When I was a kid my parents couldn’t take me anywhere in the car because I would get horribly car sick. When I would get to ride in the car, I’d have to ride along with my head out the window.
So when one of my dogs showed signs of car sickness, I felt sympatico with her. I had been there. From the time she was a puppy, we’d hardly get out of the driveway before she would upchuck.
After consulting with the vet, we started giving her Dramamine about a half hour before we would leave the house. It made a big difference. So after a while, she seemed to grow out of the car sickness and we stopped giving her any medication for it. In hindsight, that was probably a mistake.
Here’s why: Several years later, I was taking my son to catch the Amtrack to NYC. He was in college and had a new girlfriend studying ballet in Manhattan. They had big plans for the weekend so he’d splurged on new clothes and new luggage — definitely trying to impress her.
We started off for the train station … with our two dogs along for the ride. Yep, you guessed it — one of the canine passengers was the former car sickness pup and as we pulled up to the station we heard familiar noises coming from the back seat.
Ugh. Emma Sue had thrown up all over his new jacket and luggage! Of course, I did my best not to laugh and took everything into the station to clean up the mess before he had to get on the train.
Lesson Learned: Emma Sue was not really over her motion sickness and we shouldn’t have been so quick to stop giving her the profalactic medication.
What To Do If Your Dog Gets Car Sick
Many dogs have motion sickness. Common symptoms include excessive drooling, licking lips, crying in distress, panting, pacing in car and eventual regurgitation. Sometimes this is caused by an immaturity in their equilibrium system. Fortunately, many pups simply outgrow their car sickness.
But getting queasy riding in the car can also be emotional. Dogs may associate a bad experience early in life with riding in a car.
To get to the source of your pet’s motion sickness, have your veterinarian do an evaluation to rule out any neurological problems. Assuming it is motion sickness, there are medications that will help your pet be able to comfortably ride in a car. Your vet may recommend Dramamine, certain antihistamines and other prescription meds. Don’t use over-the-counter medications without getting the okay and proper dosages from your vet.
Another smart move is to temporarily withhold food and water for several hours before the car trip. And while driving, crack windows in the car to let fresh air in and stop periodically to give your dog a break.
What If the Problem is Emotional?
If your pet had a bad experience in a car, then the recommended approach is different.
Take your pet to the car and sit inside with the doors open a few times. For the next several days — about 10 to 15 minutes at a time — you and your dog sit in the car with the doors closed. Then, sit in the car with doors closed and start the motor, but don’t go anywhere.
You see the direction we’re taking. Eventually, your dog will be able to ride in the car without experiencing stomach-upsetting anxiety. After each phase, give your pet a treat and a big “atta-boy.” The point is to replace the bad experience with good ones.
Another tactic experts recommend is not making a big deal when your dog throws up in the car. Don’t over-react, raise your voice or pull over to clean it up. That kind of behavior from you cues the dog that puking means the car will stop and he’s in big trouble. By ignoring the incident and the mess until you are at your destination, he’ll not associate negative consequences with throwing up. If it happens more than once or twice, talk to the vet about what medications can help get things under control.
Make It Fun
Don’t make trips to the vet or to the dog groomer the only times your dog goes in the car. Head out to a park for a walk or to a pet-friendly shopping mall or other public place. Go places where your pet can do things he enjoys so the good experiences outweigh the bad! That’s a win-win for owner and pet.
Carole Tomas is the owner and president of Pet Pleasers, Inc. She is a graduate of Ohio University and a Charter Member of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters. When she began Pet Pleasers in 1985, business was conducted Old School via a landline, snail mail and an answering machine the size of a breadbox. No internet, email, text messaging, digital photos, social media or mobile phones! What has remained constant over three decades: Carole’s love of animals and an unwavering passion for professional pet sitting.