Q: We recently took our new Shih Tzu pup on her first car ride to the vet. Almost instantly she started drooling and retching. In the end there was upchucked puppy kibble all over my back seat. It’s disgusting, hard to clean and extremely inconvenient, as you can imagine. Is this going to happen every time she rides in the car?
A: It might … but it probably won’t. Most pups “grow out” of this. The inconvenient neurochemical dynamics of canine motion sickness seem to even out either with age or with practice. In other words, the more car rides she experiences, the less likely she is to suffer motion sickness.
At this point, you may be interested in a little information about nausea itself:
The science of nausea isn’t well-understood. It’s a highly subjective experience humans describe as encompassing both physical and psychological discomfort, a sensation that’s widely considered more uncomfortable than the act of vomiting itself.
Motion sickness is a subset of nausea. It happens when the balance (aka vestibular) system sends a withering volley of negative reports to her brain’s nausea center (aka chemoreceptor trigger zone), leading to the expulsion of even more chemicals that a) make her feel yucky and b) stimulate the stomach to contract and spew out its contents.
As a pup’s vestibular system develops, we believe it equilibrates in a way, interpreting the motion sensation as a normal event. Some dogs’ vestibular apparatuses, however, won’t do this effectively. These dogs may always feel nauseous on car rides. Or perhaps only on long rides or winding roads. Or when anxiety exacerbates the condition.
Thankfully, dogs sensitive to motion sickness don’t have to suffer — nor do their owners. Medications are now readily available to help manage motion sickness.
Ondansetron (Zofran) and maropitant (Cerenia) are the best-known drugs for treating nausea and preventing motion sickness in veterinary medicine.
Cerenia, in particular, is approved for car rides and other motion sickness-inducing events. Talk to your vet about this if you’re planning long, winding road trip or if your pup’s motion sickness persists.
The pharmacological option is great for treating the nausea itself, but what if your pup’s nausea is primarily the result of anxiety? If the nausea doesn’t abate after a few car rides or if it’s clear that she gets stressed during car rides, consider asking your veterinarian or trainer for help with car training for anxiety reduction.