Car and Motion Sickness

Sequoyah German Shepherds

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Last updated 3/12/10

Managing the Motion Sick Puppy

In my experience, I have found that most Shepherd pups love to ride from the time that they are very little.  The motion of the vehicle usually lulls them to sleep within only a few minutes of travel.  Like with any new experience, sometimes the first time or two of traveling, they are too excited to settle down immediately, but, with a little patience, you will find that in most cases, it doesn't take long. 

There are however, some dogs that do not take to travel quite as readily.  Some of them will get nauseated and car sick.  Most puppies gradually grow out of it, but there are things that can be done to help alleviate that process if this should happen.

There are 2 main things that cause car sickness:

  1. The motion of the vehicle
  2. Anxiety or fear

The Physiology of Motion Sickness

Many dog owners soon realize, usually within five minutes, their pet has motion sickness (car, boat or airplane).  Receptors in the ear called the vestibular apparatus help an animal process position and movement. A dog will experience motion sickness or carsickness if the signals coming in (relayed by the eighth cranial nerve to the brain) are excessive: Symptoms include drooling, vomiting and or diarrhea.  According to Pfizer Pharmaceuticals Animal Health market research, estimated 1.2 million dogs experience vomiting each year caused by motion sickness. 

The Basics - De-sensitization!

The Nervous Puppy:  For many puppies, the first time they are in a moving vehicle is when you bring them home.  Obviously this can be associated with a stressful event.  For adult dogs, they may have learned that going for a car ride is often followed by something unpleasant, like going to a veterinarian's office.  To help your companion's anxiety, here are some steps that you can take:

  1. First, see if your dog will approach the car willingly or exhibits signs of anxiety such as licking his lips, yawning, panting, faltering or trying to pull back on the leash.  If your dog shows signs of fear while approaching the car, give a few treats while being close to the car or feed them their dinner near the car. Repeat this over several sessions until your dog will go into the car willingly. Then, get your dog used to being in the car without turning it on or driving.  Offer their dinner, a favorite chew toy or bone to make it rewarding.  Repeat this several times until they are comfortable before moving onto the next step.
  2. While in the car, start giving your dog a few treats or put his food bowl down so he can start eating.  Start the car.  Leave it on for just a minute and turn it off.  Repeat this several times, calmly praising your dog when he shows calm responses.  If he seems fearful, end the session as soon as you can and next time shorten the session and stop before he becomes anxious.  Take your time and make sure he is relaxed before ending the session and work up to having the car running for longer periods of time.
  3. Once he is used to the car running without any fearful reactions, give your dog a favorite treat or his dinner, then back the car to the end of the driveway or a short distance on the street.  Praise him and make sure he can continue eating.  Repetition is the key to success.  The more you do this, the faster your dog will learn that the car will become a great place for attention, praise and food.
  4. Once your dog seems relaxed, take a short trip around the block.  It will be handy to have someone else in the car at this point to feed him treats and praise while doing this.  Gradually increase the distance traveled until your dog is calm no matter how long he's in the car.  Travel to places that are fun for your dog, not just to the vet or groomer!  Go to a dog park, the beach, a friend's house for a "play date" with their dog.

 

The Motion Sick Puppy:  Some dogs do suffer from true motion sickness. These dogs feel better when they can't see out, such as riding in an enclosed crate. Crates are much easier to clean up than your car upholstery!  Others feel better looking out the window.  In either case, keep the car cool and well-ventilated.  You should try desensitizing the same way as described above, however, some dogs cannot be conditioned and medication is necessary. Commonly used medications to help reduce the nausea associated with motion sickness include diphenhydramine (Benadryl®), and dimenhydrinate (Dramamine®). These medications are available without a prescription but should never be used unless specifically recommended by a veterinarian.  Proper dosage and use are crucial to treating and diminishing the signs of motion sickness. 

For some pets, the motion sickness and anxiety associated with travel is so severe that sedatives are necessary. Commonly used sedatives include acepromazine and Alprazolam. These are available by prescription and should be used with caution.  You may want to talk to your veterinarian for about advice on other possible medications to help settle your pup's tummy. 

When All Else Fails....
  • Ginger (herb) -- has been known to be effective to prevent motion sickness in dogs (especially ginger cookies) and humans. Ginger snaps work well for medium sized dogs. Always consult your veterinarian before giving your dog Ginger. In severe cases of motion sickness, maybe necessary during long travel periods of time, a sedative maybe prescribed by a veterinarian.
  • Benedryl (diphenhydramine) -- helps prevent excessive drooling by drying the mouth slightly.  You should give it at least 30 minutes to 1 hour prior to departure.
  • Dramamine -- helps prevent motion sickness. The effects of dimenhydrinate are very similar to those of diphenhydramine. The main differences are a lower potency, and a longer latency. 50 mg dimenhydrinate contains 27.2 mg of diphenhydramine, so it is less potent at equal doses. Also, dimenhydrinate must dissociate into diphenhydramine and its counterion in the body before it is active, so it produces effects more slowly than diphenhydramine.  Diphenhydramine is used in Dramamine to prevent nausea and emesis; however, the development of the chemical meclizine has overtaken its usage (marketed as "Dramamine II") because meclizine doesn't produce as much drowsiness.

AND MY PERSONAL FAVORITE (AS WELL AS THE ONLY APPROVED ANTI-MOTION SICKNESS ON THE MARKET TODAY FOR DOGS ---

  • Cerenia -- In February 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Cerenia (known generically as maropitant citrate), manufactured by Pfizer Incorporated. First known medication to prevent and treat dogs with acute vomiting, regardless of causes including motion sickness. Pfizer researchers and veterinarians spent seven years to develop and research, finally receiving FDA approval for marketing and sale of Cerenia.  During clinical trials involving 577 dogs, Cerenia was shown to be safe and effective. This medication treated a wide range of dog breeds for vomiting, with causes that included such things as parvovirus, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE), gastrointestinal tumors, infectious disorders, pancreatitis, chemo, and renal disease. (During one of the research studies, support the approval of Cerenia, ninety-five percent effective in preventing vomiting undergoing chemotherapeutic treatment.) 

Stephen Sundlof, D.V.M., Ph.D., director of FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine said: "This approval is good news for many dog owners whose dogs suffer from motion sickness and for whom even a small journey can trigger vomiting."

Cerenia is administered once daily, either injectable or tablet formulation. Cerenia is recommended for use in dogs sixteen weeks of age or older. The medication is not recommended for dogs used for breeding, pregnant or lactating bitches, dogs that have ingested toxins or dogs with gastrointestinal obstruction. Side effects observed include: Muscle tremors, excessive salivation, and vomiting. The medication starts to work within one hour of administration. Cerenia is available by prescription only from veterinarians.

Remember.......

Here are some tips to use when traveling with your pet.

  • No food 3 hours prior to traveling

  • Make sure your pet has had water before the trip

  • Take it slow around curves

  • Accelerate and stop slowly

  • Crack the window open to get fresh air

  • Make sure it's not too hot or too cold in the car

  • Keep you pet from looking out the window

  • Stretch and Drink -- On long car trips, stop every hour or so to let the dog run around and have a drink of water. The exercise will make him more relaxed and willing to continue the trip.

  • Travel prepared - pack cleaning supplies, towels

  • Cover the car seat/floor with a sheet or towel

  • Don't scold your dog - this will only make him more nervous about traveling

 

Sherle R. Thompson, DVM
Veterinarian and German Shepherd Breeder
Chattanooga, TN
 
Email: sequoyahgsd@aol.com
Phone:  (423)991-0979

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