When Fido Can't "Stomach" Traveling

As we wrap up our summer, many of us are taking a family vacation. For many of us, our beloved family pet is often included in these travel plans. But what if Fido  can't "stomach" the thought of travel?

According to statistics, 1 in 6 dogs that travel experience motion sickness. 34% of pet owners report they would travel more if their pet didn't get sick. Much like humans, dogs can also experience a feeling of illness while on car trips. Motion sickness is more common in puppies and young dogs, just as children experience motion sickness more than adults. The reason for this is that the structures within the ear associated with balance are not fully developed in puppies. Fortunately, many dogs will outgrow car sickness.  

Despite this, some adult dogs still experience motion sickness because of a learned association of cars with stress and nausea. If your dog has been nauseous traveling in the car as a puppy, they may have conditioned themselves to see car travel as a time when they will get sick. Or if the dog has only been in the car to go to the vet, he may make himself sick from apprehension of seeing the vet. Sometimes, reconditioning will help your dog to relax in the car. Reconditioning takes patience, but can be accomplished through the following:

  • Take short car trips to places your dog enjoys.
  • Gradually build your dog's tolerance. Allowing your dog to sit in the car with you while the engine is off or idling can help. Take rides around the block and gradually increase to longer trips.
  • Use treats to make the car a fun place.
  • Buy a special toy that they can only play with in the car.  

There are still many pets that experience motion sickness despite having no learned associations of travel with nausea. For these pets, improving their physical comfort while in the car can help to make travel easier.  

  • Remember to face your dog forward in a moving vehicle. Looking out side windows causes objects to blur. If your dog is facing forward, he will see less movement and experience less nausea. I recommend dogs travel in a middle seat if possible. Avoid the farthest back seat because this is where there is the most motion. And remember that front passenger air bags pose a potential hazard to dogs.   
  • Opening the windows a little bit will allow for better ventilation and help reduce air pressure inside the vehicle.  
  • Keep it cool in the vehicle. A hot, stuffy ride can make car sickness worse for your dog.  
  • Use a crate or car booster seat. This helps your pet feel more secure and will reduce unwanted motion sickness.  
  • Restrict your pet's diet before travel. We recommend no food a minimum of two hours prior to travel.
  • Frequent stops during long trips decrease your pet's stress and anxiety. It also allows them to stretch, drink, and use the bathroom.
  • Exercise your pet before getting in the car.  

Despite all these tips, a few dogs will require medication in order to travel without nausea and anxiety. Your veterinarian can be very helpful in getting you a prescription medication to lessen motion sickness and help keep them calm. There are also numerous over the counter and homeopathic remedies that are helpful for pets. Always discuss any of these medications with your veterinarian before using them to make sure the dosage is correct and that the medication won't harm your dog.

Happy summer and happy travels!