Fortunately, many puppies outgrow motion sickness as they grow. A part of them though may never come to outgrow it and this can have a strong impact on their future car rides.

Let's face it: nobody likes to travel with a puppy who constantly whines and then manages to vomit all his lunch on a car's pristine fabric seat covers. Even if one feels sorry for these pups, cleaning up vomit every time they are taken in the car and get old. 

Sadly many puppy owners give up car rides after several trials with little or no success, leaving them only for emergency situations such as taking the dog to the vet. This only makes matters worse though. 

Helping your puppy successfully overcome motion sickness will require a multi-modal approach. Let's discover what causes motion sickness in puppies, at what age they are expected to outgrow it, and most of all, how they can be helped out. 

Motion Sickness in Puppies 

According to the Travel Information Association of America, dogs are the most common pets to be taken on a trip (78 percent). With so many dogs traveling, many of them are quite miserable due to motion sickness. 

The statistics prove this. A survey by Pfizer Animal Health in  2006, revealed that, about 7.2 million dogs suffered from motion sickness, but only 25 percent received veterinary treatment for the condition. 

More recent research conducted by Conder GA et al. in 2008 found that as many as 1 in 5 dogs suffered from canine motion sickness. 

Motion sickness is particularly prevalent among puppies and the same phenomenon occurs in human children. The reason it's more common in puppies is likely because the parts of their inner ear responsible for balance isn't fully developed.

Most puppies outgrow car sickness by the time they are 1 year old. 

Most puppies outgrow car sickness by the time they are 1 year old. 

A Lesson in Anatomy 

Your puppy's sense of balance takes place courtesy of a complex orchestration of variety of parts of his nervous system. Let's take a brief look at these parts. 

  • Your puppy's inner ears (also known as the labyrinth), are responsible for detecting the directions of motion.
  • Your puppy's eyes are responsible for monitoring where his body is in space and the directions of motion.
  • Your puppy's skin pressure receptors are responsible for detecting what parts of the body touching the ground.
  • Your puppy's muscle and joint sensory receptors are responsible for detecting which parts of his body are moving.
  • Your puppy's central nervous system ( encompassing the brain and spinal cord) is responsible for processing all the information obtained from the above systems and coordinating it all.

Motion sickness is though to occur as a discrepancy between the signals sent to the brain from areas known for controlling balance and vision such as the inner ear. 

When dogs become motion sick, impulses from the dog's inner ear are believed to travel through the chemoreceptor trigger zone (CRTZ) to the vomiting center. 

In dogs, motion sickness is particularly common because their sense of balance is much more effective than a humans' which makes them more sensitive to the motion of cars.

Signs of Motion Sickness in Puppies 

Puppies who are motion sick will show a variety of signs. You may hear them whining, yawning and panting. They may get restless, pacing around the car, but some may get  inactive. 

They may also drool, lip lick often, and swallow often because prior to vomiting, there  is nausea and an accumulation of saliva. 

As the trip continues and the nausea progresses, next thing you see are several abdominal movements, followed shortly by retching and then finally vomiting. 

One of the tell-tale signs of motion sickness in puppies is that they tend to get better when the car stops. You can take advantage of this, by stopping the car and allowing your pup to breath some fresh air and do a little "decompression" walk before your puppy starts feeling too sick.

When Do Puppies Outgrow Motion Sickness?

Many puppy owners may grow tired of cleaning messes in the car, so they may be eagerly hoping that their pups will outgrow this, but when do puppies outgrow motion sickness? 

A puppy's vestibular system of the inner ear may not fully develop until the pup is 6 or more months of age. 

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According to research on the topic by Pullern , C. M in 1978, most puppies and kittens  are expected to outgrow motion sickness by the time they are 1 year old. By this age, most pets should therefore lose their susceptibility to motion sickness.

However, there are exceptions to this rule. My sister-in-law, for instance, has a beagle who is two and is still vomiting on car rides, especially the longer ones. 

Persistence of motion sickness can be due to a variety of factors such as never getting used to riding in the car and associating the car with the nausea and/or anxiety-triggering events associated with the car  (noises, car movement, hot environment, unpleasant destinations).

The Importance of Habituating Puppies to Travel 

According to research by Mariti et al, the dogs who were accustomed to travel as puppies were statistically less likely to develop car transport problems. 

This emphasizes the importance of helping puppies become accustomed to car transport, by habituating them very gradually to car rides and making it always pleasant experience. 

It can start with just creating positive association nearby the car, playing and feeding the puppy when near by it. Then, he can be taken in the car where he's played with and fed tasty treats. Then, he can be habituated to the noises of the engine. Then, he can be taken on a very brief ride around the block. 

Baby steps are important. They help create positive associations with the car while also helping the pup get used to its movements and sounds. Bringing along familiar dog toys and blankets seems to help. 

Since research has shown that, dogs who were taken on car rides, only to be taken to veterinary clinics, were more likely to respond negatively to car transport, it's therefore important to bring puppies to brief rides to happy places where they have fun.

The Importance of Reducing Car Sickness 

When taking puppies prone to motion sickness on car rides, they may soon become anxious because they come to anticipate and dread the onset of motion sickness. This causes them to eventually end up associating this unpleasant sensation with the car.  

So how can puppies be helped to learn about car rides being happy places, when they are experiencing nausea? Good question!

In this case, in order to teach the puppy how to appreciate car rides, it's important to take preventive steps to avoid them from feeling sick while working on desensitizing them to car rides. Failure to do so can lead to conditioned carsickness even after the pup's inner ear has fully developed.

"No amount of training will convince him he doesn't feel well," points out veterinarian Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman in the book: "The Well-Adjusted Dog, Dr. Dodman's 7 Steps to Lifelong Health and Happiness for Your Best Friend."

To accomplish this, you may therefore find it helpful to avoid feeding your pup for a few hours prior to the trip. Making frequent stops and keeping fresh air in or the A/C on can help too. 

On top of this, prescription medications obtained from your veterinarian can help a whole lot, especially when given early before too strong negative associations are formed with the car. If your puppy feels better, he'll be more likely to feel calm if motion sickness is the culprit. 

A fairly new drug known as Cerenia has been specifically crafted for puppies who get motion sick. It can be used in puppies that are four months or older.  

If there is some element of anxiety, using a DAP spray which consists of a synthetic version of dog appeasing pheromones nursing mother dog produce (spray it in he car and/or on the travel crate) or the use of a DAP collar can turn handy. 

Another option is using a calming homeopathic remedy such as Bach's Rescue Remedy which can used along with DAP. Some dogs even benefit from ginger cookies made specifically for dogs.

"Whatever works best is the way to go—but something must be done to alleviate a dog's distress before attempting desensitization," points out Dr. Dodman. 

Did you know? Any type of disease, trauma, or congenital defects impacting a dog's vestibular system, may cause perpetual issues with a dog's perception of motion, balance, spatial orientation, and equilibrium making it more challenging for affected dogs to accept automobile travel.

References:

  • Mariti, Chiara & Ricci, Enzo & Mengoli, Manuel & Zilocchi, Marcella & Sighieri, Claudio & Gazzano, Angelo. (2012). Survey of travel-related problems in dogs. The Veterinary record. 170. 542. 10.1136/vr.100199. 
  • Pullern , C. M. , Motion sickness in dogs and cats , Panel Report.
  •  Nicholas H. Dodman  "The Well-Adjusted Dog, Dr. Dodman's 7 Steps to Lifelong Health and Happiness for Your Best Friend."
  • Mark Spivak and Comprehensive Pet Therapy, Inc., June 2011, 

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