Car sickness in puppies is relatively common, and whilst it is largely something they will ‘grow out’ of, it can be unpleasant for them, and us! Not every puppy will suffer with car sickness, however many do. But why does it happen? And what can we do about it?
Firstly, what exactly is it? Well motion sickness is the feeling of nausea, resulting in vomiting due to the motion of ie. a vehicle. It does not always present itself as actual vomiting, other symptoms may include dizziness or general feeling of nausea. Motion sickness is more prevalent in younger dogs than older, and generally it will have subsided by the time a dog is around one year old.
But why does it occur in puppies? Well there could be a few reasons:
1. Ear development – there is a possibility the parts of the inner ear relating to balance aren’t fully developed, resulting in a feeling of nausea
2. Anxiety – our pups have spent the first weeks of their little lives in a stationary, home environment with their mum and siblings, without prior conditioning it may feel hugely overwhelming to travel in a car/van
3. Conditioned emotional response – if the journey home involved vomiting etc, the likelihood is the pup now associates the car with something quite distressing, thereby heightening the anxiety level
4. Ear problems – there could be a slight infection within the ear, or some kind of medical problem relating to the auditory senses causing sickness when in motion
These are just a few ideas. Motion sickness is something us humans suffer with too, and largely it is seen more in children and ‘grown out’ of just as with puppies. With humans, motion sickness can occur when there’s a vast difference between what is being seen through the eyes , and what is being heard by the auditory senses. In simple terms (because I am no doctor!) the conflict between sight and sound is confusing the brain and the result is a feeling of sickness. For your puppy, the trauma of leaving all it has ever known, his littermates and mum, may well be associated with a car journey when you left the breeder. If the stress of this causes sickness during the journey too, we now have a puppy who not only found the car distressing due to the loss of his family but also a place which made him feel quite poorly! We can see why cars may become a bit of a ‘scary place’ to our pups.
Gradual habituation to travel is essential. As stated above not ALL puppies will suffer with car sickness, however if we at least condition our pup to travel in a calm and relaxed way, we minimise the possibility of any stress when travelling. Once your pup is home, you can really start to work on introducing your pup to the car in a positive and gradual manner, showing your pup that the car does not always move, good things happen in the car, and if we get in the car it certainly doesn’t always mean we are going to the vets (something which is so often the case when we have a pup!).
So, what measures can we take to ensure a smooth and positive exposure to travel?
- Know the signs – motion sickness is not purely about vomiting, there are other signs to look out for such as whining, drooling, licking lips and panting. Watch out for these, if you feel your pup may be about to vomit, just pull over and give your pup some air.
- Gradual exposure – don’t attempt 30 minute drives to start off with, start with very short journeys in the car, a few minutes at a time preferably. Start by simply putting your pup in the car without even switching the engine on, reward for calmness and any settling behaviours offered, repeat a few times. The next day maybe switch the engine on but don’t travel anywhere, the next day possibly drive to the end of the road and back etc etc. Ensure your pup is RELAXED throughout the process.
- Use a secure crate/carrier – not only to provide a stable and calm environment for your pup, but also for safety, an anxious pup will likely move about a lot more!
- Stillness – keeping as still as possible is advised for us humans when we have motion sickness, so ensuring your pup has more of a chance of keeping ‘still’ is a good idea!
- No food prior – try not to feed your pup for a couple of hours before journeys.
- Keep windows open – fresh air and a breeze may help.
- Toilet! – make sure your pup has had adequate opportunity to go to the loo before journeys.
- Have a special ‘car toy’ – try to have a special toy which your pup only has on car journeys, really showing him that the car is a fun place to be after all!
- Anxiety aids – there are such items ie. Adaptil collars for helping to calm anxiety in dogs, the scientific evidence showing the efficacy of such products is varied and certainly not conclusive, however there are people who swear by them so worth a go I feel!
- Water – ensure you have water readily available for your pup.
- Drive well! – ensure you take corners and roundabouts gently and be mindful of sudden stopping or accelerating too harshly!
- Not ALWAYS the vets – ensure we don’t get into the habit of only taking our pups out in the car to go somewhere ‘bad’! It’s easily done, but be sure to go to places your pup takes pleasure from in the car too,
If you feel your pup suffers with severe motion sickness, I would advise seeking veterinary advice. There are medications which can help if you feel your pup is struggling beyond the ‘normal’ realms of a bit of car sickness. Your vet will be able to guide you through the medications, and indeed advise as to whether or not it is needed.
Most pups do, as I said, grow out of car sickness. It is not pleasant, but by following the above guidelines hopefully your little pup will start to not only build up more of a positive association with the car, but even learn to enjoy car rides due to the added fun of his ‘car toy’.
For more information, just get in touch!