Question: Our one-year-old dog, Oliver, has always been a bad traveler in the car. He vomits during the ride, pants a lot and just cannot get comfortable. Can you offer any natural solutions? We take a lot of road trips and would like to be able to take him with us.
S.R., via email
Answer: Even though car travel is not natural for pets, the majority adapt fine, and some actually enjoy car journeys. Others, like Oliver, end up getting sick or stressed. Behavior can range from hyper-excitement, barking, howling and trembling to destructiveness and even escape attempts.
Most dogs will fall into one of the following categories: excitability, fearfulness, anxiety or motion sickness. It's important to accurately assess each individual pet's problem, as the effectiveness of treatment very much depends on the correct diagnosis.
Is your pet anxious about the destination (like a visit to the vet), over-excited about a trip to the park, fearful of the car itself or does he simply suffer from motion sickness? Sometimes it can be a combination of these.
Here are some holistic solutions that can help.
Creating positive associations
If car travel is associated with fun things rather than always a trip to the vet or groomer, Oliver is less likely to become anxious and fearful in the car. Take short trips to the park or visit friends or people your dog loves to meet. Such positive experiences will go a long way in alleviating car-related fear and anxiety.
You can also stock the car with Oliver's favorite toys and blankets and cuddle up in the car with him even if you're not going anywhere. This will help to get him used to the environment, and the positive memories will help to reduce anxiety.
And if it's motion sickness that's the problem, taking small, regular road trips can help by training Oliver's vestibular system; he may eventually get used to the motion with time.
Lavender is a well-known calming herb that may help to ease a stressful trip. Apply some lavender essential oil to a bandana and tie it around your dog's neck, or just hang it up in the car every time you travel. You can also apply a few drops behind your dog's ears.
Valerian is excellent for reducing hyper-excitability and hysterical states. It is available in tincture form and capsules, or you could check out valerian-infused pet toys.
Chamomile is another calming herb you can try. Zuke's Enhance Calming Dog Chews (www.zukes.com) contain both chamomile and valerian as well as passion flower and L-theanine to aid relaxation.
Ginger. If Oliver suffers from motion sickness, try giving him some ginger-infused honey or biscuits (see recipes, right) before and during travel. Ginger is an age-old remedy for nausea and vomiting. Alternatively, you can buy ginger capsules, available in health food stores, split them open and sprinkle the contents over your dog's favorite food 30 minutes before travel.
Suggested dosage: Dogs up to 15 lbs: 250 mg capsule; dogs over 15 lbs: 500 mg
Chinese herbal medicine. 'Curing Pills' or 'Pill Curing' is a traditional Chinese remedy used to treat nausea and prevent vomiting. These tiny pills can be put on your pet's tongue half an hour before a car journey or dissolved in water and syringed into your pet's mouth.
Suggested dosage: Larger dogs weighing 15-50 lbs: up to 15 pills; smaller dogs: around 10 pills
Pheromone therapy using dog appeasing pheromone, or DAP, can help. A variety of DAP-based products are available (such as Adaptil products), including sprays, diffusers and collars, which many pet owners have found to be beneficial.
Anti-anxiety vests like the ThunderShirt, Anxiety Wrap or Storm Defender are also worth a try. The Storm Defender has a thin metallic lining that claims to repel ionic charges, while the ThunderShirt and Anxiety Wrap use gentle, constant pressure to relieve stress.
Cocculus 30C can be an effective remedy for car sickness in dogs. According to Dr Francis Hunter, author of Everyday Homeopathy for Animals, it works for about 70 percent of dogs. A few pellets of Tabacum 30C placed on your dog's tongue before a car journey can also help quell nausea caused by motion sickness.
Suggested dosage: Cocculus 30C 1 hour before a journey and thereafter repeated every 1-4 hours if necessary, depending on the length of travel; Tabacum 30C 2 hours before travel
Using a combination of flower essences—Aspen, Mimulus and Bach's Rescue Remedy—can help to calm Oliver down before a car journey. Eight drops of each in an ounce of distilled water can work wonders. You can give it to him to drink before departing and also rub a few drops of the mixture on his gums frequently during the trip.
If the problem is motion sickness rather than anxiety, putting three drops of premixed Scleranthus on Oliver's tongue can help by balancing the inner ear.
Gently pressing PC6—an acupoint located in the little dip on the underside of the forelegs, just above the wrist pads, for 30 seconds to one minute, can relieve nausea. If your pet hates his feet being touched, don't attempt this. Alternatively, you can try to get him used to it gradually at home before trying it when he is already stressed in the car.
Ginger recipes for travel sickness
If your dog suffers from motion sickness, try feeding him foods containing ginger, like the recipes below from You Can Heal Your Pet (Hay House, 2015).
1 pot unset (runny) honey
1 oz piece of fresh ginger root
1) Chop or slice the ginger, then add to the honey pot; remove after one week.
2) Label, date and store in the fridge. Use within six months.
3) Offer ½ teaspoon ginger-infused honey to your pet on a clean plate.
Ginger K9 biscuits
4 oz self-rising flour
4 oz milled flax seed
1 free-range egg
2 Tbsp ginger-infused honey (see recipe above)
½-inch piece of fresh ginger root, finely grated
1) Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease an 8 x 11-inch baking sheet.
2) Mix together all the ingredients in a large bowl to form a soft dough. Spread the mixture ½-inch deep on the baking tray. Bake for 25-30 minutes until just firm.
3) Remove from the oven and let cool. Cut into bite-sized squares.
4) Keep in an airtight, labeled container in the fridge for up to five days, or freeze for up to one month.
Rohini Sathish, DVM, MSC, MRCVS, MHAO, MCIVT
Dr Sathish is an award-winning holistic vet with 22 years of experience. After training in acupuncture, acupressure, energy healing, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), animal communication and herbal medicine, she now actively integrates conventional veterinary treatments with complementary therapies and is co-author of You Can Heal Your Pet (Hay House, 2015). You can contact Dr Sathish at her website: www.rohinisholisticvetcare.com