Car rides, even short ones, can cause motion sickness in pets just like in humans. Car journeys are essential for day trips or holidays with your pet as well as visits to the vets or kennels/cattery. Sickness is more common in younger pets but can continue throughout a pet’s life if not addressed early. Symptoms can range from mild nausea to vomiting and a phobia of car journeys can result. It can be very stressful for the affected pet as well as for you as an owner - and in some cases, stress can actually cause the nausea!
Signs of travel sickness in your pet may include any of the following (even on short car journeys!):
● Yawning or panting
● Excessive drooling
● Vomiting (even on an empty stomach)
● Fear of cars
Young puppies and kittens often get sick during car journeys. This is because their ears are still developing so the unusual motion caused by car travel can upset these delicate structures leading to nausea and sickness. However, carefully introducing your pet to car travel can prevent this becoming a learned fear and continuing into later life.
Car travel should be introduced slowly. Start with sitting in the stationary car, and then when they’re comfortable, progress to short trips. You should avoid only using the car for things like the vets and instead use it to visit positive locations like new walk spots. Using a treat or toy that they enjoy can also help them learn to be more positive about travelling.
In older cats and dogs car sickness is rarely true travel sickness but instead is due to a fear-induced nausea. This is usually in response to episodes of travel sickness experienced when they were younger. To try and overcome this fear you will need to go back to basics like with a puppy or kitten, and teach them how to feel calm and comfortable in a car. Trying a completely different vehicle may help if possible, but a similar effect can be achieved by getting them used to being first around the car then in the car without going anywhere. Use of a pheromone spray (Adaptil or Feliway, for instance) in and around the vehicle may help with this by reducing background stress levels.
You can reward them for being in the car with small treats or toys. However, try to avoid scolding them for being sick or behaving strangely as this can add to the fear. Slowly you may build up time spent in the car and progress to short journeys. Again it is a good idea to start off with visiting positive locations such as the park, or a fun walking spot rather than anywhere like the vets.
Restraint and position in the car can help with travel sickness. Always try to avoid having your pet in the front seat as this may be distracting to the driver, and dangerous for the dog in the event of the airbags going off. Instead, either position them facing forwards in the back with a canine seatbelt/car harness or use a well secured pet crate to limit movement. A pet crate has the added bonus of keeping any vomit from getting on the car seats!
The vehicle should be kept cool during travel as well as having the windows open slightly for ventilation and to help balance the air pressure inside the car. Sensible driving will also help limit nausea for your pet so stick to a steady speed, go carefully round corners and try to avoid sudden braking.
Limiting food around car journeys can be helpful. Try to give them a meal at least 2-4 hours prior to travel as well as minimising any treats. Water should still be provided up until the time of travel though. Stopping regularly on longer journeys not only gives you a rest but can really help with pets that are prone to travel sickness. During breaks dogs should be given the chance to stretch their legs, go to the toilet and have a drink. However, avoid the temptation to feed your pet during breaks if they are prone to travel sickness.
In short term and short notice situations where you need to travel with a pet who suffers from travel sickness then medication may be available. Drugs for travel sickness are usually have anti-nausea and sedative properties. These drugs should only be used under veterinary advice and very close attention given to the recommended doses and frequencies for use. If you do require medication for travel sickness then we recommend you pop in and have a chat with one of the vets so they can assess if this is a suitable option for your pet. However, medication is not a long term solution and the underlying behavioural problems really need to be addressed if you plan on travelling at all with your pet.
Hopefully now you will be able to take your first steps into preventing travel sickness in your pets. Remember if you have any questions or problems our vets are always happy to help.