Your dog doesn’t actually have to throw up in the car for you to know he has carsickness. Panting, restlessness, and anxiety are all signs he’s not feeling well while on the road. Short of never leaving home, what can you do? Here’s what I told a reader who has a 12-hour drive coming up soon.
Q: We’re moving at the end of the summer, and it’s a 12-hour drive to our new home. My dog gets carsick or pants a lot even on short rides. How can I make the trip as stress-free as possible?
A: You can take several steps to help your dog have a better experience for both short trips and your upcoming move.
Start now to desensitize and counter-condition your dog to car travel. Place him in the car where he would normally ride. Since he experiences carsickness, reward with praise or a favorite toy instead of a food treat, and take him out right away. Repeat until he’s comfortable getting in the car.
Next, start the engine while he’s in the car. That’s all; don’t actually go anywhere. As above, reward and then take him out. Practice until he’s comfortable. Follow with backing out of the garage and pulling back in and eventually going around the block or some other short distance. Always pair each step with a reward to create a positive association with riding in the car.
Wearing a ThunderShirt or similar snug-fitting garment, use of a canine pheromone spray such as Adaptil in the carrier, and playing music created for dogs may also help to ease anxiety and reduce the likelihood of carsickness. Consider a car seat or carrier that allows your dog to see out the window. Fresh air and a view of the horizon can help to minimize motion sickness. Withhold meals in the morning so he’s riding on an empty stomach, but give small amounts of water throughout the day. Feed him when you stop for the night.
Finally, ask your veterinarian about an anti-nausea medication called Cerenia. It has been proven in clinical trials to help dogs with motion sickness.
Read more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.