Travel Sickness in Dogs

jack russel dog in a car wearing a safety harness and a seat belt

Even dogs can suffer from travel sickness.

Many humans are familiar with the problem: They can barely sit for a few minutes in a moving car or on a rocky ship before becoming nauseous – or travel sick. Unfortunately our four-legged friends are often affected by this too. Read in the following article everything you need to know about travel sickness in dogs.

Is travel sickness in dogs dangerous?

Travel sickness in dogs of course isn't dangerous in the sense of being life-threatening. But nausea and vomiting are undesirable both for you and your dog with any journey.

Along with the associated fear of car journeys, a vicious circle soon emerges. So it's particularly important to do something about your dog's travel sickness.

Symptoms: How does travel sickness manifest itself in dogs?

The classic symptoms of travel sickness in dogs (also known as kinetosis) include:

  • Restlessness or lethargy
  • Whimpering, barking or crying
  • Panting
  • Salivating
  • Increased swallowing or licking the mouth
  • Vomiting
  • Urinating and defecating (very rare)

The symptoms usually emerge in roughly the order listed above. Of course not all dogs show the full range. There are also dogs that vomit after very short distances with no prior warning.

Causes: What are the triggers of travel sickness in dogs?

The organ of balance (vestibular organ) is found in a dog's inner ear. This organ perceives motion during a car journey.

At the same time, your dog's eyes don't recognise any movement because it isn't moving itself. It is passive motion. The irritation of the organ of balance and subsequent secretion of the messenger substance histamine then lead to nausea and vomiting.

Fear as an important factor

Another important factor in connection with kinetosis in dogs is fear. For instance, if your dog isn't used to car journeys, both the rocking motion of the car itself and fear of the situation at hand give potential for nausea.

Equally, a dog that has already experienced travel sickness several times will associate the car with nausea in the future. So fear will increase over time and travel sickness too.

Around one in six dogs suffer from travel sickness. Puppies and young dogs are affected particularly frequently. With a bit of luck, travel sickness will disappear in adult age. But even dogs that don't have this good fortune can be helped.

Practice car journeys when your dog is still a puppy.

Treatment: How is travel sickness in dogs treated?

Just like there isn't a sole cause of travel sickness in dogs, treatment consists of numerous components too. There's no use just treating a dog's nausea if it enters panic mode at the very sight of the family car.

Anti-anxiety training

If your dog has actually developed a fear of car journeys, medication alone cannot solve the problem. Plenty of patience is required, but it is possible to reduce anxiety step by step.

First approach the car and spend some time close to it. If your dog stays calm, it gets a reward. This means that time at the car is associated with something positive.

Once this first hurdle has been overcome, your dog should get in the car. Here too calm behaviour will be rewarded with a treat and stroking.

Patience and plenty of rewards

If your dog stays calm when the car is still, you can start the engine in the next stage and perhaps drive up and down the driveway. Only make the first short journey when it is possible to do this without your dog panicking.

There has to be something positive in wait for your dog at the end of the journey. Go for a long walk or meet up with its best canine pal. Afterwards, the length of the journey can gradually increase.

As you can see, anti-anxiety training can be an extended process. Stay patient and only proceed to the next stage when the previous one goes smoothly without fear. For absolutely unavoidable car journeys during this training period, your dog should definitely receive anti-emetics. Otherwise, all progress made up until then will be undone.

Anti-emetics

All training is of course useless if your dog is still nauseous during every journey. Hence, medication should also be used. Once your dog realises that car journeys without nausea and vomiting are possible, its fear will diminish.

Since nausea is caused by the secretion of histamine, dogs affected by travel sickness have usually received a type of anti-histamine up until now. This has both an anti-nausea and a calming (sedative) effect. Thinking about the angst-filled dog, this may not sound too bad at first. However, this medication isn't ideal because the effect lasts longer than the duration of the car journey.

Thankfully maropitant is now a very good anti-emetic. This blocks the vomiting centre in the dog's brain, so to speak, and therefore prevents vomiting. Your vet will certainly be glad to advise you! Unfortunately this medication is not cheap, but is surely worthwhile for stress-free travel for all involved.

Homeopathy for travel sickness in dogs

Perhaps your dog only has mild travel sickness or you initially wish to spare it a trip to the vet. In this case, the following homeopathic remedies are suitable:

  • Cocculus: twice per day for two to three weeks with daily training
  • Nux vomica
  • Paraffin
  • Cultivated tobacco
  • Strychninum phosphoricum

All remedies should be administered half an hour to an hour before the journey. If necessary, repeat the treatment during the journey too.

Here too, it's worthwhile getting an expert's advice when choosing a suitable remedy, because not all homeopathic remedies are right for every dog with travel sickness and its individual symptoms.

Some dogs with just mild symptoms benefit from ginger too. This should be given in capsule form for better acceptance.

Prevention: How can I avoid travel sickness in dogs?

Prevention is better than cure when it comes to travel sickness in dogs too. It is of course no guarantee against kinetosis, but it can certainly set things in the right direction.

Ideally, the breeder will already practice the first short car journeys with young puppies. When you take a puppy back to your home, focus during the journey on any small sign of discomfort.

Interrupt the journey and go for a short walk. Even though the journey home may take slightly longer, your puppy's first car journey shouldn't be remembered for nausea and vomiting if possible.

Tips for the first car journeys

Practice car journeys with your puppy. First of all, only choose short distances and only extend journeys slowly. Here too, a positive experience should await your little dog at the end of the car journey as often as possible.

Further tips especially for the first car journeys:

  • Make sure to drive as calmly as possible.
  • Avoid loud noises (e.g. loudly slamming car doors).
  • Ensure a good atmosphere in the car.
  • Calmly distract your dog from the unsettling situation by stroking it or with a toy.

If you have already had a few unpleasant experiences with travel sickness, changing the position in the car can sometimes work wonders. So test out various spots in the car.

Then choose the most pleasant spot for your dog. Your dog must of course still be safely accommodated in the car.

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