trouble at every turn: relieving pet motion sickness

Posted by Dr. Rebecca Jackson on Jun 19 2013

As the weather has turned and schools are getting out for summer session, it is the wonderful time of year for road trips and family vacations! Even if you aren’t traveling far, it is a time for heading to the beach and dog park to let your four-legged friends romp around.

Unfortunately, not all dogs and cats are able to tolerate the car ride itself. Many of our four-legged family members may experience motion sickness; even when the park is just around the corner. So, does that mean we can’t take them along for the ride anymore? Not at all. Just like humans, motion sickness can often be managed. So, what is this motion sickness all about?

In general, motion sickness affects our younger pets. This is due to their immature ear development; in other words, their centers of balance (which are within their ear structures) aren’t fully developed. The result: motion sickness. The good news is that many animals will outgrow motion sickness as their systems mature. While this isn’t the case for every pet, there are things we can do in the meantime to make our pets more comfortable.

What does motion sickness look like in a pet? Any combination of excessive drooling, yawning, whining, restlessness, vomiting/dry heaving and defecating may be seen. Although this isn’t a life-threatening condition, it can be frustrating for pet parents, and stressful for pets. Many pets will start to associate the car with this feeling of unease, and the car ride becomes very stressful. As you can imagine, stress only worsens the problem.

So, what can you do? First and foremost, work with your pet to decrease any anxiety associated with the car. Spend time playing near the car without getting inside. Then work toward sitting in the car with your pet without turning the car on. Offer special treats or toys that are only given with car rides (just be careful, too many treats can contribute to nausea). Next, turn the car on and continue with the positive reinforcement.

Now that you are in the car and ready to ride, there are a few things you can do to help decrease the chance of nausea:

  • Encourage your pet to ride facing forward (travel carriers and car-specific harnesses can help with this).
  • Roll down the windows a few inches to keep the pressure equalized.
  • Make sure you keep the car environment cool and comfortable. Heat and humidity only contribute to nausea.
  • Don’t feed your pet a large meal just prior to travel. Wait at least two hours after a meal.
Now it’s time to take a short car ride; again, make sure you are giving constant positive reinforcement. And make sure your first trip isn’t to the vet. Go somewhere your pet enjoys so that car rides aren’t always associated with the stress of the clinic.

If after trying all of these tricks, your pet still experiences motion sickness, don’t fret! Talk to your vet about what your pet is experiencing. There are over-the-counter medications, as well as prescription medications, that your vet can recommend to help with the nausea your pet is experiencing. Make sure you discuss your pet’s anxiety with your vet as well. Some pets benefit from prescription anxiety medications used along with the motion sickness medications.

Don’t let your trip be deterred by a car-sick pet. Try the above tricks and talk to your vet to see what will work best for you and your furry friend. Happy travels!

To more waggin’ and purrin’. rwkj