5 ways to help stop travel sickness in pets
So, you’re going away for a few days with your pet in the car with you… but before you’ve gone more than a few miles, they start to dribble and pant and then – up comes breakfast.
So, is there anything we can do to prevent (or even reduce!) motion sickness?
Well, first of all, we need to try and understand why it happens. Most dogs and cats suffer from motion sickness as puppies or kittens, because their brains can’t distinguish between the motion they feel, and the movement they see out of the window (just like us). However, (again, like us) most grow out of it. In fact, most adult pets who are prone to nausea and vomiting when travelling aren’t actually suffering from motion sickness – instead, they’re stressed by the car ride.
Why is travelling in the car so stressful?
There are three main reasons:
- They remember being sick when they travelled as a puppy or kitten, and so they always associate travelling with feeling awful.
- They don’t travel often, so it always feels new and strange and scary.
- When they do travel, it’s because they’re going somewhere nasty, like the vets (although it really isn’t that bad here – honest!) or to kennels.
Is that the only reason?
No – some dogs and cats genuinely do suffer motion sickness – but remember, that is stressful and the two conditions will reinforce each other. Nausea makes them feel stressed, which then makes them more nauseous.
So, what can be done about it?
Fortunately, there are five easy steps that can help:
- Withhold food before travelling
A full stomach makes it more likely that they’ll feel sick – and if they are, that you have to put more effort into cleaning it up! As long as they’ve got access to water, though, it really won’t hurt them to miss a meal (and when you think about it, if they were going to vomit it straight back up, it wasn’t going to do them any good anyway!).
- Manage stress
There are a number of products available to help you reduce your pet’s stress levels. Pheromones like “Adaptil” (for dogs) and “Feliway” (for cats) are invaluable for reducing stress levels – you can spray them in the car or the travel box; or (for dogs) just put on a collar. It’s important to remember, though, that these products work best if they’re started several days before the stressful event.
Casein-based products like “Zylkene” are also useful medications to make dogs and cats feel more relaxed, and are available over the counter (just check with us first if your pet is on any other medications).
If the situation is really severe and your pet is terrified by travelling, it’s worth making an appointment to see one of our Lamond vets – there are some anxiolytic drugs (medications that reduce stress and anxiety) that we can prescribe that are very effective for occasional use.
- Get them used to travelling
If they’re stressed because they don’t travel much (or even if they don’t travel much because they’re stressed), behavioural desensitisation may help. The basic principle is that they spend lots of time in the car, initially not going anywhere, and then gradually travelling longer distances until they realise that it really isn’t anything to be scared of. This is often something you can do yourself, but if your pet is in a state of sheer terror, you might want to see a specialist animal behaviourist (give us a ring and we can probably put you in touch with someone suitable).
- Make travelling fun
If they’re excited to be going somewhere fun and interesting, they’re much less likely to be feeling sick and sorry for themselves. So, make sure you drive them out to go for walks, or visit new and interesting places (OK, this mainly applies to dogs); and when they’re in the car, make a fuss of them or play with them (that goes for cats too – but don’t let them jump out of a window!).
- Manage the nausea
Although many pets are “just” stressed, whatever the reason, they really do feel sick! If possible, dogs should be strapped in with a proper dog seatbelt (for their safety, as much as anything), but also because it will keep them looking forwards, not out the side windows. Likewise with cats, try to position the cat carrier or basket so they can only see out the front (ideally, through the front windscreen).
There are also medications that we can prescribe for your pet to make them feel better – we regularly use anti-sickness drugs like maropitant that actively suppress nausea and vomiting.
If your pet suffers from travel sickness, there are solutions available – if in doubt, pop in and talk to us about it!