Oh, the dreaded sound! As a dog owner, surely you’ve heard it many times before. Body in position, muscles contracting, and then … retching! Sometimes, it goes on for several seconds before your dog erupts … and you’re scrambling for something, ANYTHING to catch the eruption. Unfortunately, we’re usually too late.
Even worse is when it happens in the car. Unlike humans, dogs can’t grab the nearest bag or container when feeling an attack of motion sickness. Suddenly, your car is at the mercy of their sickness. Your car, the barf bag for your 4-legged friend. Motion sickness and dogs … the dreaded combination. What to do?
FIRST, BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR SIGNS
Sometimes, dogs experience anxiety in the car. And often, it’s a problem that leaves you asking “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” Anxiety can cause motion sickness, and being prone to motion sickness can cause anxiety in the car. Round and round!
Whatever the cause, you need to meet it head-on and first watch for the signs that your dog is feeling ill:
- Extra drooling
- Vomiting (in the car or shortly after arrival)
If you notice some of the signs (hopefully before your dog vomits), you can take action and find a place to pull off the road for a bit. Let your dog get a bit of exercise and fresh air. Often times, this will help to ease the symptoms before they get worse.
CAN I PREVENT MOTION SICKNESS?
Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to prevent motion sickness. But, there are a few things you can do to decrease the likelihood.
1. MEDICATION: Many people have had success with using “dimenhydrinate” (the active ingredient in “Dramamine”) or “Adaptil.” For the correct dosage for your dog, I’d highly recommend asking your vet. Some precautions:
- It simply may not work
- It can cause side effects
Although many people have had success with both of these drugs, in some dogs they simply don’t work. As with drugs meant to calm our Paul, BOTH dimenhydrinate and Adaptil cause him to feel anxious and to pace when it ought to make him drowsy. And when he is anxious, he is more prone to motion sickness. So, we just don’t use them at all.
Also keep in mind that as with all drugs, there can be side effects. More common side effects include lethargy, dry mouth, vomiting and an inability to pee. Like humans, dogs can be prone to seizures, thyroid issues and even glaucoma. These problems can be made worse with the use of dimenhydrinate.
If your dog suffers from any of these issues, I highly recommend asking your veterinarian before using either drug.
2. FEEDING: Don’t feed your dog within three to four hours before leaving on your journey. In fact, it may be better to wait even longer. This won’t necessarily prevent your dog from vomiting, but it does decrease the chance AND it makes it easier to clean up if he does vomit.
With Paul, we feed him an evening meal the day before and then take him for a nice walk before leaving the next morning. He doesn’t get anything else aside from a bit of water after that evening meal until we’ve stopped driving for the day. If it’s an exceptionally long drive (3 + hours), we sometimes give him a light treat (such as small, dry dog biscuits) if he shows signs of being too hungry. You need to find a balance. For example, if Paul gets too hungry, his stomach gets upset. If he’s eaten too much, he will experience more motion sickness.
3. SEATING: Don’t allow your dog to sit where he can look out the side windows. We learned this the hard way. Apparently, seeing the passing cars and various forms can lead to motion sickness.
To help avoid motion sickness, you can place a blanket over any side openings on his crate, or a blanket over the window beside him if he’s seated in a car seat.
If driving a van or SUV, it is also better to place your dog in a rear seat, but not all the way in the back of the vehicle where your dog will experience a rougher ride. The bumpier the ride, the higher the chance of motion sickness!
4. IS YOUR DOG TIRED? If you’ve already got your dog accustomed to riding in the car (and thus calmer), you can improve his chances of NOT getting motion sickness if he’s sleepy at the start of your journey. A rigorous play-session or walk shortly before travelling should encourage him to sleep.
5. BREAKS: Making sure your dog gets several breaks within the course of your journey can help a lot! It’s recommended that you stop every two hours to allow your dog to stretch his legs, breathe some fresh air and hopefully … have a potty break. This would also be a good opportunity to give him a bit of water … not too much though! Although it’s important to keep him hydrated, too much water can also lead to stomach upset if your dog is already prone to motion sickness.
6. MAP OUT YOUR DRIVE BEFORE LEAVING: This is an absolute MUST for us! Especially when we know that part of our journey will not be on the highway. It’s those curves in the road that cause the most problems! If you know in advance where the curves are, you can alter your path. Of course, sometimes that’s not possible, but you can still prepare. For example, when I know we’re about to hit the curves, I’ll sit beside Paul to help keep him still and prevent him from looking or moving around too much.
7. Fresh air: When the outside temperatures aren’t too extreme, try to keep one or two back windows rolled down about an inch. The movement of fresh air help your dog to feel better.
GOOD INFORMATION! BUT, MY DOG STILL GOT SICK
As I told you earlier, despite our best efforts … our buddies still get sick sometimes. Don’t give up hope! With a bit more experience and trial-and-error, you may still be able to break the cycle. In the mean time, it would be a good idea to make sure you have a bit of protection in place for your car:
- Waterproof seatcovers/hammocks
- Motion sickness supply bag
To protect your upholstery from your furry friend, there are hundreds of seatcovers on the market today. My personal favorite is not only waterproof (fluid doesn’t soak through), but is in the shape of a hammock. It attaches to the headrests of the backseat, across the seat to the headrests of the front seat, forming a hammock. Better models will also provide access to the seatbelt system underneath so you can still secure your dog in place.
Having such a seatcover protects not only your seat upholstery, but also the floor. Trust me, it’s worth the added protection! Before we purchased one, the mess from my buddy ran from the seat to the floor on more than one occasion. Not nice!
When it’s time for me to sit in back beside my dog, I simply detach one side of the hammock from one back headrest and one front headrest (basically, minimizing the size of the hammock to half) so that I can sit comfortably beside him.
Aside from protecting the seat and floor, it’s a good idea to have a ‘motion sickness supply bag’ on hand to make cleanup easier. Ours is always stocked and we never leave the house without one.
WHAT’S THIS ‘MOTION SICKNESS SUPPLY BAG’ YOU SPEAK OF?
My Paul is well-versed when it comes to motion sickness. After having traveled across three countries in our years together, I’ve learned a thing or two about his habits. Even so, he really keeps me on my toes. Just as an example, he once traveled 900 km into France with almost no trouble at all. I started thinking that perhaps he had this motion sickness problem licked. But just a couple of kilometers before our destination, he erupted without warning.
Therefore, not to be fooled into believing he’s changed, I ALWAYS keep a “motion sickness supply bag” at the ready.
- an extra blanket for him
- a roll of paper towels
- plastic bags
- a towel
- upholstery cleaner and brush
- a small bottle of water to aid in cleanup
Not to overly disturb the driver, I often sit with Paul in the backseat … especially if he starts to show signs of motion sickness. I usually grab the paper towels out of my supply bag and fold a few together. When I see he is preparing to vomit, I slide the stack of paper towels under his head to (hopefully) catch everything and to avoid a big mess. This works most of the time. Of course, it’s a good idea to stop at your earliest convenience afterward and allow your dog to get some fresh air.
DON’T ASSUME IT’S ALWAYS MOTION SICKNESS
With experience and overall knowledge of your dog’s behavior, it’s usually safe to assume that you know the difference between motion sickness or if it’s something worse.
However, along with travel can come an entirely new set of problems … especially depending on where you are travelling to. Of course, anxiety can occur when your dog is unfamiliar with his surroundings or if (for example) he is visually impaired. Moreover, it’s good to keep in mind that there are often all sorts of new smells to be had and thus new things to lick or even eat when travelling. Therefore, be on the lookout for any change in your dog’s behavior unrelated to motion sickness. For example, if he’s vomiting over and over and refuses water (or food later in the day), it might be time to seek medical attention.
This advice is meant to assist you when travelling with your pet. Driving to new places and having new experiences can truly enrich not only your life, but that of your dog’s as well. So, don’t give up on the idea of travelling with your dog just because he’s prone to motion sickness. With a bit of added effort on your part, you can help make it a more enjoyable trip for everyone … including your 4-legged buddy!
I hope you’ve found this post helpful in your search for “motion sickness and dogs.” Feel free to leave any questions or comments below.