Before you resign yourself and your dog to a lifetime of walks around the block, read through these handy tips about dealing with travel sickness. With a bit of patience and time, you and your happy hound may be able to enjoy some quality time together out and about.
As is often the case, prevention is better than cure. In many dogs motion sickness can be overcome by conditioning your dog to travel. Behaviour training can be easier with puppies but it can also be useful in adult dogs. The process will take more patience and time if your dog has had bad experiences with travel in their past. Here is a step by step guide to conditioning for travel:
- Start with spending some time in a stationary car (not in hot weather, see below for more on this), giving treats to form positive memories.
- It is important your pet is restrained for both their security and your own, so introduce a harness at this stage. If your dog is crate trained, using this crate will help them feel a sense of familiarity. Your pets stress levels are reduced when they feel more safe and secure.
- Next try sitting in your car with the engine running to allow your dog to get used to the noise. Keep using positive reinforcements such as games, treats, and fusses.
- Once they are happy try driving just a few metres. Build up the journey time and distance very slowly.
- Behaviour training takes time and patience. It should take several weeks to work through this process. If you continue to the next step before your dog is ready, it wont work. If your pet seems unsure, stop and go back a step until they are comfortable again.
- Make sure your first trips are to somewhere your dog will enjoy such as a park, or the beach, not to the vets. We want them to associate the car with happy memories as much as possible.
Using pheromones may aid the training process. Pheromones are airborne hormones used in the animal world to communicate feelings. A synthetic version of one of these pheromones, thought to have a calming and reassuring effect, has been produced. We don’t fully understand how they work, and there are limited studies looking into their effectiveness, but most owners find that pheromones help. They come in travel sprays for spraying in the car, or collars that your dog would wear. They are designed to be used alongside desensitisation, not alone.
Tips on preventing nausea or vomiting
1 in 4 dogs suffer motion sickness but only 9% are treated before they travel. Using a desensitisation program can reduce anxiety, which often reduces nausea. But some pets will need further steps to help prevent motion sickness.
Puppies are more prone to nausea and vomiting. They may grow out of it, much like many children do.
- Withhold food for a few hours before travel. Offer water regularly, but only in small amounts.
- As with travel-sick people, avoid the winding country routes in favour of straighter routes. Avoid sudden swerves or brakes and take regular rest stops at least every 2 hours.
- Yawning, drooling, and anxiousness can be early signs of travel sickness. Stopping to let your pet walk around, get some fresh air and water before continuing may prevent signs worsening.
- If your pet is small enough then securing them in a footwell, or preventing them seeing movement can help.
Is there any medication that may help?
If all other strategies have failed, or urgent travel is needed, one of our vets can discuss prescribing medication to help prevent motion sickness. Medications such as antihistamines and metoclopramide have been used in the past, and may still be indicted in a few situations. However a newer drug called maropitant is licenced for prevention of motion sickness in dogs. It works by antagonising (blocking) receptors in the brain responsible for vomiting (NK-1 receptors). Studies have shown it to be effective in controlling vomiting. It can used daily for two days and must be given 2 hours before travel. Speak to one of our vets for more information.
Other travelling tips
Avoid long journeys in the heat. If unavoidable use air conditioning, or keep windows slightly open to aid ventilation while moving. Breaking the journey up gives your dog a chance to walk and drink before starting again. Never leave your dog in a parked car. Dogs cannot lose heat as efficiently as us, and can die if left in a car in as little as 15 minutes, with signs of heatstroke in just a few minutes. With open windows a car still becomes as hot as an oven quickly, even when it doesn’t feel that warm. When it’s 22 degrees outside, in a car it can reach an unbearable 47 degrees within the hour.
Early signs of heatstroke include excessive panting, drooling, and anxiety, followed by lack of coordination. Eventually this progresses to collapse and seizures which can be fatal. If you are concerned stop, move your pet to a cool area, give them cool (not cold) water then ring your vet for advice.
If you are concerned about a dog in a vehicle contact the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999 or the Scottish SPCA on 03000 999 999, but if you think the dog is in danger call 999.
We hope this has been useful, and enables you and your dog some shared and happy travel experiences. Please do speak to a member of our team if you have any further questions.