Nothing gets you moving faster than the noise of your dog retching. You hear that unmistakable noise and go racing across the room to get them outside. It’s bad enough when this happens at home, but if it occurs when it’s in your car or worse still, on a form of public transport, it can be horrendous.
Often the dog has eaten something, or is little unwell, but sometimes, just like us, our little fur babies can suffer from motion sickness or stress that makes them sick. This article provides our top tips on how to deal with having a dog that vomits when travelling.
1. Try to identify the reason for the travel sickness
There are many reasons that a dog may be sick on a journey. Firstly, it’s hugely common for puppies to be sick. Their ear and balance systems are not fully developed and as such they can suffer from motion sickness. The constant movement in a vehicle can trigger the vomiting.
As the dog gets older they can develop an association between feeling bad and travelling in a vehicle because of their experience as a puppy. In a kind of ‘learned response’ the dog can develop the symptoms of travel sickness just by being in the place that has triggered the sickness in the past. If this is the cause you can use techniques to manage this, but identifying this as the issue is a good start.
Stress is another factor. Maybe the only time they go on this journey is when they go to the vets or kennels, which can be a hugely stressful experience for them. Again, by association, they learn that the car means something bad is about to happen and that triggers a stress response. Even if it’s a not a negative association response, any journey away from what they would deem ‘the norm’ can be scary. The world is full of noise, lights, people and big trucks etc. For a timid dog, that can become a sensory overload and cause a stress reaction. The symptoms in this case are not a result of motion sickness but of simply becoming stressed by the journey.
There is of course the possibility that the dog does suffer from genuine motion sickness. The nausea that the dog then feels will cause them to become stressed and this stress will then reinforce and worsen the nausea. This type of genuine motion sickness is more likely to respond to traditional anti-nausea medication.
If you can work out which of these issues you are facing you can apply the following remedies to alleviate the problem.
2. Look out for the symptoms so you can act
You don’t need to wait for your dog to vomit all over the car before you realise they are struggling with travel sickness. There are several tell-tale signs that you can look out for that may point to what is about to happen if you don’t take action. Keep a look out (and an ear out!) for these on a journey as they are a good indicator that your dog may be struggling with nausea or stress.
- Lethargy / Becoming immobile
- Whining / Crying
- Excessive drooling
- Excessive licking of lips
- and of course …… vomiting
3. Allow your dog to become accustomed to regular journeys
If the problem is one of stress due to negative past experiences or sensory triggers then a good way to treat the problem is to slowly increase the frequency of travelling to allow your dog to grow accustomed to the experience.
Start small and aim to take short trips to places your dog enjoys such as their favourite walking spot or to the park. These small journeys will create an enjoyable affirming association between the journey experience and the fun outcome. Increase the frequency of the trips and over time any negative stress induced behaviour will be broken and replaced by an excitement. Eventually you will get to the point that going on a journey is something that your dog actively looks forward to. Within no time the travel sickness symptoms will disappear.
So in short, even if you don’t need to use the car, do so for a while to help grow the familiarisation and build that positive relationship between journey and something good.
4. Have a special toy or bone just for car journeys
Having a special item that you keep in the car is a great treat for the dog for the duration of the journey. Provide your dog with something that they like but that they don’t have normal access to. This will help build that positive experience connection.
In my own circumstance, we have a buffalo horn that our Meg (Bullmastiff) absolutely loves. She cannot get enough of it and we use it as a distraction technique for various situations. If going on a long car journey or if we have to leave her in the house on her own for an extended period of time we allow her access to the buffalo horn and it does the job. When she gets in the car she is sniffing around looking for the horn having learned to associate it with the car.
5. Avoid feeding your dog before and during a journey
It’s common sense, but if your dog’s belly is full and they become nauseated or stressed, the chances of a resulting pile of vomit is greatly increased. If you are about to go on a journey consider giving them a much lighter meal, a much smaller portion, serving it to them earlier or consider cutting the meal out completely. You can always give them some food on arrival.
Its not just before the journey, but during that you need to keep this in mind. If it’s a longer journey in the car you are likely to stop at one or more service stations along the way for your own comfort but also because your dog will need some fresh air and a quick walk to do their business. Make sure they are hydrated, but resist the temptation to give them food.
Some people suggest giving the dog regular treats as a part of the positive affirmation of the journey experience, but I disagree with this. By all means make a fuss of them, stroke them and tell them how good they are doing, but resist giving them a food based treat. As gross as it may seem, if it’s not in there it can’t come back up!
One thing you can consider giving to your dog though is a small amount of a ginger based treat. Ginger has proven anti-nausea properties and so a small amount of ginger may help them. These Pumpkin and Ginger Dog Treats (on Amazon) have some excellent customer reviews, but be careful not to give them too many or any benefits may be outweighed by overloading your dog’s stomach.
I won’t share the nasty details but I have experience of letting my dog eat some chips (fries) when we had a day out at the coast which resulted in an horrendous journey home. Let’s just say loading her stomach with greasy food having just watched her run through the waves swallowing copious amounts of salt water did not end well.
6. Have plenty of breaks but also consider stopping early
There are obvious reasons for needing to stop when you have a dog in the car, but consider stopping more frequently than you would otherwise do if it was just for yourself. If your dog is prone to being sick on journeys then frequent stops can really help settle them and if you have them separated from you it’s a great opportunity to give them a fuss and reassure them.
As strange as it may seem, I found success with a previous dog of mine that for a while suffered badly with stress induced travel sickness. I found that if I stopped really early, literally 5 to 10 minutes after setting out and took her for another short walk she would get back into the car happy and settle down for the rest of the journey. It made no sense, it was a pain, but it worked. I would definitely use this technique again if faced with similar issues.
7. Give them access to fresh air and fresh water
I don’t know if you have ever felt a bit sick yourself when in the car on a long journey, but if you have, you will know that opening the window a little and letting in some fresh air can really help.
The same applies with your dog, so if they are prone to being unwell in the car or are displaying any symptoms of travel sickness then keep the air circulating in the car by opening the window a little. If they are sat next to a window don’t allow them to stick their head out of it, so only open it a small amount or consider using a window vent guard (link to Amazon) that allows you to have it open safely.
If you have them separated from you in the luggage compartment behind a dog guard or in a crate or cage, make sure the feeling of air is the same back there as you are feeling. Don’t position them in direct airflow or they may get distressed.
As I have said before, stop regularly and use this opportunity to offer your dog some fresh water. It’s important to keep them hydrated, especially if they are experiencing symptoms such as excessive drooling or panting. Obviously with regular water intakes they will need regular toilet breaks.
8. Consider medication
Rather than your first port of call, medication should be your last resort because for most dogs the travel sickness is more about stress than anything else. If you have tried everything else or perhaps the motion sickness they are experiencing really is genuine motion sickness then medication could be the answer.
Definitely consider consulting with a trained vet before buying medication for your pet but the following meds can help.
- Dramamine – Travel sickness tablets for your dog will often contain Dramamine which is an antihistamine. These are over the counter tablets that you can purchase but your vet will need to advise on the correct dosage for your particular dog.
- Cerenia – This is new prescription-only, motion sickness medication for dogs. Speak to your vet.
If you want to try more natural remedies then you will find a selection of Dog travel Sickness products on Amazon
Don’t feel bad if you do need to use medications to control the sickness. As long as you have tried everything else, you don’t really have a choice. Some trips are unavoidable and if they always involve your dog getting sick then it’s kinder for them to be medicated.
Once your dog has had a few positive sick-free journeys you could consider cutting back or cutting out the medication to see if things have improved.
Travel sickness is a miserable thing to deal with both for your pet and for you who has to manage it. It needn’t stop you from travelling with your beloved dog though because going on journeys should be fun and not an ordeal.
In the vast majority of cases the issues your dog is facing can be overcome with implementing the techniques above. If it’s a more medical problem rather than a psychological one then please do mention it to your vet for professional advice. I sincerely hope you manage to resolve your dog’s travel sickness and can soon put the whole issue behind you.