Furry tales, with vet Jo Gourlay

Longer nights mean more opportunities for getting our dogs out for a decent walk in the evenings, weather permitting if you are a fair weather walker like me!

With so many of the fantastic places to let dogs safely run loose being a car ride away, this week’s article looks at what you can do to ensure your dog enjoys the run in the car as much as his run in the woods (well almost anyway).

Travel sickness is estimated to affect one in six dogs and is an issue I have first-hand experience of. My rescue dog was nine months old when I took her on and she absolutely hated going in the car. With her it wasn’t so much physically being sick, just that she produced literally pools of drooling saliva that used to actually well up on the plastic sheets that covered the entire interior of the car, dashboard to boot. It was absolutely grim.

Other symptoms of travel sickness include: nausea and vomiting, restlessness, anxiety and trembling. Watching my dog’s reaction even getting into the car (apprehensive and nervous), it became obvious much of her problem (as is the case for many dogs) was fear. Either she’d never been introduced to car travel correctly as a puppy or she’d had a bad experience. When you think about what the first journey many puppies make is (leaving behind mum, siblings and all familiarity), you can see why the association between the car and fear is made. You also have to add in the motion of the car, often the lack of anything to stop them sliding about the boot or car seat, as well as being unable to see what’s happening.

This is why it’s really important with a new puppy or dog with travel sickness to be patient and invest time to get them used to it.

The first step is feeding treats and playing with toys in and around the car with the engine off. Build this up to your dog sitting in the car with the doors all shut and being very relaxed about the experience, then repeat with the engine on.

Help your dog feel more secure when travelling (and make both of you safer), by either using a car seat harness or a comfy non-slipping bed covering the entire boot (and think about investing in a guard to prevent them jumping through into the car). The first journeys should only be a few hundred metres with a reward of playing, a walk or food at the ‘destination’, then repeat for the return trip home.

If your dog is prone to excess vomiting in the car maybe hold back on too much food as rewards!

Slowly build up from here over a number of weeks to longer journeys, always making the destination somewhere fun for them.

Other sensible ideas to help reduce them feeling queasy are; letting them get fresh air while travelling (but ensure they cannot get out of a window), being conscientious while driving so no harsh braking and accelerating (not the time to pretend you are an F1 driver), not allowing the temperature in the car to be excessively hot or cold and taking regular breaks on longer journeys so they can relieve themselves and have a drink if wanted.

There are also drugs, pheromone sprays and even calming foods available that may help with travel sickness, so if you have a dog who is struggling do have a chat with your own vet.

It’s really worth the effort and perseverance as my dog will testify, she now is a happy (drool-free) traveller which makes our walks so much more fun for us both.