Written by Bonnie Markoff, DVM, ABVP

I love going for drives with my dogs. I have three of them. Zeke and Teague tend to sit together in the front seat. They are really too big for this, but manage to intertwine their legs enough to get comfortable. They trade off putting a head in my lap and both keep an eye on me to be sure I am driving safely. Pete is the older dog and he must trust me more. He likes to take the entire backseat to himself. He particularly likes to stick his nose out the window while he watches the scenery go by. On long trips they take turns stretching out on the dog beds that are set up in the back of the SUV, and they are very well behaved in hotels.

Not every pet travels like that. Some are nervous or anxious. They may whine, meow, yowl or even bark. They may pace or continually get up and down. Some just sit still and shake. Others get car sick and either drool or vomit on your beautiful car interior. This can put a serious strain on the relationship between a human and a pet – so what do you do.

Carsickness is treatable! I believe that nausea can be the root of much of the anxiousness and vocalizing that we see in some pets. It is virtually always the cause of vomiting and drooling. For years we have used diphenhydramine (Benadryl) to try to treat carsickness. It works a lot like Dramamine. There is now a drug approved specifically for treating carsickness in dogs. It is called Cerenia and is very successful. One pill a day is all they need!

Stress and anxiety in the car is much harder to manage. If Cerenia does not work, we recommend you start by confining your pet with familiar bedding. Set up a crate in the car, preferably the crate your dog sleeps in when indoors. Put his favorite blankets or toys in the crate. Be sure that the crate will not rattle or make any noises as you drive. Dogs are den-loving creatures, and the comfort of a solid sided “room of her own” can be enough comfort for many pets.

If this does not help, you may need to convince your dog or cat that car rides are wonderful. Start by feeding your pet in the car – but don’t turn it on. Once they readily accept that meals are associated with the car, try turning on the engine while they are eating. After a week of two of that, drive very slowly to the end of the block & back while they are eating. Be sure there are no sudden stops or turns. After a few weeks of that, it is time to try being in the car at times other than mealtime. Ask you dog to jump into the car and then give him a treat and immediately let him jump out. Next step is to get into the car with your pet and turn on the engine. Let it idle for 5 minutes or so and then give your pet a treat and let her out. The next step is to drive a short distance and return home, followed by a treat. Keep slowly increasing the intensity of the experience, making sure it is always positive and always associated with something good, like a treat.

If you cannot convince your pet that car rides are fun using the above techniques, then you need some veterinary behavioral consultation. Dr. Jennifer Evans at Animal Care Clinic has a special interest in behavior and can work with you to help your pet ride better in the car. She may use some anti-anxiety medications or other behavior modification techniques to help Fido or Fluffy ride with you more happily.

Call us at Animal Care Clinic for more information.