Why Do Dogs get carsick? By Katelyn Schutz, CPDT
Ever have a puppy who yacked up a pile of cookies over your leather car seats? Have a dog who doesn't like riding in the car, because they get anxious and nauseated? Ever wonder WHY some dogs get carsick?
Many puppies get motion sickness while riding in the car, until their inner ear -- where their sense of balance is -- develops. This is common, and typically resolves after 6 months of age, so many pooches will "grow out" of their car sickness.
However for some dogs, enough nauseating car experiences can condition them to have a negative associate with car rides, and continue to experience this sickness and anxiety well into their adulthood. So if you have a carsick puppy, it's especially important to recognize the symptoms, and begin a counter-conditioning training regiment as soon as possible!
Though vomiting is a common symptom, not all dogs necessarily "toss their cookies" when carsick. It's important to understand other more subtle symptoms, so you can better recognize if your dog may be suffering from motion sickness in your vehicle. Hyper-salivation -- or excessive drooling -- is a common one seen in dogs with motion sickness, as it is a symptom of nausea. Many dogs who are car sick will often freeze, sit or lay very still, and some even become listless. Some dogs will express their anxiety and nausea by stress yawning, or vocalizing (such as an excessive high-pitched whine). Every dog is different, so be sure to watch for signals other than vomiting as well!
So you've discovered your dog does indeed have car sickness. The first step is consulting with your veterinarian. Rule out any major medical problems, and discuss what would be safe to help your puppy with the motion sickness. They may want to prescribe something to help with your dog's vomiting, or give you information on OTC medications that may help with your dog's motion sickness and nausea.
There are many natural aids for car sickness too, which should also be discussed with your vet. A client of mine would give her Boxer ginger tabs before traveling to reduce vomiting. Some people find a Thundershirt or anxiety wrap helps their pooch. My dog benefits from the calming effects of pheromone therapy. "Through a Dog's Ear" is a CD that has been studied to help calm dogs down, and could be played during car trips to reduce riding anxiety. Happy Traveler by Ark Naturals is an all-natural herbal remedy that several of my clients have had success with. It's given about 30-60 minutes prior to departure, and comes in capsules, or now in treat form.
The next step is to contact your dog trainer to develop a safe and effective desensitization and counter-conditioning training program to resolve your dog's riding anxiety and nausea. Short trips more frequently with positive associations, like to pet store or park, help continue the counter-conditioning program throughout the rest of your dog's life.
It all may seem like a lot of work, but it's definitely more fun that cleaning up vomit! Happy travels!
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