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Car Sickness....what can we do?

by Katie McKay | Mar 30, 2016

Motion sickness is a common problem in dogs. Usually it strikes puppies more than adults and young dogs often “grow out” of it by the time they are a year old. There is a laundry list of causes for motion sickness, especially in older dogs, like association of the car with something traumatic, unknown or any kind of stressful experience. Their anxiety can end up causing physical illness and result in vomiting or diarrhea. Older dogs can also be victims of vestibular disease (disease of the inner ear) that predisposes them to nausea. If you or your family have ever been diagnosed with Vertigo, you know what this feels like!  Luckily there is a lot of information available about how to help your dog deal with car sickness, whether its anxiety or fear based or if it’s just good old run of the mill motion sickness.
Fear, stress and anxiety can definitely be a contributing factor and a dog can be car sick in a car that’s not even moving. The good news is that many dogs can be trained out of their motion sickness just by taking them on short trips and making wonderful, happy associations with the car (i.e. not trips to the vet). Exercise before departure can help them relax. Avoiding big meals before travel and having something to do can also take their mind off of the drive. Be sure to provide plenty of ventilation, but this does not mean your dog should ride with his/her head out the window. For those that have issues that persist, there are a number of natural and prescription remedies available.
Here are a few tips, but there are many more articles with information on how to help your dog.  Don’t forget your fellow dog owners who are full of good tricks to try.

For anxiety or fearful dogs:

Dogs who don’t have good experiences with cars can become fearful and anxious about even being near a car. The goal is to change that association for them and help them learn that the car can be fun! Start with the car in park. Take your dog out to the car and sit with them and provide lots of yummy treats. Then take them back inside after 15 seconds. Next time, try 30 seconds, then a minute and so on. Gradually extend the time you spend in the car but do it slowly. They may have true, genuine fear and forcing them will only make things worse. Your dog doesn’t like treats? How about a favorite toy? When your dog is ready and is not having panic attacks going out to the car and sitting in it for several minutes, take the next step and drive up the driveway and eventually you might make it around the block. Remember you are trying to change their association with the car to something wonderful instead of something scary. Once you are able to drive short distances, make sure you are taking your dog to do something he or she enjoys. It can be something as simple as driving to the end your street and then taking your dog for a walk or playtime at the park. Keep calm!  Your dog certainly picks up on your anxiety and stress and yelling at them or forcing them will only make things worse.

For dogs with true motion sickness:

These poor pups can’t help when motion sickness strikes, but we can do a few things to support their needs.  For starters, there are some over the counter remedies available for just such a thing.  I like Ark Naturals Happy Traveler and Rescue Remedy.  It can be given about 30 minutes before a trip and only lasts a few hours. There are also anti-nausea medications available like Cerenia and Meclazine (Dramamine) too. Keep in mind that they do not help with stress or anxiety, only with motion sickness. Make sure to talk to your vet before starting anything new.  It’s important to make sure what you are giving your dog doesn’t interact with other medications, especially if you are combining therapies, and is safe to give your pup. A good amount of exercise before a trip can help reduce stress and also release good endorphins for an expected trip helping to relax and calm or sleep along the way. A crate or secure safety harness that keeps your dog facing forward can help with motion sickness but also prevents a dog from hurting themselves. Keep the temperature in the car cool. Motion sickness is often exacerbated by warm temperatures or overheating. Bring along their favorite bed or special toy that smells like home….nothing is more calming than a little scent of a dog’s favorite humans or furry buddies.

The great thing about many of these options is that they may work for dogs with true motion sickness or dogs with car sickness related to stress or anxiety. Loop your vet in and work on some ideas for what combinations might help your dog. No one knows your dog better than you do and letting your vet weigh in on the medical side will help you come up with the most successful plan for your dog.

Cheers and happy road tripping!  Remember to email your questions to NRGRRMedical@yahoo.com

Katie