Oakville Veterinary Surgery, Station Road, Lawley Bank, Telford TF4 2LP

Going away? Learn how to manage pet travel sickness!

Going away? Learn how to manage pet travel sickness!

The Great Getaway is nearly upon us… How many of you are planning to join the exodus, trekking across the country to the beach, or to visit far-flung friends and family? However, many people find this not a relaxing or exciting journey, but an annual purgatory – as their pets find travelling so distressing they must either be left behind, or preclude any long-distance holidaying.

Travel Sickness in pets is really common – but it’s also really badly misunderstood. In this blog, we’re going to look at the condition, its causes (which aren’t as simple as most people think!) and the treatment options our vets can offer.

What is Travel Sickness?

Most people would answer that this is a ridiculous question – a dog or cat has travel sickness if they become distressed, drool and vomit when travelling, because the movement of the car makes them feel nauseous. However, it isn’t that simple.

There are actually two separate components to the problem.

Firstly, there is indeed some true motion sickness – however, this is relatively rare in adult dogs and cats.

Far more common is what is sometimes called “Car Ride Anxiety”, or “Travel Anxiety”. Anxiety alone can trigger nausea, drooling and vomiting, and we now think this is far more common that true motion sickness! Other symptoms include pacing, restlessness or hyperactivity (which sometimes people mistake for excitement), vocalising (whining or growling in dogs, hissing or meowing in cats), or sometimes freezing (especially cats in carriers). If this sounds like your dog or cat before or during a car journey, you may have a bigger problem than simple motion-induced nausea!

What causes it?

Well, there are some dogs and cats with particularly weak stomachs. However, they usually grow out of it by the time they reach adulthood. In most cases, Travel Anxiety is the issue, and may be due to one of three factors:

  • Previous nasty experiences – for example, being taken on a long ride to an unpleasant destination, people mistakenly disciplining them for showing signs of anxiety, or a remembered car accident.
  • Inexperience – for example, the puppy or kitten was sick when they travelled, so the owners didn’t take them anywhere. As a result, they never learned to deal with the movement, and it becomes increasingly worrying to them on the infrequent occasions that they do have to travel.
  • Another, underlying behavioural problem (e.g. Separation Anxiety).

OK, but what can be done about it now?

Let’s deal with the two problems separately (although of course, a dog or cat may suffer from both simultaneously):

  • True motion sickness in adults
    • This may be caused by an underlying medical problem, so make sure your pet is carefully checked out by one of our vets to ensure there aren’t any issues to resolve.
    • In many cases, regular short car journeys will accustom them the unusual movement, and allow them to find their “car legs”. It is essential that the person driving does so slowly and smoothly, without sudden braking or accelerating, or sharp corners!
    • If this is insufficient, there are now some very potent anti-sickness tablets based on the drug maropitant available – we can prescribe them if necessary. NEVER, however, give human travel-sickness medicine to your dog unless prescribed by one of our vets!
  • Travel Anxiety
    • The key feature is to reduce stress. This can commonly be done through simple behavioural methods, such as:
      • Avoid scolding your pet if they appear anxious or hyperactive.
      • Consider their viewpoint – a cat in a carrier can’t see what’s going on around them unless the door is pointing the right way!
      • Make sure they are well secured and unlikely to slip or fall – a dog seatbelt, for example, or a grippy lining to the cat’s carrier. However, bear in mind some dogs find it more stressful to be restrained away from their owner, so you may need to compromise for your pet’s specific needs…
    • More sophisticated behavioural modification methods exist too, and many can be modified to help in this situation – for example:
      • Regular, short journeys with a nice surprise at the end (e.g. a walk for a dog).
      • Counterconditioning, making the journey pleasant – typically by offering treats, fuss, or other rewards during the trip.
      • Resolve and/or manage any other behavioural issues; this may require seeing a registered pet behaviourist (our vets can recommend one if needed).
    • Pheromone products are invaluable for Travel Anxiety – we strongly recommend Adaptil for dogs (a collar is ideal) and Feliway for cats (a spray inside their carrier).
    • More potent anti-anxiety medications such as alprazolam are available on prescription from our vets, but these are best kept in reserve as they have a lot of side effects if used too regularly.

If your pet suffers from Travel Sickness, make an appointment to see one of our vets – there’s a lot we can do to help if we work together!