Everything you need to know about dog travel sickness
Taking your dog on a car journey can be fun but it can also be stressful, especially when your dog gets travel sick. Find out everything you need to know about a dog’s travel sickness, and what you can do about it.
Updated on the 08/02/2021, 13:53
If you’re a dog owner you will no doubt be aware that dogs (like humans) get travel sick, and some dogs get it worse than others. There are dogs that are beset by travel sickness even as they approach a car, there are dogs that are very quiet until they vomit, and there are dogs that love every minute of the journey. For the purposes of this article we’re going to assume that you own a dog or a puppy that gets very sick.
What are the causes of dog travel sickness?
Basically, travel sickness is due to a conflict of messages sent from the inner ear to the brain. The ‘labyrinth’ of the inner ear is a dog’s mechanism of balance. When it senses movement due to the car’s motion there is a ‘conflict’ in the brain because from the point of view of the dog her limbs aren’t moving. This conflict stimulates a part of the brain that controls the feeling of sickness and begins the process of vomiting.
Travel sickness is more often seen of puppies and juvenile dogs but it is not exclusively limited to these ages of dog. Old dogs too may have suffered travel sickness for their life. Of course, if the puppy’s first ride in a car is an unpleasant one and she is very sick she may always end up associating car travel with sickness.
What are the signs of dog travel sickness?
Some of the most common signs of travel sickness of a dog are subtle, but if you are aware of how your dog normally is you will notice a marked change in her demeanour. Her symptoms may include:
- Excessive yawning
- Excessive drooling
- Lip licking
What can prevent dog travel sickness?
If your dog gets very sick there are prescription medications that will prevent her from vomiting. We’ll look at these in a moment. For now, let’s look at how we can prevent your dog or puppy from suffering travel sickness in the first place.
The best way of course is to make the car ride as comfortable as possible. Some cars give a smoother ride than others, but it is also down to the driver to read the roads in order that the journey doesn’t consist of sharp turns and lots of braking and accelerating. That kind of driving can make even an adult human feel sick.
Face direction of travel
Try to make your dog face the direction of travel. Dogs have a tendency to look out of the windows to their side, which makes them feel sick. However, although there are special seat belts available to stop your dog from moving around too much there is nothing you can do to keep your dog’s head facing forward. Just make sure that the space between the two front seats is not blocked: a clear view in front of her will tempt the dog to look forward.
You should lower the car windows by at least two inches. This allows a flow of air into the car keeping the dog cool and allowing her to breathe in some fresh air if she feels sick.
Doing so has the added benefit of keeping the car smelling a little fresher than it would have done if they were closed; the breath of a sick dog smells even worse than normal and keeping the windows shut may cause everyone to feel sick.
Don’t give your dog anything big to eat before a car journey. For instance, if you plan to leave at lunchtime don't give her breakfast. Instead, try giving her a jelly bean just before she travels; this is thought to stem the feeling of nausea. You should not give her any old sweet though because some contain ingredients poisonous to dogs.
Medical prevention of dog’s motion sickness
Dog’s that seem always to experience travel sickness may benefit from being prescribed anti-emetic medications to be taken before they go on a journey. This is especially true of dogs that have grown up and are still experiencing travel sickness. The types of drug your vet may prescribe include:
- Anti-emetic drugs
- Prescription drugs for sedation
Other remedies of dog travel sickness include using treats to keep your dog occupied (toys or chewy rawhide have the same effect), building your dog’s tolerance to travel or even changing vehicles.
You may also consider putting your dog in a crate for the journey. This is a good idea inasmuch that the crate contains any mess she makes and stops her from jumping over the seats, but it does not allow her to look out of the windows nor does it give her a nice flow of air to make her feel better.
There is a temptation to make the journey bearable just for the humans. This can lead to the dog being banished to a place from where she cannot see what is going on; this will only worsen the problem. If your dog truly is a part of your family then she should be treated like one.