It’s that time of year where we are spending more time in the car, exploring new places, and hitting the road to visit friends and family. Hopefully your dog gets to tag along! A common concern or complaint is that our dogs seem to eat less during travel. Why exactly is that? Well if your dog is an otherwise healthy and middle-aged dog, we are going to discuss the three primary reasons he or she might be eating and drinking less. There are lots of reasons a dog might have a reduced appetite, however the three most common reasons (in an otherwise healthy dog) are anxiety, motion sickness, and excessive mental stimulation.
So, let’s take a deeper look at each of these reasons. And know that understanding why your dog might be eating less can help you get him eating and drinking again. The first primary reason is anxiety and stress.
Most dogs experience some amount of anxiety anytime you change up their routine. Even if you have the mildest mannered and even tempered dog who doesn’t outwardly show his anxiety… he or she probably stresses a little bit during road trips. This will manifest in many different ways and each dog will reveal symptoms differently. And it is not always obvious. Just remember this common truth, which is- just because your dog is not blatantly telling you he is anxious- doesn’t mean he isn’t anxious.
It is sometimes impossible to reduce our dog's anxiety 100 percent, but there are things we can do to help lessen the stress. You can reduce stress and anxiety by making the car trips as positive as possible. Gradually increase the amount of time spent in the car, make the car comfortable by leaning the seat back, add familiar blankets, beds and toys, and make sure you avoid braking and accelerating abruptly. These are just a few examples of many on how you can reduce anxiety on road trips. This will also reduce motion sickness which can be a direct tie to his anxiety, which brings us to our next point.
Motion sickness in the car is more common in our dogs than we know. Again, changing the way you drive when you dog is with you can really help reduce motion sickness. Most dogs will not feel as stable in the back seat as we do sitting up in the front. It is also important to note that just because your dog is not vomiting doesn’t mean he isn’t experiencing some degree of motion sickness. This nausea will deter them from eating and drinking their normal amounts. There are certain medications you can give for motion sickness; however, it is also important to realize that making them comfortable in the back of the car, driving slower, and keeping the vehicle a positive and safe place for them are also important aspects of reducing nausea or motion sickness.
Finally, mental overload or excessive mental stimulation can also cause a reduced appetite. Perhaps you have a dog who is overly excited and stimulated on a road trip and he or she is simply distracted away from his food and water. This is normal, and often times will resolve on its own once you get to your destination and your dog quiets down. Ways to combat this are to offer their food and water once you get to your destination and he or she has had roughly an hour to decompress and get used to the new place. Short bouts of exercise are also helpful because it will help calm his nerves and his mind, and stimulate thirst and appetite. If you elect to take your dog for a short run or walk when you get to your destination remember to keep offering small amounts of water, especially in warmer weather.
There are endless reasons as to why your dog might be eating or drinking less on road trips. Here we address the most common reasons and a few ways to resolve this. Next week we will offer more ideas on what to do should your dog be eating or drinking less on the road. With anything, understanding the why is the first step to knowing how to fix something. It won’t always be perfect but as long as your dog is staying hydrated and is an otherwise healthy, middle aged dog remember that some degree of reduced appetite can be normal and is not always of concern. Be sure to keep a close eye on it but don’t stress too much, as our dogs can absolutely feed off of our stress and anxiety and make matters worse.
Stay tuned for next week’s post where we cover more tangible steps on how to increase your dog's appetite during travel!
And until next time, get out and explore more with your pup!
Libbie Fort, DVM