So you got a new puppy, or adopted a dog, or maybe you just want to take your old dog on some new adventures. Whatever the case, you get in the car and start to drive. Then, you hear it. That distinct sound that can jolt any pet parent from the most dead of sleeps.
You can’t pull over, you can’t stop the car, and suddenly, it’s just too late.
I’ve personally never struggled with carsickness except once when I was a kid. We were headed to an Arkansas Razorback game before I49 existed and taking the winding road of old 71 through the Ozarks. We’d stopped for breakfast at a place called the Alamo and I had a big ol’ helping of cheesy, with lots of real butter grits. It wasn’t long before my parents were stopping the car.
Tip #1 is based on my own experience: Limit meals before car rides.
If you have a puppy, chances are he will outgrow it. If you’ve just adopted a dog and he’s never traveled, he will likely get used to it. But if your dog is an adult and you’re still struggling with car trips, it can be really frustrating.
It starts with panting and maybe some pacing, followed by excessive drooling, and then…Why can they never barf on anything that’s easy to clean?!
Aside from avoiding traveling on a full belly there are few other things you can do or try to help get Fido over his need to express his anxiety by retching in your car.
#2: Anxiety Prevention
Like all things that make us uncomfortable, once we know there is impending doom the anxiety at having to face the doom begins.
Your dog knows that every time he gets in the car he gets sick. Like separation anxiety, it doesn’t begin when you walk out the door or get in the car. Oftentimes it begins when you start drying your hair, putting on your shoes, or when you grab the keys. It also makes it more likely that he’ll get sick, possibly sooner rather than later, because he’s all worked up before you leave the house.
Try varying the ‘time to go routine’ and don’t make a big deal of it. You might even want to give him a nice treat to help him relax before you leave, then take it with you in the car.
I know I just said don’t feed him but this is an art, not a science. #ToolsNotRules.
Stuff a Kong with peanut butter or yogurt and freeze it. That will make it last longer and the coolness of the treat may help keep your pet’s body temperature in check considering all the panting he’ll be doing. Take your yummy treat and go sit in the car. Don’t go anywhere. Just hang out and nosh on the Kong, then go back inside. You can start the car next time. Then maybe a trip around the block or a SHORT- less than the time it takes your dog to puke- drive to an open space to run and do awesome dog things.
If the only trips your dog takes in the car are to the vet, the groomer, or the kennel, it’s no wonder he hates it. Take him to get ice cream (if it’s close).
If allowing him a slow adjustment period (and I’d suggest taking a week or two off from car travel before reintroducing the car) or distracting him with treats doesn’t do the trick, then you may need to alter the way you travel.
#3: Improve the Ride
There are a few things you can do that might make the trip more bearable for your pup. You’ve probably already tried taking his bedding or letting him ride in his crate. You’ve also likely discovered the joy of cleaning both the dog and the interior of the crate. If the crate wasn’t the solution for you, try a car safety harness.
In my experience lots of anxious dogs are calmed, at least somewhat, by wearing a harness. There’s a reason the Thundershirt is so popular, and that’s another tool you may want to consider. I suggest the safety harness first though, because frankly, your dog should have one anyway.
It helped Henri a lot.
Feeling more secure or stable during the ride may help your dog feel less anxious, and a safety harness can offer both of those things. We use the Deluxe Car Safety Harness from Solvit. With a fully padded vest and breathable mesh liner, when attached to the car’s seat belt it allows range of motion (Henri has enough freedom to move from one side of the car to the other, but not get up front), and locks in case of a sudden stop. It also has an attachment point for leash walking, which makes jumping out of the car for frequent breaks super-easy.
If you have a little dog, instead of a harness he might need a booster seat.
Pro: The dog is elevated and can see out of the car.
Con: The seat is restrained, not the dog.
Solution: Combine the Solvit Pet Safety Seat with the Solvit harness that best fits your pup.
The dog is elevated enough to see out of the car, but in case of a collision won’t go flying into the windshield.
For an extra level of comfort you can spray the harness or the booster seat with Comfort Zone. Comfort Zone products with Adaptil mimic appeasing pheromones to help calm dogs in stressful situations.
Another trick for improving the ride- help blur traffic with shade screens. It partially blocks your dogs side view and prevents things from sneaking up on him. It may also encourage your dog to face forward, which could help with motion sickness.
Keep the car temperature cool or crack a window for some fresh air.
#4: Better Living Through Chemistry
If you’ve tried all of the above and your dog’s anxiety is completely over the top or his motion sickness is real, it may be time to subscribe to this philosophy.
I always prefer to start with homeopathic or natural calming supplements and escalate as necessary. My two favorites of these is Rescue Remedy, which no home should be without, and Composure.
Rescue Remedy is a homeopathic stress reliever available at most natural grocers. There is a formula available for adults, kids and pets. I keep a bottle in my purse and one on my nightstand. I use the original formula, and Henri and I both take it from time to time.
My suggestion for using Rescue Remedy is to give a dropper full directly into the mouth, under the tongue if you can manage, about 10 minutes before leaving. If you can’t get it into the mouth, you can rub it on the paw pad and let it absorb.
Composure is a blend of vitamins, amino acids and proteins formulated specifically for dogs and cats. It contains Thiamine (vitamin B1), C3 (Colostrum Calming Complex), and L-Theanine. All of these ingredients are known to have calming effects on the nervous system and to help with cognition. There is a second line of Composure chews called Composure Pro that contains L-Tryptophan which can cause drowsiness. Starting with the non-drowsy formula and follow the directions on the package.
Assuming your dog’s carsickness is likely stress related, I’ve given tips on how to address that. If your dog really does have motion sickness, then last but not least in the arsenal is Dramamine. Yes, dogs can have it, and it’s good in a pinch since it’s available over-the-counter.
Please talk to your vet before administering any drug, as he may have other recommendations.
When I contacted my own vet before completing this article he told me about Cerenia. It is the first and only FDA-approved veterinary medication prescribed to prevent vomiting due to motion sickness in dogs, and is likely better suited for your pet than Dramamine.
If you’ve got questions concerning any of these tips, please shoot me an email or leave a comment. In my not travel life, I help clients deal with these issues frequently and there’s more than one way to skin a carsick cat. If you think you need a little extra advice, visit me at Love Trust Teach.
Sitting home isn’t fun and I’d love to help you discover something that gets you and your pup on the road to adventure.