Travel sickness, or motion sickness, can affect cats and dogs just like humans, and can make journeys unpleasant for pet and owner alike. There are several ways in which you can reduce both the fear and the nausea which some pets associate with travel.
Start when your puppy is very young if at all possible. If your dog is already adult and still suffers from travel sickness, don’t despair. If you follow the same steps you will almost certainly help them, although it may take a little more time and patience.
First of all you need to decide how your dog is going to travel in the car. It is important for their safety and yours that they are restrained in some way. This could be inside a dog crate, behind a secure dog guard, or clipped by a harness to the seat belt. Whichever you choose, the dog should have an area in which they feel secure and comfortable.
Once you have made this choice, it is time to get the puppy used to its travel quarters so that they are not afraid. Start by sitting them in the car, in the place where they will normally travel, for just a few minutes each day without even starting the engine. Sit in the car with them but try not to make too much fuss as this can make them think there is something to fear. It would be OK to give a small tit-bit or have a favourite toy with them.
When they are used to the car, start the engine without changing anything else. It is only when your pup is relaxed about being in the car with the engine running that it is time to start short journeys. To start with, journeys should only be a few minutes long, say just around the block. It is always best for your pup to travel with an empty tummy as this will reduce the chance of sickness.
As you gradually increase the length of journeys, try to make the destination a pleasant one like a favourite walking place, and try to go regularly. If the only car journeys made are holidays or trips to the vets, when there is a lot of excitement or apprehension amongst the human family, then the dog will be more fearful. If the people can be calm and relaxed, the pup has a better chance of taking travel in its stride.
Travelling on main roads, which tend to be straight, rather than winding back roads, can reduce travel sickness in pets, just as in people. Keeping the inside of the car at a comfortable temperature (not too warm) and ventilating well with fresh air can also help.
You can also use a special collar which releases pheromones, which can help to relax your dog. Pheromones are a chemical released by lactating bitches which induce a feeling of safety and re-assurance in their puppies. A synthetic version of pheromones is available in several forms, the collar being particularly useful for travel when dogs are afraid of the car.
There is a drug available from your vet in tablet form which can reduce nausea and sickness, so if other methods have failed or if you have to make an unusually long journey, have a chat with your vet or vet nurse in plenty of time. Other drugs can be used to calm anxiety and fear.
Sedatives would be considered as a last resort if all else had failed, and only for occasional use. It is important to discuss this with your vet in plenty of time too, because these drugs are prescription only medicines, not available to buy “over the counter”. This means that your vet must by law be satisfied that your dog is healthy and has no conditions which might make sedation inadvisable. For example, if your dog had epilepsy, this would affect the choice of drug used. If your dog had not been seen by the vet for some time, they may need an examination first. If a pet is to be sedated for travel, they should never be left unattended in the vehicle. They are unable to regulate their body temperature as normal, so could become dangerously cold or hot with little outward sign of distress. In fact, it is best not to leave any pet unattended in a vehicle, whether sedated or not.
Cats tend to travel less frequently than dogs because they do not usually go for exercise by car, but they are just as likely to suffer from travel sickness. This causes drooling, nausea and sickness, and if frightened or distressed they also frequently urinate or defaecate. If you do intend to travel frequently with your cat then it is well worth acclimatising them to it gradually, as for dogs.
Like dogs, it is important for safety reasons that cats are restrained, usually in a secure cat carrier. A loose cat could easily get under the pedals with disastrous consequences. Some cats seem happier in a basket where they can see out easily, and others prefer a very enclosed basket, or a blanket draped over it.Travelling with an empty stomach should help, so offer your cat a small meal several hours before travelling.
A journey can be made less stressful for your cat by using a synthetic pheromone spray in the basket and inside the car. Like the dog version, this helps to relax and re-assure the cat. Your veterinary surgery will be able to give advice about its use.
Drugs for calming cats or reducing sickness or for sedation are available for cats too, and it is a good idea to discuss these with your vet well in advance of any planned long journey if you think your cat will need them.