Travel sickness is a common issue for dogs and cats – and can arise from a number of possible causes. The most common is actually unrelated to movement per se, and is in fact a behavioural issue caused by stress – Travel Anxiety – the exact causes of which vary dramatically between individuals. It may be due to a previous traumatic experience (being rehomed, for example, is usually the first time a puppy or kitten travels in a car – this may be a factor), bad experiences at the other end, or even be an early manifestation of another behavioural problem, such as Separation Anxiety.
True Motion Sickness is probably relatively uncommon in adult dogs and cats, but can occur, especially if there is some underlying medical problem such as vestibular syndrome.
In this blog, though, we’ll look at 10 possible ways to help – although it is unlikely all of them will work for all animals, most of them should be of some use!
1) Drive slowly and smoothly
Motion sickness is almost always worse with aggressive driving – sharp braking and acceleration, and lots of lateral G-forces in the corners. In addition, many human passengers get stressed being driven like that – how do you think your pet will feel?!
2) Travel on an empty stomach
Whatever the cause of their travel sickness, dogs and cats are less likely to become nauseous or vomit if their stomach is empty. So, try to feed on arrival, rather than before departure. Remember, though, that it may take up to eight hours for a dog’s stomach to empty completely.
3) Use pheromones
4) Consider your pet’s point of view (literally – what can they see!)
Dogs and cats with motion sickness probably need to be able to see out – so don’t shut them in an opaque travel crate, or turn the door to the side of the car. However, those with Travel Anxiety will probably feel better if they can’t see incomprehensibly fast vehicles speeding past a few inches away!
5) Provide a secure, solid footing
Some animals find travel frightening because they struggle to keep their footing – this is especially true of older, stiffer or arthritic pets. Provide a high-grip surface, not a smooth carpet or cloth that slides around as the car moves.
6) NEVER reprimand them for displaying stress related behaviour in the car
This will only make them more stressed! If they suffer from Travel Anxiety, they’re not being bad, they’re just terrified.
7) Reward them while travelling
This is a behavioural technique called “counter-conditioning”. Essentially, we try to get the dog or cat to see the car as a place where nice things happen. In many cases, letting them get into the car and have a treat, a fuss or a game while it is stationary and turned off is the first step; then you can move on to doing the same while turned on and stationary, then on short journeys etc.
8) And take them somewhere nice!
Too many dogs and cats only get into the car when they’re going to the vets – so take them somewhere different that they’ll enjoy! Ideally, this should involve lots of very short trips to gradually acclimatise them.
9) Manage any underlying medical or behavioural issues
Most cases of motion sickness in adult dogs especially are associated with an underlying medical condition – so make an appointment to see one of our vets and get them checked out. Likewise, a lot of Travel Anxiety patients also suffer from Separation Anxiety, or a generalised anxiety disorder. Again, our vets can refer you to a qualified pet behaviourist to help get on top of that.
10) Talk to our vets about medication
There are some very potent prescription anti-sickness medicines now (especially maropitant, which is licensed for motion sickness in dogs). For anxious animals, medication is usually supportive, but anxiolytic drugs such as alprazolam (which our vets can prescribe off license) are very helpful in the short term, and sometimes drugs like clonidine can be good to assist with a behavioural modification programme.