With winter travel in high gear many of us plan on hitting the road with our pooches for a little winter fun. However, for some four-legged family members, road trips can mean upset tummies.
Queasiness in the car is not just a human problem. Dogs and puppies do sometimes experience motion sickness on car rides. Unfortunately, car sickness can make any kind of pet travel a distressing ordeal for both dogs and their families.
Car sickness doesn’t have to be a serious or lasting problem for your pet. With the right treatment, it can be mitigated, or even stopped altogether.
There are several causes of car sickness in dogs and puppies. The most common include:
- Immature ears. In puppies, the ear structures that regulate balance aren’t fully developed, which can cause them to be extra sensitive to motion sickness. Many dogs will outgrow car sickness as they age.
- Stress. If traveling in the car has only led to unpleasant experiences for your dog — to vet exams, for example — he may literally be worried sick about the journey.
- Self-conditioning. If your dog experienced nausea on his first car rides as a puppy, he may associate car rides with illness, and expect to get sick in the car.
Car sickness doesn’t look like you might expect it to in dogs, and you might not even realize that this is the challenge you’re dealing with. Here are some symptoms to look out for:
- Excessive/repetitive yawning
- Hyper-salivation (drooling)
If your dog is suffering from car sickness, symptoms will typically disappear within a few minutes after the car comes to a stop.
Fortunately, there are a number of different methods available to help prevent and/or treat canine car sickness.
1. Increase His Comfort Level
- Turn your dog so that he faces forward. Motion sickness is related to the brain’s ability to process movement. The less blurring movement he sees out the window, the better he might feel.
Keep your dog as close to the front seat as possible (but not in the front seat). The farther back in the car you go, the more you sense motion.
- Opening the windows a crack. This brings in fresh air, which is soothing, and helps reduce air pressure.
- Avoid feeding your dog for a few hours before a car trip.
- Transport him in a travel crate. A crate will limit his view to the outside, and will help to keep any sickness he may have confined to a small space.
- Keep the temperature low. Heat, humidity and stuffiness can exacerbate car sickness.
- Distract him. Toys, soothing music, or just hearing you speak may help calm and distract a high-strung dog.
- Take frequent breaks. Getting out for fresh air or to stretch your legs can help him feel better periodically.
- Exercise before your car ride.
For dogs who have negative associations with riding in cars, reconditioning could be the answer. Reconditioning does take time and patience, but it really can help relax your dog.
- Drive in a different vehicle. Your dog might associate a specific vehicle with unpleasant memories.
- Take short car trips to places your dog enjoys. This will replace negative associations with positive ones.
- Gradually acclimate your dog to the car. Start by sitting with your dog in the car while the engine is off each day for a few days. When he seems comfortable, let it idle. Once he is used to that, drive slowly around the block. Gradually progress to longer and longer trips until your dog seems comfortable driving anywhere.
- Offer your dog treats, or offer him a special toy that’s just for car rides. This will make the car a fun and rewarding place to be.
While motion sickness can be helped in natural ways for some dogs, there are cases in which medications is the only option. There are both over-the-counter and prescription medications available, including:
- Anti-nausea drugs: reduce nausea and vomiting.
- Antihistamines: lessen motion sickness, reduce drooling, and calm nerves.
- Phenothiazine: reduces vomiting and helps sedate the dog.
Caution: Always discuss any medications you plan to give your pet with your veterinarian to ensure that your dog is healthy enough to take them, will be given the correct dosage, and won’t suffer any adverse effects.
4. Holistic Approach
Holistic treatments are another way to go for dog parents. They really can be effective, and are worth trying. Some common holistic choices include:
- Ginger. Ginger is used to treat nausea. Try giving your dog ginger snap cookies or ginger pills at least 30 minutes before travel.
- Peppermint, chamomile and horehound naturally help calm the stomach and nerves of your dog. These are available in pills and teas.
- Massage can help sooth and relax your pet before you travel.
As with other medications, always discuss any holistic remedies you plan to give your pet with your vet to ensure that it’s appropriate and the dosage is correct.
In short, with some patience, training, or the right medications or holistic treatments, you and your dog will be able to ride safely and happily together anywhere you need to go!
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