Summer is here, and that means that many people will be driving to visit or go on holidays. In my opinion, one of the greatest joys of pet ownership is going on a road trip with your dog. Two small words “car ride,” can throw many dogs into a frenzy of excitement and joy that is seen in no other situation. Other dogs, however, turn into a trembling mess of anxiety and drool at the sight of a car because they suffer from motion sickness.
While the result of motion sickness is usually drooling and vomiting, motion sickness is not, in fact, a “stomach” issue. Motion sickness occurs when overstimulation happens to receptors located in the inner ear, called the vestibular apparatus. This typically helps the dog manage his body position and movements. In motion sickness, the vestibular apparatus is overstimulated and sends a signal to the emesis centre of the brain, which tells the stomach to empty its contents. We see motion sickness most commonly in puppies because the vestibular apparatus isn’t fully matured. Many dogs who experience motion sickness, as puppies will not experience motion sickness as adult dogs. Unfortunately, bad travel experiences can lead to anxiety about travelling in the car later in life.
- Sometimes, motion sickness can be managed by conditioning your dog for travel. A few simple steps can help keep your dog’s tummy settled in the car.
- Avoid feeding a large meal just before travel. Feeding a little bit of food (ideally, a bland diet works best, i.e. cooked rice or cottage cheese) puts something in the stomach to absorb the gastric juices.
- Start with just sitting in the car with your dog. Make it a positive experience to sit in the car. The next time takes a very short trip, maybe around your neighbourhood. The next time goes a little bit further. Very gradual increases in the length of the car ride, help your dog build up tolerance and comfort in the car.
- Make sure there is enough room in the car for your dog to lie down, sit and turn around in the car. This will allow your dog to maintain balance and stabilize the stimulation of the vestibular apparatus.
- Keep your vehicle cool and well ventilated. Take frequent breaks during the trip. Stop the car intermittently and take your dog out for a quick walk.
- Let your dog see outside when the car is moving. This has been shown to help minimize motion sickness in dogs and people.
If these techniques don’t work, then your dog may need some medicinal help to manage motion sickness symptoms. There are many articles online discussing “natural” remedies for dogs who suffer from motion sickness. Many of these remedies are anecdotal, without any safety studies on animal health. It is best to check with your veterinarian about the safety and efficacy about any over the counter options.
If your dog requires medication, then the best way to deal with motion sickness is to prevent motion sickness. Your veterinarian has very effective and safe medication that work directly on the emesis centre of your dog. The medication is only needed once every 24 hours, so you can administer it for an hour or two prior to your travel and it remains effective for the rest of your travel day.
Talk to us about avoiding the “Pukes of Hazard,” when you travel with your dog!
Written by Shanon Chase, RVT