Thursday, January 19, 2012

Motion Sickness

                                                Bailey enjoying a fall car ride

We had just turned into our subdivision--the finish line of
a successful car ride and visit to Dr. B in sight. I looked at him in the
rearview mirror. He looked back with that familiar expression. 
We weren’t going to make it…

Motion sickness is more commonly seen in puppies than adult
dogs primarily because the ear structures used for balance are not fully
matured yet. There are many adult dogs that
still experience motion sickness long after the ear structures develop

My Bailey is one of those dogs.

Whether puppy or adult there are a few things you can do to
make travel easier and more fun for you and your pooch.

First schedule an appointment with your pet’s veterinarian
for a physical and to discuss the issue.

Granted getting to those
first few appointments may be a little stressful so consider
crating your dog or placing several old towels or blankets down
to make clean up easy. It’s also often helpful if the pet faces
forward during travel to eliminate sickness.
A secure doggie seat belt will help with proper placement. 
If Sadie is riding in the front passenger seat please be aware that
passenger airbags can pose a danger to pets. And remember, your dog is not nauseous on
purpose (would you be?) so never punish or ridicule a pet with motion
sickness. A simple “That’s okay, we’ll
clean it up when we get home.” or “Does your tummy feel better now?” in a
soothing voice may make you & the dog feel a little better.

Teach Sadie that car rides are a wonderful experience. With the car parked
and engine off, lead Sadie close to it and offer a yummy treat.
Now open the car door and offer the yummy treat. Working slowly
over several days or weeks (at your dog’s comfort level) place Sadie in
the car or have her jump into the seat as yummy treats rain down. 
When your pooch learns that the car is a fun place, start the engine. 
You’ll slowly add backing down the driveway and touring your
neighborhood before venturing out for longer trips. Move at a pace
comfortable for Sadie and her tummy. If she does suffer nausea don’t
become frustrated, simply go back one step and
work forward from there.

Once your dog has the hang of things you may want to phase out
the yummy treats since an empty tummy is best for travel.

If it’s safe, crack or open the car windows slightly when
traveling. This will help equalize air pressure in the vehicle and allow
fresh air to circulate. Keeping the car cool will help, too.

Bailey and I once traveled two hours in 15 degree weather with
three windows open (we repeated the 2 hour trip the next day with 4 inches
of snow on the ground). Yes, all heat vents were pointed in my
direction and on full blast! Keeping fresh air moving is key to keeping
Bailey’s tummy happy—my toes can thaw out later.

Ginger has a calming effect on tummies, so you might try
offering one or two gingersnap cookies 15 minutes before your next car trip.

Try changing vehicles. Maybe your pooch has grown to associate
mom’s SUV with motion sickness but dad’s sedan makes a car trip
easier on her tummy.

I have a friend whose dog must ride in the family truck, on the
middle of the backseat, facing forward.

Making your destination a fun one will help build a positive
reinforcer that car travel equals fun trips to the dog park,
hiking and pet store for browsing for a new toy.

If you have more than one dog, try putting both dogs in the
car together. Some pooches feel more
secure if their playmate is with them on car trips.

If these suggestions do not relieve the problem then you may
want to discuss the option of medication with your vet. 
Never give Sadie any medication, even over-the-counter,
without first discussing it with your vet.
Anti-nausea drugs, antihistamines and phenothiazine all work to calm
nervous tummies and riders. But as with
any medication therapy, it should be an owner’s last option for treatment.

Bailey is in the small percentage of pooches for which the above classical
conditioning and natural remedies have not been effective. He
does require medication for even the shortest trips.

A little patience, practice, planning (car trips are not
spontaneous for Bailey) and a positive attitude can help both
pooch and owner overcome motion sickness.

***We should note that some dogs may have a learned fear of
travel. They may foul a vehicle through
no fault of their own but because of a previous traumatic experience. 
Maybe they were dumped onto a roadside from a
car? As with motion sickness, the animal
should never be punished for this behavior.
Please speak with your vet about this behavior, seek help from a
certified animal behaviorist and ask your local positive reinforcement trainer
for tips on classical conditioning.

Photo courtesy of Amy Callahan Photography

Sheila Rinks is the editor of Finding Fuzzybutt Four, producer of the Raising Indiana podcast and shares her home with her husband, 4 Great Pyrenees and 2 very well-fed kitties.


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