Helping your dog cope with car sickness


If your dog suffers from motion sickness you’ll know just what a miserable and unpleasant experience trips in the car can be. Karen Bush advises.

Solving the problem of travel sickness is easier if you can work out the cause; it most commonly involves the vestibular system, but stress and anxiety can also play a big part.  

Puppies and young dogs are the most frequently affected, usually because the vestibular system — structures within the inner ear which help with balance — isn’t fully developed. 

Although this means that many dogs will eventually ‘grow out of it’, it’s estimated that one in four does not. Even if the problem does cease with maturity, negative associations with being in the car may have been forged by then, and the anxiety created can be enough to cause sickness before you’ve even started moving in some cases.

You may need to start travel training at a distance from the car initially, and gradually progress to working inside it. Here, balance work is combined with being near the car to help reduce anxiety.

When trying to determine the underlying cause you may need to put your detective hat on, as there may also be other, less obvious, contributory factors, making it necessary to tackle multiple issues rather than a single one

● Just as with humans, positioning your dog in the car so he faces forward may help reduce feelings of motion sickness. If you can’t fold the rear seats down to make enough room for this, you can buy foam car seat extenders (or improvise — well-stuffed cube beanbags work well) to fill the gap in the footwell so your dog can manage this comfortably. 

● You may need to spend some time doing travel training to help reduce stress and anxiety. This will involve starting to build pleasant associations initially at a distance from the car, and gradually moving closer before progressing to working inside it. Only when your dog is confident and relaxed inside the stationary vehicle with the doors open should you consider shutting them, and only when he’s happy with that should you start the engine, and work up to moving very short distances. It may take a lot of time and patience but will be well worth the effort. 

● Don’t rule out gut health as a source of the problem; an imbalance in the microbiome can impact on mood, stress, and anxiety, and how well your pet travels.

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● There may be a medical reason that predisposes your dog to nausea, such as an ear condition, so make your vet the first port of call before trying anything else.

Off balance

Travelling in a confined space can make it difficult for your dog to balance, which can be part of the problem. Rather than squashing him into the boot area, can you make more space for him elsewhere in the car? If he can be as central as possible, where there is least movement, it may help. Using balance equipment such as that used by veterinary physiotherapists, canine conditioning practitioners, and Tellington TTouch practitioners can also be beneficial in helping your dog find his car legs.

Is it the car? 

It’s worth considering whether your car may be contributing to the problem, especially if it has very soft suspension, or if it’s a long vehicle where there may be a bit of swing at the back end (where most dogs usually travel). Try travelling your dog in different places in the car to see if it makes any difference; it may also be worth trying him in a different car altogether (suitably protected by covers) if you can persuade friends or relatives to chauffeur you both on a short trial ride.

Read the rest of the feature in the June issue, available to read instantly on our digital edition HERE or purchase the print edition HERE


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