‘The fun is in the journey,’ until your dog pukes in the car

The weekend had arrived for our Down East adventure, hiking and camping on the Bold Coast. But first, we had to get there. From Bangor, the drive was long but at least interesting — miles upon miles of scenic Route 1, with its twists and turns, ups and downs. Two and a half hours and we’d be there.

We were eager to hit the trail, explore Cutler’s cobblestone beaches and find a prime tenting spot. It didn’t occur to us that a problem could arise before we reached the trailhead.

I don’t recall there being much of a warning. One moment we were cruising along, enjoying the rolling terrain and glimpses of ocean, and next thing we knew it, our dog Oreo had upchucked all over the back seat.


Nothing spices up a long car ride like dog puke.

Oreo hanging out in the Subaru.

I know my job as a writer is to be descriptive, really make you feel like you’re there, but trust me, you do not want to be in that Subaru. So lets skip the details of Oreo’s half-digested breakfast.

We pulled over, did our best to clean the mess up, took Oreo for a short walk, coaxed him back into the car and kept on driving. We were almost there.

Ten minutes down the road, Derek, doing his utmost to avoid potholes and frost heaves, said, “How’s he look?”

I turned to assess the situation: Oreo lying on scattered newspapers, his black-and-white head rested on his front paws.

“Forlorn?” I suggest.

“Does he look like he’s going to throw up?”

“I don’t know,” I said, exasperated. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a person. How the heck does one predict when a dog is going to next spew his kibbles?

Well actually, there are some clues. I didn’t know them at the time. But PetMD, a website written by veterinarians, says that when dogs get car sick, they may yawn or whine, become inactive or drool a whole lot.

Oreo tends to lick his nose. I know this because I witnessed a pattern between his second and third “episode.” Three pukes you’re out? Well, we may have considered abandoning Oreo in a nearby fishing village, but we managed to tough it out until we reached the trailhead, where we once again tried to clean up the mess with newspapers.

Long story short, when we got back into the vehicle the next day (after camping as planned), it was not a pleasant experience. We drove home slowly and took several breaks along the way. And when we reached home, we spent hours cleaning the cloth back seats with stain remover and a shop vacuum.

Now it’s covered with a waterproof American Kennel Club seat cover, a lucky find at Goodwill.

Oreo continues to join me on the majority of my hiking trips, but if drive for more than 1.5 hours, I’ll typically hear him retching in the back. So, what’s a girl to do?

Good news. Dog motion sickness is more commonly seen in puppies and young dogs, according to PetMD. Oreo is just 1 year old, and he gets older every day. The reason young dogs are more likely to get car sick is because their ear structures that are used for balance aren’t fully developed. So many dogs might just outgrow car sickness, but not always.

I don’t really want to wait for Oreo to get older before I can bring him on trips to Maine’s western mountains or the whimsical trails along the state’s easternmost shores. So I searched for remedies to try in the meantime.

A fellow BDN employee, Julie Harris, often takes her dogs on long trips to participate in flyball tournaments and bird hunting, so I asked her if she has any tricks to quell motion sickness for her canine athletes. Indeed she did.

Sometimes it helps to block their view of the window, she said. For example, you can put a blanket over a dog crate. PetMD agrees. When a dog looks out the side windows of a car, they may get nauseous just by seeing images pass so quickly. Directing your dog to face forward may help, but it’s tricky trying to get your dog to stay facing forward. Some people use a specially designed dog seat belt.

Also, Julie usually doesn’t feed her dogs full meals before a long car ride. A full stomach is more likely to become upset, she has noticed. And another thing she suggested was to try and calm Oreo with a plant-based product such as Rescue Remedy. Personally, I like the idea of offering my dog a natural product (I myself enjoy chamomile tea), but I would consult with my veterinarian before offering him anything new, simply because even natural products can cause harm.

There are also over-the-counter medications that may help with dog car sickness — anti-nausea drugs, antihistamines, phenothiazine — but again, you should consult with your veterinarian before going this route.

Of course, there are items made specifically for dogs out on the market. One that has gotten great reviews is PetAlive EasyTravel Solution, a homeopathic remedy. Again, check with your veterinarian.

Another trick, which is used on the show circuit, is to give your dog a small piece of sugary candy, such as a jellybean, before the ride, according to PetMD. I’m not sure about the science of this remedy, but it’s worth a mention. Just don’t use chocolate candy, which is toxic to dogs.

Of course, if you’re ever been carsick yourself, one thing to do is lower the windows and get some fresh air. The same goes for dogs. A cool, well ventilated car is more comfortable for dogs than a hot and stuffy car. If it’s way too hot or cold out for that, crank up the car vents and control the temperature with your AC or heater.

In my research I did read something I’m a little worried about. It turns out, a dog can learn to associate riding in the car with getting sick. So, if Oreo continues to yak his brains out on long trips, it may only get worse. The key is to enforce that the car does not equal discomfort, which means bringing Oreo on short car rides and perhaps offering him a special toy or treat whenever he gets into the car. It’s common sense.

It’s also common sense to stop for breaks during a long trip. Let your dog go to the bathroom, drink some water (not a lot) and stretch his legs.

This is an awfully long column about dog vomit, you say? Well, you’re right. At least I didn’t include a video.

It’s no secret that dog puke is just disgusting, especially if you have to fish it out of the compartment of your car door. Yet what truly compelled me to research and write about this problem is because I hate seeing Oreo miserable — and I’ll take a leap here and guess that most dog owners feel the same way about their dogs. So if you have any advice to offer (or even vomit-filled stories to share), post them in the comment section below or send an e-mail to asarnacki@bangordailynews.com.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.