For some pets, riding in a car is a dream come true, but for others, it is an anxiety-filled nightmare that can often lead to motion sickness (and a messy vehicle).

Any combination of excessive drooling, yawning, whining, restlessness, vomiting/dry heaving and defecating may be seen when a pet feels sick in the car.

What causes motion sickness in pets?

Motion sickness comes from an overstimulation of the part of the ears that maintain balance and equilibrium. Aside from being a perfect mechanical miracle that transfer sound waves to our brain, the inner ears contain an apparatus called the semi-circular canals. These 3 fluid-filled canals are positioned vertically and horizontally, and the fluid acts much like the fluid does in a level—it tells the brain about the body’s position in space.

When a body is in motion, but not moving, such as in a car, boat or plane, conflicting signals reach the brain and cause trouble in the part of the brain that controls vomiting. Motion sickness doesn’t always have to include vomiting. Whining, nervousness and drooling indicate that your pet is uncomfortable on your joy ride.

Because the inner ears of young animals are still developing (as is the rest of their body and mind), they are particularly apt to experience motion sickness. But the good news is that many young pets will outgrow motion sickness as they grow.

One caveat, though: if your young pet’s first few car rides are fraught with misery, anxiety associated with these rides can continue throughout their lives. Sometimes getting sick in the car isn’t due to motion sickness—it’s due to anxiety. So, the more you can do to make car rides fun, the better.

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6 tips for preventing motion sickness

1. Keep car rides short at first. The more times your pet experiences a car ride that causes no stress, the better.

2. Don’t go to the vet or groomer every time you take your pet somewhere. If you went to the doctor or dentist every time you rode in the car as a child, you’d be anxious in the car, too!

3. Crack a window if you can. Fresh air often helps ease motion sickness

4. Keep your pet facing forwards. You should be using a seat belt, harness, or crate for your pet, anyway. Ensure that your pet is positioned in a forward facing direction to minimize motion sickness.

5. Restrict eating and drinking time. Withhold food and minimize water intake in the couple of hours before your trip.

6. Ask your veterinarian about over the counter or prescription medications that combat motion sickness. These medications interrupt the signals between the inner ear and the brain to minimize motion sickness.

Jan 20, 2015
Pet Health

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