What is car sickness in cats and dogs?
"In both species, car sickness is characterized by varying degrees of nausea," says Dr. Doug Roberts, president of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and a companion animal vet based in Kernville, N.S. "This may include frequent swallowing motions, excessive drooling, heaving and, of course, vomiting."
Roberts believes car sickness is more common in dogs than cats. Some cats, however, have their own transportation dramas: "Cats may urinate or defecate in their crate during a car ride," says Roberts, noting, "this may be due to fear more than car sickness."
Reducing car sickness
Many puppies naturally grow out of car sickness, says Steve McCrossan, owner of HoundHouse Country Boarding Kennel in Hillsburgh, Ont. "Your puppy may start out by getting car sick but be fine in the car by seven or eight months of age," he says, so don't be too worried – your young dog may yet grow out of car sickness.
Over time, there's a good chance you can reduce or do away with even an older dog's car sickness.
You can help your dog by showing him that riding in the car isn't such a big deal. "Take your dog on frequent short car rides to get him accustomed to it," says Roberts. "These drives should initially be quite short so the dog doesn’t become car sick before the ride is finished."
Make the experience pleasant, says McCrossan. "When you first bring the dog to the car, sit with him in the back seat and brush him, so he makes positive associations with being in the car."
Easing car sickness in dogs and cats
If your pet is car sick, chances are you’ll be in for a distracting and possibly messy ride. But there are ways you can make it easier, for either Fido or Mittens – as well as human passengers sharing the car. Here are 6 tips to help you ease car sickness.
1. Use a crate
Many dogs are comfortable in their familiar crate, and frightened cats will also feel more secure enclosed in a carrier. Dogs and cats alike may be less likely to vomit in a confined space, says Roberts. Also, if Rover's going to be sick, it may as well be in an easy-to-clean crate, not on your plush car seats. Another benefit of crates and carriers is they enhance safety, and once your pup's comfortable outside a crate, he can always graduate to wearing a doggy seat belt.
2. Plan his last pre-car meal
"Vomiting, or at least a large volume of vomit, may be diminished by not feeding your pet for a few hours before a planned car ride," advises Roberts. Be sure, however, to keep water on hand for rehydrating at rest stops or after playtime.
3. Medicate on longer trips
See your vet if you’re planning a longer road trip. They can provide your pet with medication to safely prevent car sickness.
4. Take frequent rest stops
Sometimes, all you can really do to help is to let your pal get some fresh air. Once a dog becomes car sick, "there's very little one can do to relieve their nausea, except to stop the car and let them out for a short walk a safe distance away from the road and traffic," says Roberts. The same cannot be said for cats, who may get even more upset if you take their carrier out of the car. If your cat is leash-trained and fearless – paging all Siamese cats! – feel free to take him on a leashed walkabout.
5. Try massaging his face
If it's safe (i.e., your dog is either wearing a doggie seat belt or you can reach his face through the crate, or if your cat is near the opening of his carrier), massage your pet’s face, advises McCrossan. "Cats especially like being massaged on the forehead, and cheeks. These areas have scent glands they use to rub against things and mark territory; having them rubbed and feeling like they’re marking territory may comfort them somewhat," he says.
6. Stay calm
On any long ride where your pet seems under the weather, maintain your cool and don't get frazzled. Your calm demeanor will reassure him, even if he's still car sick. And remember to give him a big hug once you're safely arrived at your destination!
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