Much like humans who experience a feeling of illness while on car trips, dogs can also get a queasy stomach when traveling in the car (or even by boat or air).
Symptoms and Types
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. 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.
Once neurologic and behavioral causes are ruled out, the diagnosis of motion sickness can be easily made by your veterinarian. The history of your dog’s reaction to traveling usually points to the problem.
Treatment of this condition may be as simple as making your dog familiar with going for rides in the car. If time and training do not help the situation, various medications are available. Antihistamines (e.g., diphenhydramine) have a sedative action to slightly calm the dog during travel, as well as to reduce drooling. Other over-the-counter (OTC) medications that may be useful include meclizine and dimenhydrinate. These drugs don’t cause sedation, but can reduce nausea and vomiting.
Ginger is a holistic treatment that can be used for nausea. It can be found in pill form (in health food stores), or even in cookie form. Ginger snaps and pills reportedly calm a nervous stomach when given about 30 minutes to an hour before travel. Consult with your veterinarian before feeding ginger to your dog in any form, to be sure that there are no indications that the ginger would be harmful to your dog, and to make sure that you are giving your dog the appropriate amount. In severe cases, stronger sedative drugs such as acepromazine may be prescribed.
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.
Living and Management
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. 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.
Time and training may go a long way toward preventing motion sickness. You may need to stock up on certain medications to help calm your dog if it tends to get extremely nervous before rides in the car. Your veterinarian can suggest safe and effective drugs to ensure that travel goes smoothly each and every time.