Dealing with Car Sickness and your Pet

Whether you're getting ready for your first big road trip with the family pet, going on your yearly visit to the vet, or taking regular trips to the local off leash dog park, sooner or later you're going to have to travel with your pet in the car. Some pets, however, don't handle the stress of a car trip as well as others. Car sickness can be a common problem, but luckily there are ways to work with your pet to eliminate excessive drooling, panting, and vomiting in the car.

It's important to realize that car sickness is almost always stress-related.... not due to a physical problem. In rare cases, motion sickness can be brought on by an inner ear problem, but most likely your dog is experiencing anxiety.

As international dog trainer, David the Dogman explains:

"The most powerful memory imprint of any dogs brain is probably the car ride when it was taken away from all it ever new to be safe and secure, its litter mates and its mother. The most traumatic memory a young dog has is in relation to a ride in a car. So its not surprising that subsequent rides in a car should evoke very strong mental and subsequent physical trauma."

I might also add that for some pets, the only other time they ever get to ride in the car is when they go to the veterinarian, where they might be poked, prodded, and finally given a shot. Naturally, if those are the only times a dog gets to be in the car, it's going to associate the experience with negative feelings and anxiety!

Here are some tips we've compiled from various trainers and websites, to help eliminate car sickness:

First of all, figure out how long it takes before your pet starts exhibiting the symptoms of car sickness....excessive drooling, shaking and vomiting. In some cases, this may start as soon as you turn on the engine! In this case, you may have to start by giving your dog a treat in the car several times a day, without even pulling it out of the driveway. Try to make being in the car a pleasant experience.

If you find that your dog can make it for, say, 10 minutes before vomiting, cut that time in half, and start out by taking 5 minute trips and make sure to have fun at your destination. Get out of the car, play ball, pet your dog, and have fun!

If you can bring a friend with you, have him/her distract the dog during the short trip by petting and talking to your pet in soothing tones during the ride. When you get back home, praise and play with your pet, and finish off with a treat! The key is happy repetition!

Try to extend the trip by a couple of minutes each time. Your goal should be to travel for 30 minutes without incident. Once that's accomplished, you may have the problem under control. One trainer suggested doing this exercise for three days, five times per day. But with most people's busy work schedules, taking your dog out on a car ride five times per day may be impossible. Maybe trying to do this exercise two or three times per day, for at least a week, would be a more realistic expectation.

Beating and screaming at your dog for vomiting and drooling in the car is only going to make the experience more please, be patient and remember that some pets take longer than others to adjust. If none of the above works, check with your veterinarian to rule out any physical problems. Again, this is usually not the case.

Talk to your vet about using tranquilizers, including the over the counter "Rescue Remedy", which can help to calm your pet before a car trip. Finally, if all else fails, some pets, especially cats, are just more comfortable, and safe, traveling in a crate.