How to Educate Clients About Motion Sickness in Dogs
Individual dogs can have a number of quirky behaviors that pet owners don’t think to mention to their veterinarians. These can include anything from high salivation levels to vomiting in the car. They may seem like inconsequential, uncontrollable things to owners who don’t want to bother with a trip to the vet, but they can be symptoms of an uncomfortable and treatable ailment such as motion sickness. Though families often want to include their pets on trips, it’s estimated that up to 50% of canines suffer from motion sickness. How can the veterinary staff educate, diagnose, and help treat motion sickness?
Dr. Joyce Login, DVM, Veterinary Medical Lead, Pain, Oncology and Specialty at Zoetis Inc. shares that “motion sickness in dogs has to do with mixed signals sent to the brain from areas that control balance and vision, so when a dog is sitting still in a car and sees the landscape whipping by, it leads to confusing sensory signals that are sent to the brain.”
Motion sickness can strike during even the shortest trips in a car, boat, or plane. Symptoms can include drooling, excessive lip licking, whining, shaking, vomiting, and more. This can cause an animal to associate car trips with negative side effects — and in turn, lead to fear and anxiety that can affect them even before they get in the vehicle.
These effects can obviously put strain on the human-animal bond within a family. “I really strongly believe that it affects both of them, that it has a significant impact on the dog and the relationship with the family,” says Dr. Login. “Understandably, the pet parents stop including dogs on family trips, and they may not schedule play dates or go to the dog park anymore. They may even stop going to appointments at the groomers or the veterinarian.”
This situation causes pet owners to ignore the problem instead of addressing it. “It’s just especially sad because the dog misses out, the family is disrupted, and it really breaks that loving bond,” says Dr. Login. “And then what’s even worse is that many of these families feel very guilty and chalk it up to something that they have to live with, and that forever changes the relationship they have with their dog.”
There are two main approaches to relieving dogs of motion sickness — desensitization techniques and medication. Desensitization techniques target the behavioral problems that result from motion sickness; begin with letting the dog sit in a motionless car while giving praise and positive reinforcement when they are calm, and work up to short trips to fun places such as the dog park.
“However, if it’s truly motion sickness, we know that medications are very helpful,” says Dr. Login. “We have maropitant citrate (Cerenia®, zoetisus.com), which is the only medication [FDA-]approved for vomiting due to motion sickness in dogs.”
Maropitant citrate works by inhibiting the binding of substance P, found in the highest concentration in the emetic center, and the NK1 receptor, which then induces vomiting. Maropitant citrate is unique in that it only targets the vomiting center and doesn’t sedate the dog, unlike extra-label prescriptions for motion sickness, such as meclizine and dimenhydrinate. “These can be difficult to dose and may lead to unwanted side effects, such as drowsiness,” explains Dr. Login. “It’s also important to remember that these medications have not been tested in dogs and are not made for their unique physiology.” Maropitant citrate is available in tablet and injectable forms for dogs, as well as an injectable formulation for cats.
At the time of the approval of maropitant citrate in 2007, initial research reported roughly 1 in 5 dogs suffered from motion sickness¹ — yet when redone by Zoetis in December 2018, about half of clients said their dogs exhibited symptoms of motion sickness when traveling in a car.² Login attributes the difference in the research findings to pet owners who may have “an increased understanding and recognition of motion sickness.” Pet owners now realize that vomiting during traveling doesn’t have to be the norm and also has an approved treatable solution.
Veterinary staffs are also better educated about how to help their patients with motion sickness, and may feel more comfortable discussing it now that there is an approved medication to prescribe. “I do think there are a lot of tools that can help — if our veterinary staff can just ask the question and raise awareness, that’s really helpful,” says Dr. Login.
The first step in treating an animal for acute vomiting from motion sickness is educating the client. “The communication about motion sickness with clients and veterinarians can be a challenge because it’s largely unspoken,” Dr. Login says. “We as veterinarians think that if there was a problem our clients would certainly bring it up to us, so we don’t ask them.”
The dialogue could begin when a veterinary professional notices that a patient is visibly shaken when arriving at the clinic for a routine appointment. Asking the question, “How does your dog behave in the car?” could provide the opportunity to educate the client on the signs and treatments of motion sickness.
Dr. Login suggests that veterinary practices also provide educational handouts on motion sickness in the waiting room, which could prompt pet owners to have a conversation with the veterinarian. “If you can take the time to explain the signs of motion sickness and assure the client that you can help with behavioral advice and medications, then once the diagnosis is made treatment can be initiated to relieve those signs and restore that human-animal bond,” says Dr. Login.
- Zoetis Data on File, Cerenia Motion Sickness Incidence by Symptom, February 2012
- ZMR: Cerenia Sileo Omnibus study December 2018