Logo for print

DrBarchas logo

Carsickness in Cats and Dogs

Animals Affected

Cats and dogs.

Overview

Carsickness is a common problem in cats and dogs.  Pets suffering from carsickness show symptoms including salivation, vomiting, and diarrhea.  Two factors play a role in carsickness.  The first is true motion sickness.  The second is anxiety or stress related to being in a car.

Symptoms

  • The hallmark of motion sickness is gastrointestinal upset when traveling in a vehicle. Signs of gastrointestinal upset include excess salivation (drooling), vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Signs of anxiety frequently occur as well.  These include agitation, vocalization, and panting (cats, dogs).  Pets who suffer from carsickness often resist entering vehicles.

Risk Factors and Prevention

  • Pets with limited life experience are more likely to experience carsickness. Puppies suffer higher rates of carsickness than dogs.  Isolated, indoor cats are more likely to become carsick than cats who travel regularly.
  • Nervous individuals suffer relatively high rates of carsickness.

Complications

  • Nausea and anxiety are very unpleasant for pets. Therefore, carsickness interferes with quality of life.
  • Pets suffering from carsickness often soil themselves and the vehicle with vomit or diarrhea.
  • Because it may prevent people from traveling with their pets, carsickness can interfere with the lifestyle of both pet and owner.
  • Vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration and other health problems, especially in pets with concurrent diseases.  However, in most cases carsickness is more likely to be an inconvenience than a serious medical concern.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis is based on signs of anxiety or gastrointestinal upset when traveling in a vehicle.

Treatment

  • Habituation is effective in many pets.  This involves gradually exposing the pet to increasing periods of time in the vehicle.  Each experience in the vehicle should be short enough in duration that no symptoms of carsickness develop.   Pets should be rewarded with praise and affection after successfully traveling in the car.  The destination of each trip in the vehicle should be a pleasant place.
  • Many owners of pets who do not need to travel regularly (such as indoor cats) elect not to treat carsickness, and simply avoid traveling in vehicles with their pets.  This is a reasonable option if owners are prepared to deal with carsickness during trips that cannot be avoided.
  • Medications prevent carsickness in some pets. Commonly used medications include dimenhydrinate (Dramamine®), diazepam (Valium®), maropitant (Cerenia®) and acepromazine. These medicines should not be administered without first consulting a veterinarian.  Cerenia is labelled and approved for use in the prevention of car sickness in dogs; it is therefore considered the best first choice medication for treatment of the syndrome.
  • Symptoms of carsickness may improve if feeding habits are altered on days of travel.  Some pets are more likely to suffer carsickness if they eat prior to traveling in a vehicle.  Others travel better if they have food in their stomachs.  Owners can experiment with feeding prior to travel to determine what works best for their pet.

Follow-up

Most puppies and many young cats outgrow carsickness over time.  However, for some animals carsickness is a long-term problem.

Miscellaneous

Carsickness can develop into a self-fulfilling prophesy in pets and in people.  Some people who suffer from motion sickness become ill at the sight of a boat or car.  Likewise, pets that repeatedly suffer from carsickness may become more likely to experience anxiety and nausea during future travel.

Copyright © Eric Barchas, DVM All rights reserved.
The contents of this page are provided for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.