Just like people, dogs and cats can get motion sickness. We see this from time to time at the hospital, usually evinced by a vomit-covered pet. It’s a frustrating situation for owners and uncomfortable for the pet.
Motion sickness happens when the body’s balance system detects motion but the eyes do not. A classic example is being below deck on a ship. You can feel the waves rocking and rolling, but what you see in your cabin doesn’t reflect that motion. Everything around you is still. For pets, a car ride can create a similar situation. They’re below the window level in the car, but they can detect the motion of the vehicle. It’s a recipe for nausea.
Nausea is one of several reasons we vomit. There’s a specialized area of the brain that controls vomiting. It receives input from many areas in the body: the balance system, the intestines, the gag reflex, emotional status, and chemicals in the bloodstream. Consider the vomiting center as a big lever labeled “Puke” with one guy standing there to pull the lever. He can be told to pull the lever by many things, but the end result is the same.
There are several strategies to reduce car sickness in pets. One of the best is to condition pets to riding in the car. Here’s a link to a great article about conditioning your pet for car rides.
We have some medication options for controlling nausea from motion sickness in pets. One of my favorites is a drug called maropitant. The trade name is Cerenia™. This medication puts the vomit-lever guy on a one-day break. It starts to work within an hour, it’s safe, and it’s highly effective. Some OTC human motion sickness medications work well for pets, too. The dose is NOT the same as it is for people, so please contact your veterinarian for information on how much to give. The downside to the OTC meds is that they can cause sedation.
The take-home message today is this: If you’re avoiding travel with your pets because of car sickness, contact your vet for help and start a training regimen that will help to take the stress out of the trip.