Wellington and Teasel. Wellington is prone to car sickness.

When Wellington arrived in Hilary’s house, he had not yet been named: Hilary wanted to wait, and to choose a name that suited his personality. She didn’t have to wait long. The puppy ignored the large, comfortable dog bed that had been provided for him. Instead, he dragged the various Wellington boots that had been left in the porch into one corner, creating a small pile which he then clambered onto. The pile of Wellies became his regular custom-designed sleeping place: the name “Wellington” seemed ideal for this cheeky quirky character. Wellington is now six months old.

Teasel, the older eight year old dog, has taught Wellington the house rules: the pup copies the older animal in many ways, and they spend much of their time together. There is one unfortunate difference between the two of them, Teasel is a happy traveller in the car, whereas Wellington just doesn’t seem to be able to cope.  He doesn’t get over-excited or distressed, but if he’s taken in the car for a journey that’s longer than a mile or so, he begins to salivate, and soon after, he suffers from car sickness.

Hilary feels sorry for him at the time: he looks miserable. Then later, she feels sorry for herself when she has to clean up the mess. She came to me for help: why is Teasel so comfortable in the car, while Wellington suffers from this repeated problem. And what can she do to help him?

Motion sickness

It’s important to understand the mechanism behind motion sickness. The salivation and vomiting reactions happen via a series of reflexes. These start in the middle ear, where nerve endings are stimulated by the centrifugal forces caused by movement of the car. Nerve impulses are sent from here to a part of the brain called the ‘vomiting centre’, which sends messages to the salivary glands, provoking drooling, followed by a message to the stomach to contract violently, resulting in vomiting.

The more often a dog travels, the more familiar he becomes with the unusual centrifugal forces associated with motion.  His brain becomes less sensitive to the messages sent from the middle ear, and eventually, the reflex stops happening, and the dog travels comfortably with no problem.

Advice to help

The best answer to this issue is to start acclimatising dogs to travel from a very young age. If a puppy is allowed to travel for short trips in the car from around 6 – 8 weeks, he rapidly familiarises to the sensation of motion, and he is less likely to grow up to be a poor traveller. It’s obviously too late to do this for Wellington, so what can be done now? The best answer is to attempt to ‘desensitise’ him by gradually getting him used to a moving vehicle,

The idea is to take him for short road trips frequently, always going for less than the distance that upsets him. He should be fasted  beforehand – no food for at least 12 hours, so that his stomach is empty, and he’s less likely to be able to bring anything up if he does feel nauseous.

I’ve also suggested that she puts an Adaptil collar on him (sold in vet clinics: this releases calming pheromones that make him feel calmer. Cardboard  screening on the side and rear windows of the car may help, so that he can only see straight ahead, avoiding the sight of that dizzying scenery rushing past on either side. Lastly, there is a new, potent, anti-travel sickness tablet available through vets. It’s pricey, but useful, especially if there are longer car journeys that he can’t avoid.

If your dog is prone to travel sickness, ask your vet for help: this is a problem that can often be solved.

Tips

  • Car sickness is a common problem in dogs
  • To avoid it, take young pups out on frequent trips in the car
  • To cure adult dogs, medication from your vet can be helpful

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