Car sickness, which essentially is a form of motion sickness often coupled with anxiety about the car ride itself, is a common problem for dogs and for dog owners. Let’s talk about some of the reasons for car sickness and what we can do to help our dogs.
Many owners like to be able to take their dogs with them on outings. But when your dog gets sick and ends up vomiting all over the backseat of your car, the situation becomes uncomfortable for your dog and frustrating for you. Too often, it’s easier just to leave your dog at home rather than take him with you and risk the vomiting. At its worst, car sickness can even damage the bond between you and your dog. So finding a solution is important to many dog owners. Fortunately, there are ways to help your dog if he gets sick in the car.
Recognize the Signs of Fear and Understand How Anxiety Is Related to Car Sickness
It’s important to realize that many dogs are fearful of the car and this fear can make the car sickness worse as well. For some dogs, the car is simply an unfamiliar object and scary as a result. For others, a car ride may bring back memories of unpleasant experiences such as trips to the groomer, veterinarian, or boarding kennel. Some dogs may even be fearful of the car because of memories of previous episodes of car sickness, making the car even more scary.
Look for early signs of apprehension or anxiety in your dog. These signs may become evident when the car is first sighted, before the motor is even started and the car is moving. Signs that your dog is anxious about the car include ears facing backward or sideways, tail held low or tucked between the hind legs, yawning, licking the lips, shivering, whining, restlessness, and drooling. (Drooling may also be a sign of nausea.)
Dogs that are anxious or fearful of the car may need to be conditioned to ride in the car. Start slowly and don’t forget to reward generously for good behavior.
- Begin by placing your dog in the car without starting the motor. Start with a short stay in the car (perhaps only a minute or two at first) and gradually increase your dog’s time in the car as your dog becomes more comfortable. Offer treats as a reward for being in the car.
- For dogs that are particularly fearful of entering the car, feeding near the car and gradually moving the food closer and closer to the car until the dog is comfortable being near the car may be a logical first step. Eventually, you will be able to lure your dog into the car with food.
- Once your dog is comfortable in the car, try starting the motor for a moment or two but do not attempt to move the car. Again, offer treats and increase the time spent in the running car gradually as your dog becomes more comfortable.
- Once your dog is comfortable in a running car, try a short drive of a block or two. Offer treats. Consider driving to a favorite location within a short distance from your home as a reward for riding in the car.
- Once your dog is riding comfortably in the car, you can gradually begin to increase the distances traveled.
Some dogs may need additional help in overcoming their anxiety. Options to consider include:
- Thundershirt or Anxiety Wrap – these products are designed to reduce anxiety and are essentially tight-fitting “shirts” for your dog that use pressure to calm your dog. Despite the name, Thundershirts are useful for all forms of anxiety, not just for thunderstorm phobias. The Anxiety Wrap is a similar product that works on the same principle.
- Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) – this pheromone product is a natural product that acts to calm your dog. It is a natural product with very little if any risk of side effects. DAP collars are useful for car sickness. DAP spray is also useful and can be sprayed inside your car or in your dog’s carrier. DAP is also known as Adaptil or Comfort Zone.
- Other natural calming products such as herbal anxiety remedies and flower essences may also be useful for some dogs.
- Anxiolytic drugs such as alprazolam (Xanax) may be needed for extreme cases to reduce anxiety associated with riding in the car.
When in the car, don’t forget to make the environment comfortable for your dog. Adjust the temperature accordingly in your car. Consider cracking a window for airflow/ventilation. When your car is moving, always make sure your dog is safely harnessed or in a carrier to prevent injury to either of you.
Pharmaceutical Help for Car Sickness in Dogs
Dogs that are severely affected with car sickness may need additional help to prevent vomiting. Several options are available.
- Maropitant (Cerenia) is an anti-emetic (anti-vomiting) medication that is labeled for use in preventing vomiting as a result of car sickness.
- Meclizine is an antihistimine that also has some sedative and anti-emetic effects. Postafen is a similar product that may help with car sickness.
- The spice known as ginger has also been advocated as a means of controlling vomiting and may be worth a try before moving on to more potent drugs.
Some people have advocated withholding food for approximately one hour before travel for dogs that get car sick and vomit. Others have advocated feeding only a very small amount (i.e. a bite or two) before travel so that the stomach is not empty but is not full either. It may be that these approaches may work differently for different dogs. So, if withholding food does not prevent vomiting for your dog, try feeding a small amount before traveling to see if that works better.
Some dogs may need a combination of conditioning to the car, calming agents or sedatives, and anti-emetic medications to successfully overcome car sickness. Talk with your veterinarian about which medications are suitable for your dog. Your veterinarian may be able to offer further suggestions to help your dog with this issue also.
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