Don’t Want No Stinkin’ Car Ride – A Treatment Plan For Car Sickness

The initial symptoms of car sickness are easy to recognize. They generally begin with extreme panting and/or excessive salivating which are often followed by gagging and vomiting. The question you as a professional dog trainer should ask yourself is, “is it motion or anxiety that is causing the dog to react this way?”

Few dogs actually suffer from true motion sickness. True motion sickness is caused by an inner ear problem and should be treated medically as well as behaviorally. In my estimation, approximately 90 percent of cases labeled motion sickness are actually anxiety-related. Most dogs become anxious in the car because they were never properly desensitized to being in the car. They may also have had some negative experiences in the car. Consider that one of the first traumatic experiences a young puppy might have had to endure is a car ride to his new home leaving behind all the safety and security of his litter mates and mother. This experience alone could be enough to trigger anxiety-based car sickness in some dogs.

The behavioral treatment plan below should be implemented when treating car sickness, whether it is motion-based or anxiety-based, since both types will benefit from the therapy. If the dog does not progress at an acceptable rate, you should consider seeking the advice of a veterinarian and treating the dog for true motion sickness.

Management

1. Don’t feed or water the dog for a minimum of several hours prior to any car ride. I would highly recommend a completely empty stomach if at all possible.

2. Transport the dog in a crate. Position the crate so the dog cannot see out the side windows. Just like people, most dogs are more likely to get sick if they see sideways motion.

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3. Keep the temperature in the car cool using either the air conditioner or leaving the windows partially down. Providing adequate ventilation is a must.

4. Caution the owner about inadvertently rewarding the dog for stressed behavior by stroking or talking to the dog at any time while the dog is displaying symptoms.

5. Consider the use of non-prescription medications such as Serene-Um, Pet Calm, and Rescue Remedy. I have also heard that ginger is very good for nausea, so you might also check into ginger pills. Make sure to consult with your veterinarian regarding side effects, usage and dosage.

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