Dogs are excellent companions, and they aren't just good roommates. They're also great travel buddies—or at least most dogs are. If your dog suffers from motion sickness, the anxiety, vomiting, dry heaving, and other symptoms might make both of you miserable on even the shortest car trips. Fortunately, many cases of dog car sickness can be treated easily the same way the condition is treated in humans—with a little Dramamine.
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Motion sickness in dogs
While many people assume that all dogs love car rides, the reality is that motion sickness is actually a common problem in dogs. It is particularly common for young dogs to suffer from the condition, but the good news is that most puppies will outgrow their motion sickness by the time they're one year old. Vets believe this may be because the parts of the inner ear that affect balance don't fully develop until a dog is full grown.
Adult dogs may suffer from motion sickness for a number of different reasons. The most common reason is simply that the dog is unfamiliar with riding in a car, or he is overwhelmed by the many stimuli he encounters in the car, such as strange smells from the air conditioner, other animals he sees out the window, unknown sounds from different areas, etc. If your dog only travels a few times a year or less often, he might suffer from anxiety and stress that can cause vomiting or diarrhea.
Other reasons your dog may suffer from motion sickness include:
- Having a traumatic experience in the car at some point in his
life that made him fearful of traveling in vehicles
- Taking medications that cause nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- Suffering from medical conditions that predispose him to nausea or motion sickness, such as ear infections or other ear problems
Dog car sickness symptoms
When a human starts to feel sick in the car, he'll usually tell you, but even if he doesn't, you'll likely notice that he is looking pale or turning green when his stomach starts to turn. Unfortunately, your dog can't tell you if she feels nauseated, and you can't see if her skin starts to change colors. Instead, look for these symptoms to determine if your dog is suffering from motion sickness:
- Excessive licking
- Excessive yawning
- Fear of vehicles, particularly getting into a car
- Heavy drooling
- Inactivity or lethargy
- Nausea or dry heaving
- Nervous pacing
- Trembling, anxiety or fear
- Rapid breathing
Dramamine for dogs
You can help treat motion sickness by giving your dog Dramamine half an hour to an hour before getting in the car. Dramamine is an antihistimine usually used by humans to treat motion sickness, but it can be safely administered to dogs for the same purpose. It is important to recognize that using Dramamine for dogs is only helpful if your dog actually suffers from motion sickness and not anxiety, although it can help prevent nausea in anxious dogs, and its sedative effects may help reduce some level of car-related anxiety.
There are actually several different types of Dramamine, including the original formula; chewable tablets; the children's formula; the All Day, Less Drowsy formula; and the Non-Drowsy Naturals tablets. These all contain dimenhydrinate, which is a combination of diphenhydramine (the active ingredient in Benadryl, which is also commonly used with dogs) and chlorotheophylline, which helps stop drowsiness.
The All Day, Less Drowsy formula contains meclizine as well, while the Non-Drowsy Naturals tablet contains ginger. Using both meclizine and dimenhydrinate for dogs is safe, but do not give dogs the Non-Drowsy Naturals tablets, as these contain too much ginger to be safe for dogs.
Dramamine dosage for dogs
It is advisable to talk to your vet before administering any medication to dogs, but generally speaking, vets will prescribe Dramamine at a strength of around 2 mg per pound to be given no more than three times a day. In other words, if your dog weighs 20 pounds, you can give him 40 mg of Dramamine every eight hours. You can also find dosage calculators online if you prefer not to do the math yourself. If you're not 100 percent sure about your dog's weight, err on the side of safety and underestimate his weight so you give him less medication rather than too much.
Side effects will become less frequent with repeated use, but the traditional formulation commonly results in sedation, dry mouth, and urine retention. Uncommon side effects include diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss. Sedation is also a common side effect associated with meclizine, but less-common side effects can include rapid heart rate, dry eyes, and hyperactivity. When using the All Day, Less Drowsy formula or other Dramamine with meclizine, dog dosage should be limited to no more than 25 mg at a time, and you should administer only one dose per day.
It is particularly important to talk to your vet before giving your dog Dramamine if she suffers from certain conditions. Do not give your dog Dramamine without first speaking to your vet if she is pregnant or nursing or if she has:
- Bladder neck obstruction
- Enlarged prostate
- Gastric outflow obstruction
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Narrow-angle glaucoma
- Seizure disorders
Stopping dog car sickness
Medication isn't the only way or even the best way to approach most cases of car sickness in dogs. If your dog suffers from anxiety related to car rides, you may need to help desensitize him by taking him on short car rides until he feels more comfortable and can accompany you on more lengthy trips.
If he is particularly anxious, you may even need to put him in the car without turning it on a few times to get him familiar with the vehicle, and then you can get him used to sitting in an unmoving car that is left running. Be sure to give your pup lots of healthy treats and praise to help him develop a positive association with the car. If at any point your dog seems anxious or nervous, stop driving as soon as possible and start the training process again later.
Other ways to help reduce nausea
Whether your dog has a medical condition or anxiety, withholding food for 12 hours before taking a long car ride can help reduce nausea. Provide your dog with plenty of water, even in the car if possible, because this can help settle the stomach in some cases. If you think your dog is going to be sick while on a car ride, stop the car and take your pet for a walk to help relieve her stress and nausea. Keep the car relaxingly cool and quiet by playing soft, calming music and running the air conditioner.
You can also help reduce anxiety by bringing a T-shirt or blanket with your scent in the car with your dog. You can also help make car rides a happy experience by giving your nervous dog a special toy that she can only play with while in the vehicle. Keep anxious dogs in a car carrier or safety harness in the car to help prevent them from hurting themselves.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.