Your dog was pretty well before you took him on this trip, and a few minutes into the trip, he has vomited in his dog carrier or your car seats. And suddenly, he looks as if he’s been sick for a while. Before you know it, he has vomited again, and the mess is frustrating!
Like humans have motion sickness, dogs do too. A dog can get sick even during short trips in the car. And an upset dog can make any car ride unpleasant for everyone. This article will discuss dog car sickness and motion sickness while walking you through what you can do to help your pet feel better when riding in the car.
What Causes Motion Sickness?
Although there are several articles online addressing motion sickness in dogs, nobody really knows why dogs get car sick. However, we can see similarities in motion sickness in dogs and humans.
One reason generally agreed upon is that the sensory signals reaching the brain from the dog’s eyes don’t match the signals reaching the brain from the vestibular movement-sensing areas of the inner ear and those mixed signals trigger nausea and vomiting response. That is to say, the dog is not moving, but it perceives its environment moving.
One thing is that puppies and young dogs tend to experience motion sickness and get car sickness more often than dogs that are over one year old. That is to say, dogs can actually outgrow their car sickness, but not in all cases. It is most likely that a dog’s car sickness has given it some travel anxiety.
Motion sickness might be expected for some pups before their first year because their organs are just developing. Most dogs will never outgrow this.
The two most common reasons for a dog’s car sickness are
1. Motion sickness caused by inner or middle ear infections such as vestibular disease, or
2. A kind of travel or car anxiety.
Experts suggest that some motion sickness dogs are triggered because they did not have any human care or handling at an early age.
What’s the Difference Between Dog’s Motion Sickness and Travel Anxiety?
Most of the signs and symptoms of dog car sickness are similar to travel anxiety, so it can be challenging to determine exactly which one your dog is experiencing. Some dogs even experience both at the same time.
If your dog feels sick every time you take them in the car, it’s likely that they’re anxious about going for car rides and that the anxiety increases with each ride.
Dogs with car anxiety may start panting, drooling, and may be restless. An anxious dog may also whine and urinate or defecate in the moving vehicle.
However, motion sickness will happen during the car ride itself, when the dog begins to feel queasy as the car speeds past houses or trees on the street.
Symptoms of Car Sickness
If your kid’s face turns an unflattering shade of green, you know that they are car sick, and you probably stop the car and let them get some air. Dogs wish they can show that green face. But here are some signs of dog travel sickness you can learn to identify. They include:
- Inactivity or uneasiness
- Incessant yawning
- Excessive drooling
- Lip-smacking or licking
- Excessive panting
- Swallowing without eating
- Changed body posture
- Tight facial muscles
- Wide eyes
- Vomiting (in some, but not all, cases)
How to Prevent and Treat Dog Motion Sickness
The best way to prevent dog car sickness is to make the trip as comfortable as possible for your dog.
For instance, try to sit your dog and face them forward at the back. They will experience fewer nauseating visual cues if they do not look out the side windows while you’re traveling. One way to guarantee that your dog sits in a specific position is to use a specially designed dog seat belt or a dog carrier. A dog carrier will help contain vomit if that happens anyway.
Another thing that may help lessen your dog’s motion sickness is to lower your car windows a little while the car is moving. That will balance the air pressure inside the vehicle with the air pressure outside. That may help reduce your dog’s nausea and discomfort. You should also keep the car cool and well ventilated. Heat can contribute to unpleasant sensations for your dog. Always keep the car cool.
Some people have seen how well playing classical music helps to calm dogs down and ease their anxiety. Another thing that helps is making the dog feel at home by covering them with a blanket or t-shirt that will remind them of home.
Try not to feed your dog treats before a car trip. Chocolates or candy, or even biscuits, can make the dog’s stomach queasy and make them more likely to get sick. Many people try to take their dogs out on an empty stomach.
Make frequent stops. You should take the dog out for a stroll, as regular breaks during long car rides will help the dog feel at ease. They won’t just sniff around and stretch their legs on solid ground for a bit, but that will also give their potentially conflicting sensory signals that might be causing their motion sickness a break from the trip.
The best effective way to prevent dog motion sickness is by conditioning the dog for car rides. This involves taking short car trips every day and gradually increasing the duration to help acclimate the dog to the condition.
You can start by taking your dog to play in the car, even when you are not going anywhere. That will make the dog comfortable in a non-moving vehicle. Then you would take them on rides of 5-10 minutes and increase the length for 5 to 10 mins until you observe that your pet is fine riding for 1-2 hours.
Buy a steady dog carrier to get your dog strapped into the car seat. That will prevent them from sliding and will also keep them staring in a more focused direction.
So, in summary, you can prevent dog motion sickness if you:
- Take a break from car trips every week or two.
- Don’t go out in the same vehicle to avoid association with past unpleasant experiences.
- Take short car trips to places that your dog enjoys going.
- Buy unique toys that your dog enjoys playing with and place them exclusively in the car.
- Lower the windows and make the car cool throughout the trip.
- Avoid giving your dog any food for about an hour or two before taking it on a trip.
- Choose routes that are not bumpy.
- Minimize stops and turns.
- Stop regularly for water and toilet breaks so that your dog can get a bit of a leg stretch.
- Take your dog’s favorite blanket along to help it feel more secure in the car.
Dog Motion Sickness Medications
You can treat your dog’s car sickness with a few medications. However, you should get the recommendation of a vet before administering any drug to your pet. There are various over-the-counter and prescription medications that may help your dog deal with the symptoms of motion sickness.
The vet may suggest medications for dog car sickness. Some of these may require a prescription, but you will find most of them easily at over-the-counter stores. The most popular types of medications for dog’s motion sickness include the following:
1. Diphenhydramine (antihistamine). This is an antihistamine, also known as Benadryl. It is a drug that will soothe your dog and reduce drooling. So, if your dog is vomiting, a vet may recommend medication such as dimenhydrinate (Dramamine).
2. Meclizine (Bonamine). This is an over-the-counter medication used to treat motion sickness. It does not have the sedative effect that Benadryl does, and so is not commonly used to treat drooling or vomiting.
3. Dimenhydrinate. This is another popular Dramamine drug used to treat nausea and motion sickness.
4. Acepromazine. This strong drug requires a vet prescription. It will tranquilize and soothe animals. It is used to treat motion sickness because of the tranquilizing effect.
If you prefer not to use medication, you can try some of the following home remedies:
- Ginger: Ginger is known to relieve vomiting and nausea, the most common symptoms of car sickness. If your dog starts experiencing motion sickness, you can give them some ginger cookies.
- Peppermint Tea: It is scientifically proven that peppermint is an effective digestive aid. That is because of its ability to calm the stomach in even the most sensitive stomachs. If your dog tends to experience car sickness, you can prepare some peppermint tea. Peppermint essential oils can suffice too. Soak a cotton ball with one or two drops of the oil, and put it near the ventilation.
Your veterinarian can help you find the most effective medications that will ensure a smooth ride. If your dog generally does fine on most car trips but feels sick on longer trips like a cross-country trip or a long flight, you should talk to your veterinarian about what to use temporarily.
You must ensure that car rides with your pet are fun and trouble-free. Otherwise, your dog will associate your emotional distress with riding in the car and start having travel anxiety.
Pro Tip: if your dog does get sick and vomit on a long trip, try to fight the impulse to pull over and clean it up. If you do that, your dog would vomit or make a mess every time. It will signal to your dog that you will cause the car to stop if they start that. Your dog may use this to create a behavioral problem, thinking that he can stop the vehicle by vomiting.