Long journeys in a car, plane, cruise ship or just about any means of transport with your pet can be a real challenge. Not only will your dog be anxious and worried about what’s happening, but they’ll also be frustrated at being cooped up.
Regardless of whether you’re traveling by road or air, travel sickness can be a serious problem for your dog or cat. Thankfully there are a number of solutions – both in terms of prescribed medication such as pills and tablets, and natural remedies.
This guide will discuss everything you could possibly need to know about how to keep your pet comfortable while they’re traveling.
Table of Contents:
- Do Dogs Get Travel Sick?
- Warning Signs of Travel Sickness
- Traveling by Car with Your Dog
- Traveling by Plane with Your Dog
- Traveling by Boat with Your Dog
- What Can You Give a Dog for Motion Sickness?
Do Dogs Get Travel Sick?
Just like human beings, some dogs are prone to travel sickness while others will never face this problem. Again, just like with children, the problem may stem from the dog’s developmental years.
Canine travel sickness is caused by underdeveloped ear balance, which leaves Fido feeling queasy during motion. This will impact not every puppy, and many dogs will soon grow out of the problem as they evolve into adulthood. To be on the safe side, though, regularly check your dog’s ears for signs of infection. This will only magnify the risk of travel sickness.
Sometimes the problem can be psychological, too; stress will add to the issue, and dogs tend to make links to specific events in their own mind. If your pooch persuades himself or herself that a ride in a car is a one-way trip to vomitsville, it may be tricky to convince them otherwise!
Of course, there is one other thing that should be noted – puppies collected from their parents and siblings for the first time will cry and howl up a storm in the back of a car. This isn’t necessarily a sign of travel sickness, but your dog sending a message to their rest of his or her pack that they have been ‘kidnapped’ and need to be saved.
If your new dog appears traumatized by the car journey back to their new forever home, try not to worry. It’s a heartbreaking experience, but your pooch pal will quickly come to learn that their life is about to become more exciting than ever before.
Warning Signs of Travel Sickness
There’s more to travel sickness than just throwing up, you know. There are a number of symptoms and warning signs that you can keep an eye out for, and take action ahead of time if necessary.
- Restlessness, and constant whining or whimpering
- Excessive drooling, shaking or panting
- Crouching, with the ears pinned back and tail tucked between the legs
Traveling by Car with Your Dog
Preparing for a long car journey with your dog is not unlike getting ready for a long trip with a toddler. You’re going to have to content with restraining your canine, dealing with boredom, regularly stopping for bathroom breaks – and, yes, possibly travel sickness.
Here are a handful of things to keep in mind before you start a long car journey with your canine in tow – many of which will also apply to other forms of transport.
- Restraint. How will you keep your dog from roaming around the car – both for their safety and your own? You could keep Fido in his pet carrier, but that might not be ideal for a very long journey and a seatbelt may be better. Allowing a dog to roam free is inadvisable, and in many territories illegal. Making an emergency stop, for example, could cause major problems, and you certainly don’t want your dog leaning forward and distracting you while you’re trying to concentrate on the road.
- Comfort. Your dog will need to have plenty of water (but not too much!) while on the road, so stop and think about how you will be able to ensure that your canine can remain hydrated. If Fido is locked in a pet crate or carrier, is there a water bottle within easy reach? If he is clipped into a seatbelt, you’ll have to find regular places to stop for a drink. Also, consider providing a blanket with a comforting and familiar scent. Not only will that be softer for your dog to sit on, but also it will provide a little home away from home and less disconcerting.
- Exercise and Bathroom Breaks. You will probably have to stop anyway, so your dog can urinate. Build this necessity into your travel plans, both in terms of time and route! As an aside, you’ll probably be all be happier if you give your dog a long walk or other forms of exercise before you start your journey – and try to avoid a big feed before loading up the car, as that will leave Fido keen to empty his bowels.
- Entertainment. Dogs love to sit with their heads out of the window on a car journey – the wide variety of smells that will pass by a rate of knots is hugely entertaining, and keeps your dog amused for hours! However, this can be dangerous for your dog, and should not necessarily be encouraged – especially at high speeds. Instead, ensure that Fido has plenty of treats and toys to stave off boredom during the drive – or, better yet, a human playmate to pass the time with.
- Travel Sickness. Skip ahead to our section on travel sickness in dogs to learn how to prevent, treat and rectify this particular problem.
Why Won’t My Dog Get in the Car?
Some dogs refuse to climb into a car. There are many potential causes for this, so if you are adopting a rescue dog is always pays to learn their history.
Here are some possible reasons why your dog won’t get in the car:
- They have only ever made car journeys for unpleasant or scary reasons, such as trips to the vet or groomer.
- They find the car as boring as they are left alone with nobody or nothing to play with.
- A previous owner locked them in a car for a prolonged period of time.
- Your dog is getting older, and the physical activity required to jump or climb into a car is awkward and painful for them.
- Getting in the car involves jumping or sitting upon surfaces that are akin to furniture, which they are not allowed to do while at home.
All of these issues and concerns should be able to be reversed with a great deal of reward-based training and patience. Of course, you may have the opposite problem – your dog associates the car with fantastic, fun-filled day trips and tries to leap into every single strange vehicle that they stroll past on a walk.
Is it Ever Acceptable to Leave a Hot Dog in a Car Unattended?
Leaving your dog in the car will not improve their tolerance to travel and prevent future motion sickness.
You’re basically trapping your poor pooch in a microwave oven, and it doesn’t matter if you’re only going to be a few minutes while you pay for gas, or you think that they are used to it. Circumstances change, and there could be a hundred reasons why you end up being delayed and not making it back to your car as quickly as you were expecting.
Here’s the simple truth of the matter; dogs die in hot cars. Laving your dog at huge risk of dehydration at best, which is potentially fatal anyway. In other, extreme circumstances, your dog may not even make it that far and will be seriously sick and maybe dead before you even make it back.
There’s a simple solution to all of this – don’t do it. If you need to go somewhere that your dog is not able to follow, bring somebody else along so they can stand outside with them, get a dog sitter to stay home with your furry family member, or avoid going anywhere that means you’ll be away too long, and your dog cannot be left home alone. It may be inconvenient at times, but that’s the commitment that you took on when you introduced Fido to your home.
Traveling by Plane with Your Dog
Some airlines will allow you to take a dog on-board. Traveling by air with a hound in tow can be hugely stressful for both yourself and your pet – and not least because your dog is more likely than ever to grow travel sick once they take to the skies.
Can I Take My Dog on an Airplane?
The best case scenario for airline travel with a dog is if you have a small breed, which is housed within a carrier that fits below a typical aircraft seat. This means that you may be able to treat your dog as hand luggage.
Otherwise, your furry friend will be forced to spend the journey in the cage in the cargo hold, unable to be visited by you or any other human for the duration of the flight, which is no fun for anybody.
Either way, you’ll have to ensure that your dog will be OK being separated from you throughout the flight. Releasing Fido from his carrier and allowing him to sit on your lap, or having a little leg stretch, will be entirely out of the question.
Naturally, there will also not be any chances to take a bathroom break, so line the crate or carrier with puppy pads and ensure that your dog doesn’t eat anything before they get aboard the plane to prevent the need to empty their bowels.
Will My Dog Be Able to Roam Free on an Airplane?
No, your dog will never be allowed to leave their crate or carrier. You won’t even be able to keep your dog in your lap – there is too much risk that they will wriggle free and approach another passenger with an allergy, get in the way of a flight attendant, or even distract the pilot.
This may be upsetting for both of you if your dog is in their carrier in the seat in front of yours, and you can see or hear them growing upset or sick and you’re unable to do anything about it. Naturally, it won’t be any better if they are locked away in the cargo hold, and your imagination starts to run wild in terms of what might be happening to them.
Do Dogs Grow Airsick?
A dog is more likely to get travel sick on an airplane than any other form of transport. After all, motion sickness stems from an ear imbalance, and anybody that has ever ridden an aircraft will know full well that their ears pop when the ‘plane takes off.
This can be very scary for a pooch that doesn’t know what’s going on – especially coupled with the all noise that comes along with an airplane, and the sensory overload that will stem from all the different smells of other passengers. Your dog is likely to make himself or herself sick on an airplane if they are prone to such behaviors. Try to avoid subjecting them to such an experience if they are prone to anxiety.
Traveling by Boat with Your Dog
If you’re making a journey overseas and bringing your dog along with you, traveling by sea may be safer and easier than by air. You’ll have to check in with your particular provider, though.
Will My Dog Be Able to Roam Free on a Boat?
It’s very rare that dogs will be entitled to roam a commercial cruise ship, even if kept on a leash. This is partly for the safety of your canine itself (dogs may have an instinct to swim, but nobody wants to deal with a canine overboard!), partly for the sake of other passengers may have allergies to contend with, and also on the grounds of hygiene. Many cruise ships will have dining areas that are virtually indistinguishable from other parts of the ship, meaning that a blanket ban needs to apply to dogs.
This means that almost all cruise ships will only allow dogs to travel within an onboard kennel, which means that your dog will be left alone for prolonged periods of the journey. Think carefully before committing to making this reservation, and ensure that you have taken all the necessary steps to keep your dog comfortable – plenty of water, lots of toys and other entertainment, and a comfortable and familiar-smelling blanket.
Do Dogs Get Seasick?
Seasickness is ultimately the same as motion sickness, with the same cause – an imbalance within the ear. This means that, yes, your dog may be prone to growing seasick.
In fact, this is quite likely, even if your dog does not tend to vomit in cars. As we have addressed, stress is a major contributing factor to travel sickness for dogs, and a canine left alone in a kennel in a strange environment will have plenty of reasons to grow anxious.
If you absolutely must travel by sea with your dog, and you’re unable to travel with them within your vehicle, consider some of the anti-anxiety medications and remedies profiled below. These will help ease Fido’s nerves and hopefully prevent travel sickness from taking hold.
What Can You Give a Dog for Motion Sickness?
Helping a dog cope with their motion sickness is hugely important, as it’s possible to coach a canine out of this particular problem.
Remember that no matter how much it may inconvenience you to clean up after a mishap on the back seat, your dog will feel so much worse. They’ll be embarrassed about the fact that they were sick in the first place, and will have all kinds of physical symptoms that led to the issue!
Motion sickness in dogs is no joke, and none of us want our pets to experience any problems. Here are a handful of suggestions that can ensure that we’ll be able to keep our canines on the road while keeping it fun.
Preventative Measures for Dog Travel Sickness
Before reaching for medications or declaring your dog’s motion sickness to be a chronic problem, follow a few basic protocols that may prevent your furry friend from growing sick in the first place.
- Crack a few windows in the car before placing your dog inside, allowing some air to circulate. This will reduce the pressure in the atmosphere, and go a little easier on Fido’s ears.
- Ensure that your dog is restrained safely, but not too tightly. Fido should be able to stretch out and take a look around, looking out of the window for a while if necessary, but not so loose that they are tossed around the car like a ragdoll.
- Don’t give your dog too much to eat before they get in the car. Ever eaten a big, greasy cheeseburger than joined the line for a rollercoaster and lived to regret it? That’s something your dog will experience if they chow down on a big meal before getting into the car, especially if they are prone to travel sickness.
- Build up your dog’s resistance to travel sickness by making many small, quick journeys. This will teach Fido that not every trip in the car is an epic journey to be afraid of.
Medications for Dog Travel Sickness
If no amount of training or building up a slow tolerance is working, it may be time to seek the help of a professional remedy.
Speak to a vet if your dog is prone to chronic travel sickness if only to ensure that the problem does not stem from any other kind of health concern.
A professional will also be able to offer advice on prescriptions and medications that may help, including:
- Cerenia. A specialist, prescription-only drug especially for canine travel sickness.
- Acepromazine. A sedative often administered to dogs before veterinary surgery to settle stomachs and prevent nausea.
- Dramamine. An OTC pill frequently prescribed to human passengers that suffer from travel sickness.
- Diphenhydramine. Often better known as Benadryl, this hugely popular antihistamine can aid with travel sickness and is safe for dogs.
Natural Remedies for Dog Travel Sickness
If you’re not too keen on using anything too formal to treat your dog’s travel sickness, there are many herbal and natural remedies that you could use at home. The usual caveats apply here, though – speak to a vet before making any decisions, and ensure that your particular dog does not have any allergies or intolerances that make these treatments unsuitable.
Some of the most popular natural remedies for canine car sickness include:
- Ginger. This root has natural stomach-settling properties, making it a powerful weapon in the fight against travel sickness. Obviously, you’ll have to be a little careful in how you feed this to dogs – a ginger snap biscuit that includes xylitol, for example, will be toxic to your pooch – but ginger can be a real cure-all.
- You could pop drops of this essential oil straight onto your dog’s fur (aim for the scruff of the neck for maximum absorption), or find a spray bottle and apply it to a favored blanket. This will keep your dog calm, and the less excitable they are, the less likely they are to become sick.
- Cocculus Indicus. This herbal remedy is becoming increasingly popular as a remedy for humans that experience nausea, including travel sickness. Happily, it’s also safe for use with dogs in sensible doses – speak to your vet for further advice.
As with any form of health concern, it’s always better to do what we can to prevent a dog from getting travel sick rather than dealing with it after the event.
Whatever approach you take, however, ensure that you do what’s best for Fido and your family. Once you’ve cracked the problem, you’ll all be able to enjoy a lot more time together and all kinds of adventures.