vomiting (even on an empty stomach)
Fear of cars
If a dog develops a secondary fear of riding in cars, a veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist can help determine whether the cause is motion sickness or something else, such as an orthopedic condition or anxiety unrelated to motion sickness.
All breeds of dogs seem equally susceptible to motion sickness.
To help owners prevent or treat motion sickness in dogs, veterinarians often recommend one or more of the following approaches:
Help your dog face forward while traveling by strapping him or her into the seat with a specially designed canine seatbelt.
If you buckle your dog into the front passenger seat, position the seat as far as possible from the dashboard or disable the passenger air bag, which can be hazardous to dogs.
Lower car windows a few inches to equalize the inside and outside air pressures.
Keep the vehicle cool.
Limit your dog’s food and water consumption before travel.
Give your dog a treat or two every time he or she gets into the car.
Give your dog a toy that he or she enjoys and can have only in the car.
Give your dog a one- to two-week break from car rides.
Use a different vehicle to avoid triggering your dog’s negative response to your usual vehicle.
Take short car rides to places a dog enjoys, such as the park, especially if your dog associates car rides only with trips to the veterinarian’s office.
Gradually build up a dog’s tolerance to car rides. The following steps should take a few days to a week:
Accustom your dog to approaching the car without getting in it.
Spend time with your dog in the car with the engine off.
Take short trips (e.g., around the block).
Take longer trips. Reward your dog with praise and/or treats every time he or she does something well.
If a dog doesn’t outgrow motion sickness or respond to conditioning techniques, consult your veterinarian about medication to help your dog. There is a medication approved for preventing vomiting due to motion sickness in dogs. However, if anxiety or other issues are involved, additional therapies may be recommended.
In many cases treatment and prevention are the same thing, so see the list above.