We've just come back from a week's holiday in Wales with Chelsea, our three-year-old Dalmatian. The journey was three hours each way and Chelsea was sick a couple of times. She is used to travelling in the car, but this is the longest journey she has been on, so I think it must be travel sickness. She was absolutely fine as soon as we reached our destination. How can we combat this as we would like to take another holiday later in the year and wouldn't want Chelsea to feel poorly again?
Marci Lane, by email
Alison Logan, vet, advises:
There are two common types of travel sickness seen in the dog: stress-related, and the motion sickness we as humans experience. For dogs, the commonest trigger for vomiting during a car journey is stress.
Was the weather hot when you were travelling to and from Wales? Did you stop during the journey for comfort breaks? Where did Chelsea travel within the car? In her usual place or was she somewhere different because of luggage and other passengers? When had she been fed prior to leaving on the journey? Was it your usual vehicle? Was the driver someone different from Chelsea’s usual chauffeur? – we all drive differently!
I wonder how Chelsea is now that she is back in her home territory? You may find that she is sick on shorter journeys, having been sick on those three hour trips, in which case I would go right back to basics with a programme of gradually increasing exposure to build up her confidence with car travel once more.
The classic approach is to initially sit your dog in the car when it is stationery on the drive, perhaps for just five minutes initially. Provide a bed so that she can settle down and relax, in the position where you will be wanting her to travel, and ensure good ventilation. Reward her with a positive activity afterwards such as a ball game or walk. Then, when she is happy with being in the car for half an hour or so, introduce very short journeys, once a day at first and then more often. If she shows signs of travel sickness then go back a step.
Travel sickness is such a restrictive affliction in humans and dogs. When I see a puppy for its first vaccination, I always advise taking the puppy out in the car every day, even if it is just five minutes around the block. Travelling in the car needs to be a pleasurable experience, with a treat at the end. Once the initial puppy vaccinations are protective, there can be the prospect of a walk as a reward after a car journey. Until then, the school run is invaluable in this respect, because the puppy can be carried in your arms at the school and experience all manner of sights, sounds and smells, so helping with socialisation.
My heart sinks when, at the second puppy vaccination, the puppy is dribbling as it sits on my consulting room table. The owner tells me that the puppy has been sick in the car and that this is only the third time that the puppy has travelled in the car:
- the first trip from the security of his or her birth place to the new home with all manner of new experiences;
- from new home to veterinary practice for first vaccination;
- again, from new home to veterinary practice for second vaccination.
It is commonly said that only a tiny proportion of advice is taken in when we go to the GP or vet, and I think that this bears that observation out!
I am not saying that travel sickness can be avoided in all cases by early car journeys, but there are breeders who will take a litter of puppies for short car journeys, with the reassurance of being with their mother still and ending up back at their birthplace. Our dog was sick as a puppy, yet I took her out regularly in the car from the first day that she came to live with us. She was only bred a mile from our home and was not sick on her first trip in the car. I found that she was not sick if she had not been fed within two hours of a journey, which took some planning!
There are drugs available to help with travel sickness. The classic ‘yellow tablet’ is a sedative which we tend to avoid prescribing nowadays. There is a new drug available now which is anti-emetic, ie it prevents vomiting. As well as being indicated for stomach upsets, it is also recommended for motion sickness and may well be the answer for Chelsea on long car journeys, so I would suggest you ask your veterinary surgeon’s advice.
Dog-appeasing pheromone is another possibility, either sprayed in the car and/or worn as a DAP collar when travelling longer distances.
I certainly think that you need to build up the confidence of both yourself and Chelsea by gradually increasing the length of her journeys in the car. Try not to pass on any anxiety you may have about a repeat of her travel sickness - easier said than done!
Nick Thompson, holistic vet, advises:
Car sickness in older dogs isn't that common, so Chelsea's unlucky. On the positive side, there are herbal, homeopathic and 'energetic' options that we can try.
Herbs - good old fashioned ginger can be very useful. The easiest way is to feed ginger nut biscuits before and during the journey. If she's mild, this may do the trick. A stronger approach is to give her a small, bland meal with grated root ginger in it before you travel. If she'll take grated ginger from your fingers, this is ideal, but I've yet to meet a dog who's keen!
The homeopathic mix I use here contains Borax, Petroleum and Cocculus all at a 12x potency. Any homeopathic pharmacy can make this up for you as soft tablets or, as I use at Holisticvet, liquids dripped onto the 'moustache' area of the nose (between nostrils and upper lip - they just lick the drops off, saving you having to push pills into their mouths). Dosing is one tablet or drop of remedy hourly on the day of the journey and during the journey. As she improves from journey to journey, you can use less and less dosing.
A very mysterious and interesting treatment I've come across recently is called a Travel Aid Clip. It's a small glassy bead, the size of a baked bean containing what looks like a minute electrical circuit board of about one millimetre squared. The manufacturers, a Swiss company called The Institute of Bio-Information, claim it helps to 'balance energies' and directly help with travel sickness.
Now, I'm a fairly open minded kind of vet, but this sounded a little much for me. However, I was given one by Higher Nature (www.higher-nature.co.uk) and gave it a go. I've used it on four dogs, and three of them are now improved, if not cured. They have to keep the clip on when they travel but as it only weighs 10 grams, or so, it's no hardship.
Travel sickness is a trial. I do sympathise. When I was a kid, we couldn't travel for more than thirty minutes in any direction without one of me or my three brothers and sisters being sick! We always seemed to have family holidays close to home; funny that...