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treating motion sickness dogs cats

Treating Motion Sickness in Cats and Dogs

Just like humans, cats and dogs can get car sick. This can result in pets vomiting, feeling uncomfortable or becoming stressed. Although owners may feel they should avoid travel with motion sick pets, there are actually a number of effective ways to prevent motion sickness.

Motion sickness can be quite common, with 1 in 6 dogs suffering from motion sickness. 1 It can be linked to a secondary fear of cars or travel in some instances, especially if one of the main reasons for travelling is to take your pet to the vets!

Why Do Cats and Dogs get Motion Sickness?

Motion sickness occurs when visual input doesn’t correspond with movement and spatial orientation. In puppies or kittens, the system responsible for maintaining the sense of balance is not fully developed, this can increase their susceptibility to motion sickness at a young age. The problem can also continue in to adulthood if not dealt with at a young age.

Motion sickness can also be a behavioural issue. A dog or cat may become fearful of car travel at a young age, simply because travelling when young caused them discomfort. If this is the case, training and the management of their stress and anxiety whilst travelling can be a big help.

Symptoms Associated with Motion Sickness

If you’ve ever experienced motion sickness yourself, you’ll know that it usually begins with a feeling of uncomfortableness or uneasiness. This is also true in dogs and cats. In fact, some pets that get motion sickness will not vomit whilst travelling, they will perhaps display some of the other symptoms listed below:

  • Lip licking
  • Excessive drooling
  • Yawning or panting
  • Whining or vocalisation
  • Immobility
  • Vomiting
  • Urination or defecation – Usually limited to overly anxious or stressed animals
  • Secondary fear of cars – A behavioural issue where the dog or cat is afraid to enter the car as they associate it with the feeling of sickness

Treatment and Management of Canine and Feline Motion Sickness

There are two main ways to approach the treatment of motion sickness; through medication or behavioural/management techniques.

Medical Treatment for Canine and Feline Motion Sickness

What medicine you vet recommends will depend on the severity of your pet’s motion sickness. There are a few ‘over the counter’ options that don’t need a prescription, which are listed below:

  • Pheromones – Feliway for cats and Adaptil for dogs are examples of pheromones that can help calm your pet. Available impregnated in a collar or as a spray, these pheromones can help induce a feeling of well-being that can relax your pet by inducing a feeling of safety and reassurance.
  • Calming Supplements – Giving calming supplements such as Calmex or Zyklene can help reduce anxiety and stress. As with Adaptil, this can prevent additional stress from causing their travel sickness to become worse.
  • Maropitant Citrate (Cerenia®) – Maropitant citrate is a strong anti-emetic (nausea preventing). It has been shown to be highly effective in the reduction of motion sickness in cats 2 and dogs. When given 2 hours before travel, Maropitant Citrate will prevent motion sickness related vomited in the majority of cases for up to 24 hours after administration.
  • Ginger – Although not as potent as maropitant and similar anti-emetics, ginger extract has been shown to have some protective properties when it comes to stopping travel induced nausea. 3

In the more severe cases, however, your vet may recommend a prescription sedative. Treatment with sedatives should be limited for essential travel. If you think that your pet is going to need sedatives for travel, you will need to visit your vet in good time, to ensure that you have the medication before your journey. Your vet will only prescribe a sedative if they are happy your pet is in good health, as sedatives can be quite taxing on them! You should not leave your pet unattended whilst they are under the effect of their treatment.

Behaviour and Management Techniques for Dealing with Motion Sickness

Motion sickness can be quite common in puppies (or kittens) as the part of the brain that controls motion awareness still needs a little more time to mature. Once fully developed however, many puppies and kittens will ‘grown out’ of their motion sickness.

If motion sickness remains with your pet in to adulthood, you might be able to use some behavioural training to get them to realise travelling in a car isn’t all that bad! Try taking short car journeys with your pet and giving them positive reinforcement during and after the trip. Over time, you will be able to build up the length of those journeys until the motion sickness is no more! If you dog or cat is extremely nervous of travelling, try sitting with them in the car with the engine off.

If you only travel with your dog to see the vet, try taking them to a place that they’ll enjoy in the car. Taking your dog to the park in the car will associate positive emotions with car travel that can, in turn, help reduce motion sickness.

Other techniques that can help reduce your dog or cat’s motion sickness include:

  • Make them feel secure – Crates and carriers can help your pet feel more secure whilst travelling, they may also be less likely to vomit in a confined space. Dogs may also benefit from travelling with special secure canine seatbelts that allow them to face forwards whist moving. Just be sure to disable passenger airbags if they are travelling in the front passenger seat.
  • Lower the windows – Lowering the windows an inch or two will equalise the pressure inside the car and will also cool the car down. Both of these can help relieve nausea.
  • Keep them entertained – Giving your pet a treat or a toy can improve their travelling experience and keep them distracted whilst on the move.
  • Strategically plan your pet’s meals – Travelling on a full stomach can make things a lot worse for motion sickness sufferers. Cutting out food before travel can greatly reduce the amount of vomit that might come up! Water should still be provided as needed.
  • Take a break – Motion sick dogs can experience some relief from their travel sickness if you take a break. Getting out of the car and some fresh air can alleviate nausea and give your dog an opportunity to calm down.

Leave Your Tips and Tricks in the Comments Section

Treating motion sickness isn’t a science, and different things work for different animals. Whilst some animals might respond really well to one thing, it may not be as effective for others.

If your pet gets travel sickness, let us know what you do to help them cope in the comments sections below – whether it’s a type of medication or an unusual distraction that you give them to take their mind of things, we’d like to hear!

Image Credit: Julie Falk

About James Watts

BSc Bioveterinary Science. Editor of PetSci. When I'm not writing, learning, discussing, or reading about animals, you know it's the weekend! Currently developing PetSci HealthTrak, the fast and easy way to monitor your pet's weight and calorie intake. HealthTrak offers a simple way to track your pet's progress, helping them achieve a healthy weight and a long, happy life.

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One comment

  1. My kitten used to get awful car sickness – foaming at the mouth, vomiting, wide eyes, you name it, my cat got it!

    Feliway was a great help, we used to spray his basket the night before and let him sleep in it over night. On the day of travel we sprayed the basket again and he slept most of the journey.

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