How to Prevent Car Sickness

posted: 05/15/12
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How to Prevent Car Sickness in Small Dogs
Anne-Marie Weber/Corbis |

"There was some genuine worry about my traveling alone ...For this reason I took one companion on my journey -- an old French gentleman poodle known as Charley."

-- John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

If the idea of jumping into a car with your dog as co-pilot makes your heart skip, but your traveling companion turn green, you're not alone. Although extensive studies have not been conducted to find out how many dogs suffer from car or motion sickness, veterinarian Patty Khuly estimates from her experience that "up to 50 percent of dogs suffer from motion sickness one or more times in their lives."

All dog breeds and sizes are equally predisposed to motion sickness, but puppies seem to be more susceptible. Because the inner workings of a puppy's ears, where balance is regulated, are still underdeveloped, dogs commonly go through a period when cars are not their favorite form of locomotion. With time, many puppies grow into fine traveling companions.

But some dogs don't outgrow the dreaded queezies. In cases like these, you need to know the symptoms of car sickness so that other causes of an upset stomach, such as stress, fear or food poisoning, can be ruled out. To identify motion sickness, look for these signs:

- Drooling

- Agitation

- Listlessness

- Yawning

- Whining - Vomiting One of the most important rules to remember when flying with your small pooch is that you won't be able to take him outside once you pass through security. That's why it's essential that your pup does his "business" before the flight. The best approach is to cut off his food and water about two hours before heading to the airport. Once you're there, be sure to take your dog out to the pet relief area -- most airports will have one -- before going through the security checkpoint. Follow these simple rules, and it'll be a bon voyage for you and your best furry friend.

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Preventing Car Sickness
Anne-Marie Weber/Corbis |

After a few bad experiences, your pet may associate that metal box on wheels with a stomach doing flip-flops. Sitting with your dog in a car that isn't moving, or taking short rides should break the mind-body connection. Be sure to take your dog to fun places -- like the park -- and not just to the vet or the groomer. Imagine how you would feel if a ride in a car always meant a visit to the dentist!

If after a number of practice runs, your dog doesn't become acclimated, try having her sit or lay in different areas of the car. Most dogs, like people, prefer to see where they're going so facing forward is a good place to start. Small dogs have the advantage since more spots in the automobile can accommodate a dog of diminutive size. However, don't put your pup in the front seat; a deployed airbag can cause severe injury.

Specially designed dog seat belts can help keep your dog looking straight ahead instead of out the side or back windows. To make sure your small dog is able to see out the window purchase an elevated dog booster seat. This may help him to enjoy his ride more. Some dogs feel more secure and comfortable in a crate, so confinement may be another option.

If Spot is still not loving his outings, try these suggestions:

- Less Food: Some dogs are more comfortable on an empty stomach while others prefer a small meal before the big ride. Experiment with the timing and amount of food. Your dog will let you know if he prefers to travel on empty or with a half-tank.

- More Air: A slightly opened window allows fresh air to circulate which can help control nausea.

- Pit Stops: Dogs, as well as people, need to take breaks on long hauls. With a dog prone to car sickness, it's a good idea to make stops more frequently, giving your pet time to relax and stretch his legs on a steady surface.

- Medication: Although some over-the-counter medications can be given to dogs to relieve the symptoms of motion sickness, it's best to speak with your vet before administering. Directions on the packages of these drugs may not be specific enough to guarantee the safety of your small dog. Prescription drugs are also available.

All dogs are unique so by learning the particular signs which tell you something's wrong -- a strangely cocked ear or an unusual look in the eyes -- you'll also know when you've found the right solution. With time and patience there's a good chance you and your dog will be traveling the open road, just like John Steinbeck and his gentleman friend, Charley.

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