Updated March 18, 2021
Anyone who’s had a car sick dog knows four things:
- It distresses dogs
- It makes a mess
- It’s very frustrating
- It reduces dogs’ enjoyment of life
The good news is that most dogs can be helped if you’re prepared for a bit of effort.
Before I discuss the ways to prevent and treat car sickness, a special word is needed about puppies.
Do Puppies Get Over Car Sickness?
If your puppy is showing signs of motion sickness, do not be alarmed. Nausea from travel happens to all young dogs and most grow out of it without any problem. The trick is to not push things too fast.
If your pup looks anxious, is drooling or shaking in the car, be especially careful. Taking short trips just up the street for a treat or play is a great way to start. By building their confidence slowly they should learn to enjoy car trips.
Getting out and about from an early age is important, not just to the vet. Read here how to get puppies immunised as fast as possible.
Preventing Car Sickness In Dogs
I’ve had several dogs with motion sickness, and I’ve never needed pills, so let’s explore this area first. Here’s what’s worked for me:
To Feed or Not To Feed?
How much food to give before travel appears to matter a lot. There are two competing issues here:
- Food in the stomach makes vomiting less likely
- Food in the stomach makes a lot more mess
The answer is to compromise. It’s best not to feed a meal before travel but then to give just a tiny biscuit or snack before you leave.
I have a feeling this is part of the reason why ginger seems to work for motion sickness.
Reduce Travel Anxiety
It is clear to me that motion sickness is a vicious circle. The more a dog associates travel with nausea, the more likely they will be to vomit.
The anxiety may have started due to normal puppy car sickness but it then feeds the problem. That’s why I stress the importance of taking it slowly with puppies (and treating early).
Other things you can do are:
- Offer distractions like favourite toys
- Get a passenger to give a calming touch
- Treat the anxiety even if it’s not a problem elsewhere
- Allow your dog to look out the window (while still using good car restraints)
From my experience, letting dogs look out the window works well, possibly for a number of reasons. However, if you open the window (which may help) please make sure the gap is too small to fit through.
Drive Like A Nanna
The faster you drive, especially around corners, the more likely it is that your dog will be sick. If you have a choice, choose a less winding route. If you don’t, slow down and enjoy the scenery!
Car Sickness Tablets For Dogs
For some dogs, medications are essential to break the cycle. It amazes me how many dogs only need them for a short time to never get car sick again.
I’ve already mentioned ginger above, which is worth a try. I see other natural treatments for sale, and all I can say is that they look harmless.
Maropitant is a relatively new anti emetic that works extremely well for car sickness in dogs. In fact, as the most effective and only registered treatment for motion sickness, it’s the drug I turn to first.
Maropitant lasts for 24 hours with each dose and rarely causes any side effects. The only problem is its cost. If you need it every day it gets a little pricey.
Benedryl® and Dramamine®
Twenty years ago, treating motion sickness was a lot easier. All I had to say was ‘go down to the pharmacy and buy some Dramamine’. Then people started using it as a recreational drug and it was removed from sale.
I believe that Dramamine is still available in some countries, but not Australia. The same applies for Benedryl tablets. If these are available in your area, please discuss them with your vet before use.
Another over the counter human medication that can work in mild cases is promethazine. It’s a mildly sedating antihistamine with a small antinausea effect. Click here for dog antihistamine doses.
Adaptil® Collar or Spray
I like DAP collars but they don’t seem appropriate to use for travel unless you also need them at other times.
DAP spray, on the other hand, makes perfect sense. You could impregnate a bandanna with it and put it on your dog for car trips. While I’m not aware of evidence for efficacy, it can’t hurt to try.
Lastly, metoclopramide (called Maxolon® for human use) can be a last resort. Its use for me is when nothing except Cerenia is working but the owner finds the costs are too high (Cerenia costs around $10-15 per dose).
To use metoclopramide requires a valid prescription so you would need to talk it over with your vet.
Whatever you do, don’t give up until your poor dog can enjoy travel again. You’ll be glad you did!
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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.