It’s tough on anyone when their dog suffers from motion sickness in the car, but for those who depend on taking along an assistance dog everywhere, it can be a real problem. While it’s more common in young dogs whose vestibular system and equilibrium aren’t fully developed, any dog of any age can struggle with the condition.
Possible Causes of Car Sickness in Your Assistance Dog
While immature inner ear structures may be the most common cause of motion sickness, it’s not the only one. For dogs who experience the condition early on, driving may simply become closely associated with physical and emotional discomfort, making motion sickness a trained response to the car. All the stimuli during a drive can also be overwhelming for a dog, while others with inner ear infections or other health problems, as well as those taking certain medications that cause nausea as a side effect, can also experience car sickness.
Signs and Symptoms of Motion Sickness in Dogs
The first sign that your service dog experiences travel sickness may be reluctance to get into the car. Obvious uneasiness and whining or other distress vocalizations often occur once the car gets moving. Yawning, drooling, repeated licking of the lips, lethargy, immobility or fear of moving, vomiting, and diarrhea are other signs and symptoms.
Preventing and Treating Car Sickness in Your Service Dog
Obviously, you don’t have the luxury of limiting your assistance dog’s trips in the car, but you can’t keep subjecting her to suffering with every trip to the store. It’s unlikely that a trained service dog simply lacks conditioning to accustom her to car travel, but you can try it if your dog hasn’t been exposed much to it. Start with very short trips around the block for a few days, and gradually build up the length of your trips, ending them with lots of praise and perhaps a treat or two.
Don’t feed your dog for at least a few hours before a car ride. Bring along a favorite toy (or a special car-only toy) as a distraction, and maybe a blanket from home for a comforting, familiar scent. Crack open the car windows a few inches to reduce the air pressure inside. Remember, though—it’s unsafe for your dog hang her head out the window while driving. Keep the car cool, well ventilated, and quiet. Encourage your dog to look forward; they make special canine seatbelts for this purpose, if necessary. If practical, crating can help as well.
If car sickness appears to be a new problem, have your vet check for ear infections and give your dog an examination. Otherwise, if you’re unable to manage the symptoms on your own, consult your vet about using supplements or medications to ease your assistance dog’s motion sickness. Don’t ever do so without your vet’s OK, of course.
There are several common treatments your vet may recommend. Ginger treats are a natural option that soothe gastrointestinal discomfort, while other calming herbs like valerian, kava, passionflower, or Bach flower may help reduce anxiety. Some antihistamines can be helpful for their mild sedating effects. Meclizine, dimenhydrinate, and Cerenia are sometimes prescribed to treat nausea and vomiting from car sickness, too.
Hang in There
While it’s certainly upsetting to have a service dog who suffers from motion sickness in the car, don’t get frustrated. The condition is usually easy to remedy, and in most instances, once you’ve dealt with it, it goes away, not requiring any significant long-term management.