By Diana Bocco
Humans aren’t the only ones who can experience a bit of wooziness during car rides. A sick pup in the backseat is not fun for anybody and can turn a potentially great road trip into a miserable one.
Vets don't know exactly why some dogs get dog car sickness and others don’t, but genetics and physiological variations might account for the differences between dogs, according to Dr. Jeremy Campfield, veterinary technology program instructor at Carrington College in Phoenix. "One element worth considering is the fact that we are often unaware that the pet is motion-sick until the obvious signs occur: severe drooling, licking lips, panting and restlessness, nausea, and vomiting," Campfield says. "It’s quite possible that many pets experience motion sickness without showing us those signs, but are unable to tell us how miserable they are."
If your canine companion suffers from dog motion sickness, here’s how to avoid it so car rides become fun again.
Long car rides can be challenging for new pets or adult dogs who haven't done a lot of car traveling as puppies. Vomiting from motion sickness in puppies is more common than in adult dogs, Campfield says. "From personal and professional experience, I would add that many puppies tend to grow out of this condition.”
For new pets, he recommends taking short test drives before planning a big cross-country adventure. "If we can identify the problem during a short ride, that will give the pet owner time to work with their veterinarian to have some information, strategy, and medication ready to go for that next long ride,” Campfield says.
A full stomach can worsen symptoms of motion sickness and make your dog more likely to vomit, so a change in feeding schedule might be wise before a car ride. "Feed them two hours prior to leaving so that all the food is digested and out of the stomach before you leave," suggests Dr. Mark Olcott, a veterinarian based in Maryland.
"Obviously, if you are going on a very long car ride—over eight hours, for example—you’ll have to feed them at some point," Olcott says. In that case, keep the portions of dog food small and make a pit stop out of it if possible, so you can take your dog for a nice walk after his meal.
Dog motion sickness is often worse when dogs sit in the back of the car, looking out of the back window. "Sitting more toward the front will make them less likely to get carsick," Olcott says. "Lying down on the floor, for example, behind the front seat, can be helpful as well."
If you have a large backseat, you can also get a dog seat belt and let your dog sit facing forward. "One of the problems is that the sensory mechanisms feel motion but don't visualize motion when looking at the back of the seat, so we tell people to sit up front and look at the road so they visualize motion and don't just feel it," says Dr. John Faught of Firehouse Animal Health Centers in Austin, Texas. "With dogs, if they can be in a seat belt and up and look out the window, it could help."
A small piece of ginger snap cookie before a car trip can sometimes help soothe a dog’s stomach. "Ginger is a natural anti-nausea ingredient, which is why many of your mothers recommended drinking ginger ale when recovering from a stomach bug," Olcott says. Do not feed your dog any type of cookie that contains artificial sweeteners such as xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.
Olcott also suggests talking to your vet about dramamine, an antihistamine that can work for dogs with nausea. "Benadryl is another antihistamine that has less anti-nausea effects but is a fairly safe mild sedative that I often recommend for people traveling with dogs," Olcott says. "It can calm them down a bit and often will prevent motion sickness, especially if the vomiting is triggered when they get very anxious and worried."
For dogs who have serious trouble dealing with motion sickness, dog anxiety medication might be your best option. "Phenothiazine drugs such as acepromazine or chlorpromazine are typically thought of as sedatives, but also have anti-nausea effects," Campfield says. "Maropitant, a neurokinin receptor antagonist, is FDA labeled for preventing vomiting from motion sickness in dogs and has been very effective."
Campfield urges pet owners to work closely with their veterinarian to determine which prescription pet medications, dosing, and timing are most appropriate for their pet. "Side effects and drug interactions need to be considered," Campfield says. "There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this problem, and in practice, we will sometimes need to use a process of trial and error to find the best medication for a particular pet."
In some dogs, motion sickness and associated vomiting could be anxiety-induced. "You should work with your veterinarian to help decipher whether your pet may be experiencing anxiety, which is exacerbating or mimicking motion sickness," Campfield says. If your dog is prone to anxiety, try helping him associate car rides with positive things such as a hike or a trip to the doggie park. You can also bring one of your pup's favorite dog toys or a blanket onboard as a dog car sickness remedy to make the car feel more familiar and comfortable.
If it is a longer trip, or if the vomiting seems very severe or will not subside, Campfield suggests finding a nearby veterinary clinic to help get your pet comfortably back on the road.