Much like humans who experience a feeling of illness while in on car trips, dogs and cats can also get a queasy stomach when traveling in the car (or even by boat or air). Any motion that a pet is not used to can cause them to feel ill and disorientated. While some animals see a car trip as an exciting journey, for others it can become a stressful time of feeling ill and unwell.
Dogs show their uneasiness in various ways. The first signs of motion sickness may be a constant licking of the lips, followed by excessive drooling, yawning, whining or crying out in distress, immobility or acting afraid to move, and finally, vomiting or regurgitation. An extremely emotional dog may even urinate or defecate in the car.
There are several potential causes of motion sickness in dogs and cats. Young dogs may experience this condition more frequently because their equilibrium needs to develop a bit more as they mature. Some dogs may actually “grow out” of the condition if this is the case. The cause of motion sickness can also be emotional (behavioral) and linked to a bad travel experience in early life.
Treatment of this condition may be as simple as making your dog familiar with going for rides in the car. Providing a safe, comfortable environment for your dog may lead to a better overall attitude toward travel. Opening the windows in the car slightly may help reduce air pressure inside the vehicle and allow for better ventilation. Since motion sickness is caused by an underdevelopment of the ear structures that regulate balance, keeping air pressure balanced is vital to alleviating the symptoms of motion sickness. No food should be given for a few hours prior to getting in the car. Toys may help distract and entertain a high-strung dog, and taking frequent breaks for elimination may also help.
By keeping your dog in a kennel or carrier during travel, you can help alleviate some of the symptoms that motion sickness brings on. Keeping your dog facing forward as opposed to sideways is critical to alleviating the symptoms of motion sickness. By facing forward, your dog or cat is more likely to keep their bearings and balance than they are if they are facing sideways with their head on a swivel.
If you’re in the midst of travel, and you notice your dog or cat about to become sick, it might be a good idea to pull off of the road for a couple minutes, and let your animal out for a bit of fresh air. By letting your animal out of the car you’re allowing them to get fresh air and regain their bearings before beginning to travel again.
If time and training do not help the situation, various medications are available. Antihistamines such as benedryl have a sedative action to slightly calm the dog during travel, as well as to reduce drooling. In severe cases, stronger sedative drugs such as acepromazine may be prescribed. There is a medication that you can pick up from a veterinarian called Cerenia which is an antiemetic used to prevent acute vomiting and vomiting due to motion sickness in dogs. A veterinarian should be consulted before any drugs are given (either OTC or prescription) just to be sure the dog is healthy, the dosage is correct, and that the medication won’t harm the dog.