Seasickness is very common in dogs, especially young pups. The motion sickness, nausea, and vomiting can be an anxiety-producing and traumatic experience for your dog. However, you can condition your dog to overcome seasickness and learn to love boat trips.
Puppies get seasick because their inner ears aren’t fully developed. Adult dogs can get sea sickness due to a lack of conditioning. Additionally, the unusual motion can be overwhelming for a dog unused to boat motion. Some dogs may also be suffering from ear infections and vestibular diseases.
Helping your dog overcome the heightened anxiety and stress with traveling in water vessels can make your boat trips more enjoyable. Once conditioned, your dog can accompany you on more trips and spend more quality time with you.
Do Dogs Like to Travel by Boat?
Dogs are naturally adventurous and love exploring. However, they take a little longer to get used to boat motion, and most will suffer episodes of seasickness or motion sickness.
Motion sickness is often a result of conflicting sensory signals sent to the brain’s emetic center and the chemoreceptor trigger zone. These two are part of mammals’ balance mechanisms. The emetic center is a part of the brain that contains receptors that detect emetic agents in the blood. The presence of emetic agents signals the chemoreceptor trigger zone, which then induces the vomiting reflex.
There are several steps you can take to avoid motion sickness in your dog and make all future trips enjoyable.
Teach The Dog to Board
The first time your dog steps on a boat ramp to get into a boat is probably the first time the dog will feel the vessel shift under its weight. If it’s your boat, try training when the boat is onshore, firmly on solid ground.
Use treats to lure the dog onto the ramp and into the boat. Repeat several times then continue when the boat is docked on water. Avoid pulling one of the dog’s leash or forcing them in any way if they show any hesitation. This will only increase their anxiety and the dog will associate the boat with the trauma of being forced into a stressful situation.
Make The Dog Comfortable Onboard
Once the dog is inside the boat reward them with treats and affection. Create a buzz, making the dog associate being on the boat with a fun exciting atmosphere. You can feed the dog its first meal of the day once on board. Have some of its favorite toys and maybe the owner’s shirt to make the deck feel more like home.
Once the dog is comfortable getting on board, start by first switching on the engines and motors. The dog may be startled the first time but will quickly get used to it. Slowly start moving the boat a short distance each time. Keep increasing the distance each trip until the day of the long cruise.
A dog running all over the place in a moving boat can be a distraction and an accident hazard. Teach your dog to settle in a specific place once the boat starts. An anti-slip mat that you can take with you on-shore can be great for marking the designated spot.
Teach Swimming Commands
To get your dog even more comfortable with riding in a boat, get them used to swimming. Most dogs grow to love swimming. Plus, when your dog is an adept swimmer, you’re confident they won’t drown if they fall over.
Once the dog knows how to swim, teach them to swim back to you immediately you call. Start by teaching your dog to come on command. Finally, ensure the dog’s safety with a well-fitting canine life jacket. A well-fitting cover often also works to reduce the effects of the vomiting reflex.
Can Dogs Get Sick from Being on A Boat?
When a dog starts feeling seasick, they feel like they are getting out of balance. While inside the boat, the dog is getting sensations of being toppled over from the right to left, and left to right. At the same time, the dog also feels like it’s being jolted up and down, back and front. These sensations may make the dog start exhibiting the following signs:
- Excessive panting
- Dry heaving
- Shaky bracing stance
- Lip licking
In most dogs, these signs disappear once the dog is back onshore. If you’re lucky, the feelings will only happen on the first trip and disappear with future water trips. However, in most cases it takes some getting used to.
To help your dog overcome seasickness, monitor your dog closely the first few times. Switch off the boat engine and try calming the dog down if it seems overwhelmed. Before the trip, you can also:
- Stay at least six hours without feeding the dog, but give drinking water.
- Exercise the dog. A well-exercised dog adjusts better to new stimuli.
- Provide prescribed medication. There are dog-specific medications for alleviating the effects of seasickness.
- Go for regular potty breaks. Potty breaks every 30 minutes in the two hours before your boat trip can work to relieve some of your dog’s anxiety.
- Carry the dog when boarding: The first steps into the boat are often crucial. If you have a small or medium-sized dog, carry them into the boat rather than walking them up the ramp. Once the dog is in the boat, reassure them and calm them. If you walk the dog up the ramp and it refuses to board, your reaction of trying to force them up might create a lasting impression associating the boat with a negative experience.
Can I Give My Dog Human Travel Sickness Tablets?
In past decades, veterinarians would prescribe human drugs like acepromazine, Dramamine, and Benadryl for dog seasickness. These drugs only serve to mask the signs and even make your dog sleepy rather than make your dog feel better.
Fortunately, veterinarians now have several dog-specific medications for seasickness. Some examples include:
This is the only FDA-approved medication for dogs suffering from seasickness and motion sickness. The drug blocks the NK1 receptors in the emetic center, blocking the vomiting reflex. It should only be given to dogs at least 8 weeks old.
This is an antihistamine with anti-vomiting effects. It also has sedative effects and can cause drowsiness. It is available by prescription and over-the-counter and should be given only once a day.