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Friday, 3 February 2012

Car sick as a dog

I have a nine-month-old OES bitch puppy who cannot travel more than 10 miles without being sick. On advice of a breeder I gave her a half of a Quell tablet when she was six months old and this worked. Now she is older and weighs 30kg it does not.

Obviously I am not feeding before a long journey. She is a confident dog and copes with new situations well, so could it be stress related? Should I increase the dosage to a whole tablet of Quells? Will she improve after her first season?

I have had dogs for nearly 40 years but she is the first bitch. Does this make a difference?

Any comments much appreciated.

Margaret, by email

Alison Logan, vet, advises…

To start at the end, I really think the sex makes no difference. We had prided ourselves on never having a car sick dog until we travelled a puppy back from Wales who had been fed just beforehand, threw up after an hour and then was sick whenever she – yes, she was female – travelled in the car until she was about a year old.

That was many years ago. Our twelve year old Labrador bitch (female again!) was also sick if she had been fed within two hours of travelling, and her first journey in a car was just five minutes to our home. Again, she did grow out of it by the time she was a year old.

The fact that your dog can travel up to ten miles is a very positive sign and one that I would use to your advantage. Try to keep all your journeys below that magic distance, with a pleasant experience at the end. The more times she can travel without being sick, the more she will become confident in the car. Then, after about two to four weeks, venture a little further afield, but not by much and, again, with a walk or other positive experience at the destination. Gradually build up the distance, always going back one step if she shows signs of queasiness. The key is to avoid her actually starting to feel ill. She needs to travel and enjoy the journey to a treat as many times as possible.

Think also about where she travels in the car. Is she always sick when she travels or only in a particular car, or with a particular driver? Being able to see out often helps, so that the eyes can feed back information to the brain to correlate with motion information. This is why reading in a car can make people nauseous – the eyes are saying that the world is static because the words are not moving, whilst the middle ear and motion centres are detecting the movement of the car: conflict results in travel sickness.

Kwells contain hyoscine hydrobromide and are, as you rightly say, for travel sickness in humans. They are not licensed for dogs. There is a veterinary licensed drug for canine travel sickness which would be worth considering if you had to make a long journey before you were able to build up to that distance. There are also herbal remedies, and Dog Appeasing Pheromone spray or collar.

Do try to keep positive about this – avoid building it up in your mind because your dog will pick up on your anxiety which may then reinforce the problem.


  1. Christine Bailey3 February 2012 at 07:34

    Many people recommend ginger as a remedy for sickness, and I've certainly heard of people giving their dog a ginger biscuit or two before a journey. I've thankfully never had a dog who was car sick, but have had good results from several remedies in the Phytopet herbal range. They do a remedy called Travel, which contains ginger amongst other ingredients, and I would suggest is worth a try. It's available from several sources online.

  2. Speaking from plenty of experience, I find there are two ways to treat car sickness: -
    1) tablets/medication - I use human travel sickness pills from health food stores, I've found these much, much, better than the canine equivalents, though they do need given a couple of hours in advance, and then frequently if a return journey is to be made.
    2) another option is to counter condition, this takes a little longer, but is more permanent, and so I do this in addition to 1 above. You say your dog can manage trips of 10 miles or less - I would find lots of trips that are 10 miles or under that end somewhere really fun for your dog - the beach, a park, a lake, training classes (if you take them); then do the same for slightly further distance when she realises the car goes somewhere fun, and increase again when improvement is made again.
    3) Ttouch - ear slides can be useful for calming anxious dogs, gently hold the ear in between the thumb & forefinger and slide from base to tip in the direction of the ear (e.g. if it's pointy don't pull it down, if it's not pointy don't pull it upwards), again this is good as something to use alongside 1 and/or two.

    I used a combination of all three of these on my most recent car-sick dog, as well as trying different locations in the car; after a few weeks he improved greatly, and while he's still not hugely excited about the car, he can see the benefits of it!

  3. I often have puppy owners who tell me their dogs get sick in the car. Occasionally moving the crate or the position of the dog within the car has helped. Perhaps the position of the dog within the car is important. I have spoken to owners who have replaced their vehicle for other reasons and the dog ceased to be sick, therefore some sickness could be motion related.
    If she is able to eat food in the vehicle I would suggest that she is not stressed and it is not stress related.
    Ginger biscuits could help and they are great as a reward for the dog who leaps into the car.
    I have found that small pieces of raw fresh ginger given with half a meal at least 30 minutes before the journey gives the best results. And if you use a car crate, maybe cover it.

  4. Travel sickness is a frustrating problem to have and causes worry for both dog and driver. A psychological fix as an alternative to a pharamaceutical one would be to travel your OES pup frequently on journeys of all durations. Don't just stick to short journeys as these can become predictable. I would also recommend changing the association from travel means feeling sick to travel means something tasty in the boot such as a kong stuffed with tuna ( not in brine) and frozen. Make sure she feels secure and stays in the boot, ideally behind a guard for extra safety. You could also practice feeding her in the boot and playing with her round the car. This ensures the anxiety does not begin with the sight of the car as so often is the case. Amy Hatcher, Behaviourist, Sussex.

  5. Hi

    You don't mention in your post where your dog sits in the car when you travel?

    I notice that 'Tony Cruse' mentions moving the position of the dog in the car, which was my immediate response to your problem.

    My oldest dog was always getting sick in the car... even when he wasn't fed before a journey. He used to spend most of these journeys sat up (in a harness) on the front seat. I have found since that by providing him with a dog bed on the back seat (or now in the boot... we have a Land Rover for our 3 dogs!) he tends to curl up and sleep and doesn't have any sickness problems anymore!

    Not sure whether you'll get any joy with this information, but it is worth a try eh?