Creating Comfortable Car Rides
A visit to the vet may not always be your companion’s favourite activity (although we certainly do our best to make each visit a positive one!). If your pet suffers from anxiety or nausea during car rides – getting ‘carsick’ – we know that can make Vet Day an even bigger challenge. The good news is there is plenty you can do to help ease your companion’s travel woes and make care rides a more comfortable and enjoyable experience for both of you.
What is Motion Sickness?
Genuine motion sickness is generally thought to be caused when the parts of the inner ear responsible for balance are disturbed from repeated motion. The inner ears sense motion (as the car moves forward), but the eyes detect stationary surroundings (the inside of the car) – these mixed sensory signals to the brain can cause nausea or initiate a stress response that includes stomach upset. Motion sickness is most often reported in puppies, and many ‘outgrow’ their motion sickness as they age.
What is Travel Anxiety?
Feeling nauseated each time your companion enters a vehicle can lead to fear and anxiety, creating an aversion to car rides that can last much longer than the genuine motion sickness – and fear and nausea themselves can trigger many of the same symptoms associated with stomach upset! Car travel also often involves extra stimuli (honking traffic, fast-moving scenery, loud music, excited chatter) that can be stressful to the system. If car rides are a rare occurrence and usually to disconcerting destinations (like the vet!), this combination can reinforce the negative associations your companion has formed with time in the car.
What Symptoms Should I Look For?
Lip-licking or smacking the lips
Whining or barking
Pacing or uneasiness
Listlessness or inactivity
Managing Travel Anxiety
Conditioning your dog to ride comfortably in a car will take a little time and patience, but the reward of being able to spend more time together (traveling to exciting destinations like the dog park!) will be worth the effort. Keep in mind the principles of gradual exposure and celebrating success – start with simply jumping into the car, getting a delicious treat or snuggle, and safely hopping back out. From here, starting the car, rolling up and down the driveway, circling the block… you get the idea! Building on positive experiences can help counteract the negative associations your pet may have formed, and helps set them up for more successful experiences in the future.
A few additional tips and strategies you can use to help manage travel anxiety include:
Withhold food for several hours before travel – an empty stomach will decrease the chances of nausea and vomiting
Use a dog carrier or crate if they are familiar with one at home – this can often provide a ‘safe space’ for them to rest in
Keep the car cool and quiet – soothing music, calm voices, and a comfortable temperature helps create a low-stress travel atmosphere
Provide familiar smells – a shirt or jacket of a beloved family member can add a bit of extra comfort in the less-familiar space and scents of the car
Save intriguing toys – keep a few favourite toys or chews that are ‘car ride only,’ to help them associate the car with extra fun
Managing Motion Sickness and High Anxiety Levels
If your companion is experiencing nausea and an upset digestive system during car rides, or their anxiety is severe, pharmaceutical options might also be appropriate. Anti-nausea medications can prevent your companion from vomiting in the car, while anti-anxiety medications given before travel can support your pet’s mental wellbeing and help take the edge off an inevitably stressful experience. Your veterinarian will be able to assess whether either of these treatment options will benefit your companion, and select a medication that is suitable for their condition and situation.
How We Can Help
The best combination of treatment options will be different for each patient, and we will work with you and your companion to create a treatment and conditioning plan designed to address your pet’s specific situation. Don’t hesitate to let us know if your companion is finding car rides a challenge – we’re here to help!