Goals of Treating Motion Sickness
Successful resolution of motion sickness often requires a combination of pre-travel conditioning and administration of medication. Each dog is unique, and its primary care veterinarian is the best person to assess which of the possible strategies will be best. There may be underlying medical conditions that contribute to a dog’s discomfort during travel or that might affect the choice of medication. When an owner suspects that her dog is having motion sickness, she should discuss the situation with her veterinarian. There are a number of preventative measures that can help to reduce the incidence of motion sickness. However, some of our canine companions just weren’t meant to travel, and no matter how hard we try to prevent it they may still experience motion sickness. In those cases, the condition usually needs to be managed through medication.
The best way to “treat” motion sickness is to prevent motion sickness from happening in the first place. A number of conditioning techniques have been used to desensitize dogs to traveling and to make them calmer and more relaxed overall.
The most effective medications to treat motion sickness in dogs are antihistamines and anti-nausea drugs. Antihistamines are most effective where the motion sickness seems to be caused by extreme anxiety and/or fear of travel; these drugs usually calm the dog, reduce anxiety, promote tranquility and provide mild sedation. They also can reduce excessive drooling. Antihistamines are short-acting and have limited side effects.
Anti-nausea medications, especially those which contain phenothiazine, are most effective where the dog develops motion sickness as a result of the physical motion itself. Many of these dogs love to travel, but they just cannot “stomach” the motion of the vehicle. Phenothiazine derivatives provide sedation and reduce or prevent nausea and vomiting. These drugs are longer lasting than antihistamines, but they can cause more side effects, such as confusion and possibly aggression. Stronger sedative drugs, such as phenobarbital or valium, are generally reserved for severe cases of motion sickness in dogs traveling for extended periods of time. These are not used frequently to treat motion sickness in dogs. Each of these medications can have side effects, and they will only last for a certain period of time. Owners will need to talk to their veterinarian about what protocol would best for their dog given their particular travel circumstances.
The prognosis for dogs with motion sickness is excellent. Most dogs that experience motion sickness naturally acclimate to travel within a short period of time, especially if they are conditioned to it slowly but regularly. Most dogs adore going on car rides with their owners, once the initial “jitters” about travel are resolved and they begin to associate travel with pleasure. The prognosis is also very good in those uncommon cases where dogs do not adjust to travel naturally, because there are a number of medical and non-medical techniques that have an excellent track record for managing this condition.