Family road trips just aren’t the same without a dog in tow. For some dogs, however, riding in cars is anything but pleasant. Puppies, in particular, are often susceptible to nausea, anxiety, and other symptoms of motion sickness.
Like the human ear, a dog’s ears contain tiny bones that help promote balance and discourage conditions like vertigo and motion sickness. Young dogs -- like young children -- lack many of these necessary structures. As their ears form with age, most dogs and children eventually “outgrow” their susceptibility to motion sickness.
While motion sickness is rarely a lifelong ailment, it’s still a major concern for new pet parents in particular. Even mature dogs may experience symptoms if they’ve come to associate driving with sickness and high stress levels. Fortunately, dog lovers have many tools at their disposal for addressing motion sickness and making the car a low-stress environment.
Signs of Motion Sickness in Dogs
Since dogs can’t go white as a sheet, it’s often difficult to recognize the early signs of motion sickness. While traveling with young or anxious dogs, watch out for these warning signs:
-Diarrhea and vomiting
-Excessive drooling and lip smacking
-Lethargy or sluggishness
-Pacing or other repetitive behavior
Recognizing the signs quickly is key for both reducing your dog’s stress level and protecting your car’s interior. If you think your dog is about to vomit, stop the car or slow down to comfort them as soon as it’s safe.
With some careful planning, pet parents can reduce both the stress of car rides and the likelihood that their new puppy will experience bouts of motion sickness.
One of the easiest ways to avoid mishaps is to limit meals before car rides. Dr. Mark Olcott, a Maryland-based vet, suggests avoiding food and treats within two hours of hitting the road. During long car rides, Olcott advises pet parents to bring along only small portions of food and plan meals around pit stops.
Dogs run a higher risk of experiencing motion sickness if they’re facing backward, sitting toward the rear of the car, or moving too much throughout the trip. Certain dog seat belts can reduce symptoms by guaranteeing that dogs face forward and remain close to the front of the car.
Motion sickness (especially the anxiety-induced kind) can be a vicious cycle. Negative associations and experiences may leave dogs struggling to stay calm even during brief car rides. Experts suggest creating more positive associations to make the car a pleasant space.
Bring Along Special Toys/Treats
This could involve bringing along favorite toys and objects or even littering the car with toys and treats that your pet can’t find elsewhere. Over time, they’ll associate these with car trips and begin looking forward to drives.
Let in Some Air
For some dog owners, making the car more pleasant is as simple as cracking the window for some fresh air. The pet health experts at Fetch note that this will normalize the air pressure in the car and could reduce symptoms. Good ventilation and cool temperature can have similar effects too.
In addition to fresh air and familiar objects, many pet parents have had success with natural anti-nausea remedies. Perhaps no over-the-counter nausea treatment is more popular than ginger. Dogs shouldn’t lap up a bowl of ginger ale, but consider administering some ginger capsules (available at many health food stores). Certain ginger-based treats can also help address symptoms -- provided they don’t include dangerous ingredients like artificial sweeteners (e.g. xylitol).
Other popular remedies include diffusing small amounts of lavender before car rides and feeding dogs certain homeopathic favorites like nux vomica. Keep in mind, however, that evidence to support the use of homeopathics is considered controversial at best. Always discuss natural remedies with your veterinarian before administering them, follow all the necessary precautions, and monitor your pet’s response closely.
Talk to Your Vet
Treating motion sickness and related anxiety is bound to involve a lot of trial and error. Work alongside your veterinarian to develop a custom treatment plan that’ll address your dog’s unique needs. If necessary, they may suggest a prescription to ensure the whole family can comfortably enjoy road trips. Don’t forget to ask them about pet insurance, which can help you save on both diagnosing and managing unexpected health conditions.