By Don Hanson, ACCBC, BFRAP, CDBC, CPDT-KA
A dog may suddenly refuse to get in the car for several reasons. The vehicle may have become a predictor of something unpleasant such as a trip to the veterinarian. Or perhaps the dog was in the car during a traumatic event such as a crash or a thunderstorm. If the dog was injured getting in or out of a vehicle, it might also become anxious about the car. Nausea due to motion sickness is one of the biggest reasons dogs learn to dislike traveling. This may be due to unfamiliarity with traveling inside a vehicle or a medical condition such as an inner-ear problem. However, anything that causes physical or emotional pain or discomfort will be remembered and is unlikely to resolve on its own.
Two of my nine dogs went through periods of being uncomfortable in the car. When Tikken was a puppy, I started taking her on frequent short trips to acclimate her to travel. She was transported in a crate to keep her safe. These included a weekly trip to her vet for what I called a "happy visit," where we walked in, I gave her a few treats, and then we left. One day I took her out of the crate, and I noticed she had drooled so much that her chest was soaked. The next time I tried to get her in the car, she sat down 20 feet away and refused to get any closer. The excessive drooling was a sign of nausea, and Tikken made it clear she did not want to feel nauseous again. I helped Tikken learn that the car was safe by stopping all travel until I successfully desensitized and counter conditioned her to like the car. A couple of months later, we took a 10-hour trip without incident.
My second dog to have issues in the car is my current dog, Muppy. The day we drove home with her, for three-plus hours, was without incident. However, soon after, she would occasionally vomit in the car. Muppy never became hesitant about getting in the vehicle, but the enormous amounts of vomit motivated me to get her feeling comfortable. I was able to do so with some anti-nausea products, but due to the unpredictability of her getting sick, it took a couple of years.
If your dog is experiencing excessive drooling, vomiting, or diarrhea, specific to being in a moving vehicle, make an appointment with your veterinarian so that the veterinarian can rule out any medical causes and prescribe any necessary medications.
How to tell if your dog is uncomfortable in the car
• Your dog is exhibiting signs of stress and discomfort in or around the vehicle (FMI – http://bit.ly/DogsSignsofFear)
• Your dog refuses to get in the car. Making it do so will only make it more fearful of the car and you. It is not a solution.
• Your dog is smacking or licking its lips or drooling excessively.
• Your dog is vomiting or has diarrhea when in the car.
Things that may help alleviate nausea and anxiety
• Limit trips to only those that are necessary until the issue is resolved.
• Withhold food and treats at least 12-hours before necessary travel
• Treat the nausea and anxiety.
- Over the counter treatments (No Prescription Required)
- Ginger helps relieve nausea. The easiest way to see if it helps your dog is to get some gingersnap cookies. Just make sure they contain real ginger and do not contain xylitol.
- CBD can relieve both anxiety and, in some cases, nausea. It is one of the things I use with Muppy. Just be careful as there is a wide range of CBD products, and not all of them are good. (FMI – http://bit.ly/BLOG- Hemp-CBD-PRO-for-pets)
- Adaptil – This is a pheromone that can help alleviate anxiety. It is available as a spray and a collar.
- Lavender Essential Oil – Lavender can have a calmative effect, but just as with CBD, there are many Lavender products, and they are not all of the same grade and quality.
- Bach Rescue Remedy – Rescue Remedy® is a combination flower remedy formula explicitly created for addressing stress in emergency or crisis situations. I have used it for over 20 years in a wide variety of applications. (FMI – http://bit.ly/Bach-RescueRemedy)
- Homeopathic Remedies – While many homeopathic medications do not require a prescription, I recommend that you work with a Homeopathic Veterinarian if you are not knowledgeable in this area. Some remedies can be beneficial in treating nausea and motion sickness. One was very helpful with Muppy. Dr. Herman, who also writes a column for Downeast Dogs News, is very knowledgeable in this area.
- Prescription medications – (Must be prescribed by a veterinarian). Treating nausea only may be enough, but symptoms of nausea may predict anxiety, so an anti-anxiety medication may also be in order.
- for nausea - Cerenia®, Antivert®, and Bonine®
- for anxiety - Alprazolam (Xanax®), trazodone (Desyrel®)
• Behavior Modification – A desensitization and counterconditioning protocol may be helpful or even necessary to get the dog to tolerate or enjoy the car after a bad experience. A credentialed dog behavior consultant or Veterinary Behaviorist such as DEDN columnist Dr. Christine Calder can help. (FMI – http://bit.ly/WWM-Trainer-Behaviorist)
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com ) in Bangor, Maine, where he has been helping people with their pets since 1995. He is also the founder of ForceFreePets.com, an online educational resource for people with dogs and cats. Don is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC), and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), where he serves on the Board of Directors and Steering Committee and chairs the Advocacy Committee and The Shock-Free Coalition (shockfree.org ). Don produces and co-hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show, that airs on Z62 Retro Radio WZON (AM620) and WKIT 103.3-HD3 and is streamed at http://bit.ly/AM620-WZON every Saturday at 9 AM. Podcasts of the show are available at http://bit.ly/WfMwPodcasts/, the Apple Podcast app, and Don's blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com. The opinions in this article are those of Don Hanson
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