Travel Sickness in Pets
Tinker is a lovely, well cared for, eight year old tabby who remains aloof (as many cats do) from the two Springers who share his home. He enjoys climbing and has a passing interest in wildlife, but is usually back for tea aound 5pm. Life is good, and would be great were it not for the occasional trips in the car to cattery or vet. I see him each January for his annual health check and vaccinations, but he emerges from his cat basket a shadow of his real self: salivating, subdued and occasionally smeared with stomach contents.
Roxy is a sleek-coated black labrador born twelve months ago, who loves the seaside, romping in the hills and bouncing around with ever-energetic mum (now spayed). Roxy's difficulty, as with Tinker, is getting to her destination without suffering nausea and vomiting. They suffer from motion sickness, which can be compounded by anxiety, and is more prevalent in cats and younger dogs, which can persist into adulthood.
The vestibular (balance) apparatus in the inner ear sends messages to higher centres in the brain which conflict with those coming from the sensory cortex, which responds by activating the vomiting centre. These messages can be modified by the use of medicants, which have traditionally been directed at subduing the response: sedatives and antihistamines, which cause drowsiness. Herbal remedies have also been used, but there is now a product that has been licensed recently for dogs in this country that will help prevent travel misery without the unwanted side effects; the use of this should be discussed with your veterinary surgeon as it is not appropriate for dogs suffering from cardiac or hepatic (liver) disease, and there is a correct protocol that should be followed.
It is useful also to help reduce the anxiety of travel by a process of desensitization. Remembering that in many instances the first car journey a young puppy or kitten ever made was when it was separated from mum, its siblings and all that it ever knew, the association with cars can be strongly negative. In addition, the cat carrier is only brought out of the cupboard when Tinker and his tribe are going to be cooped up and made to go somewhere they don't want to. Desensitizing involves creating positive associations with these things: leave the cat basket out as part of the furniture, even feeding in and around it, possibly also using pheromonal sprays to promote 'well-being' next to it. Put your pet in the car for a few minutes without going anywhere, then release it for a positive experience - a game with a ping-pong ball, a walk, something to chew on. Next turn the engine on with pet in situ, still without driving anywhere, and repeat the positive association. Then travel short distances and repeat. This process may take a few weeks, but patience brings its own rewards. Gradually lengthen the journey, driving slowly along straight roads, possibly also with the window open and someone else in the car.
Feeding immediately before travelling is not such a good idea, however offering a fat-free meal about 3 hours beforehand can be beneficial. When long journeys are necessary, stop every 2 hours for some exercise and a drink. Before too long you will have given the Tinkers and Roxys of this world one of the best presents ever.
If you would like further information about treating your pet for travel sickness please contact one of our Veterinary Nurses on 01291 672637.