Six guidelines to follow when your dog is sick, and you are traveling

This blog is from a guest post I wrote for Go check their site out... especially if you are into renovating airstreams! Thank you again Sheena, Jason, and Riley!


Traveling with our dogs and including them in our adventures is one of the most rewarding experiences. They are worth every compromise and every itinerary adjustment.

However, this does present itself with a set of challenges. Especially when we consider safety and the potential need for seeking veterinary care. Part of the thrill of traveling is leaving everything familiar and comfortable. Which is great when we consider the improved scenery and the destination’s local restaurants, but not so great when we are googling the closest emergency vet in a strange city.

We know when we have a true emergency on our hands. But what about the grey area? We have all been there and found ourselves with a sick dog. It is a total bummer and a buzz kill that fills us with worry and anxiety.

You might find yourself asking:  Should I take him in or just keep a close eye on him? Am I being paranoid? Am I being that over protective dog mom or dad? Am I going to take him in just for the vet or the nurse to tell me it’s nothing?

So how can you tell? As a veterinarian one of the most common questions I get asked is: “do you think my dog needs to be seen.”

So, I developed this system for your reference. The next time you have a potentially sick dog refer to these six guidelines:


1) Age

Puppies and seniors should be seen immediately when they are sick.

Because of their smaller size and their immature immune system puppies tend to dehydrate quicker. They are also predisposed to certain viruses, bacterial infections, and parasites. Puppies can get really sick very quickly. I consider them a puppy when they are under 12 months of age.

Seniors are more predisposed to their bodily systems wearing out with time. But like puppies, seniors can get really sick really quickly. For our purposes, I consider senior dogs to be 8+ years of age. This of course is going to vary by size and breed.


Middle aged, otherwise ‘healthy’ dogs tend to be more resilient. With these guys (depending on the severity of the symptoms) you can sometimes wait and see if they improve with supportive care and perhaps over the counter medications.


2) Breed

Certain breeds are more predisposed to different injuries and illnesses. It is important to know what your dog is genetically predisposed to.

Also, keep in mind that some breeds are more stoic than others. For example, huskies and shepherds tend to let you know when they aren’t feeling well. They also tend to be more sensitive to pain. On the other hand, some dogs such as terriers and hunting breeds tend to be more tough and stoic. This is largely a generalization, and ultimately you know your dog best. If you have a tough guy for a dog who never seems sick or painful, and all of a sudden, he/she is not acting right, it is better to play it safe.


3) Previous medical history:

If your dog has a preexisting condition such as diabetes, pancreatitis, kidney disease, liver disease, certain cancers, and he/she isn’t acting right, you should seek veterinary care. These illnesses can progress rapidly, and it is important to act quickly when they are sick.


4) Severity and onset of symptoms:

Did your dog just sneak a piece of bacon off the counter top and now he’s got loose stool? Did you take her on a longer hike than normal and now she is stiff or sleeping more? Is he having loose stool after a stressful, 14-hour car ride in bumper to bumper traffic? If you consider his symptoms to be “mild” and can link them with a particular life event it might be okay to wait and see if he/she improves. If your dog’s symptoms are subjectively severe it is best to take them in immediately. I would consider the following “severe:” Continuous vomiting, vomiting water, bloated belly, refusal to eat for greater than 24 hours (shorter window in puppies), profuse liquid diarrhea that does not improve with fasting and bland diet, bloody diarrhea, extreme lethargy, symptoms of dehydration, any neurological symptoms such as tremors, seizures, stumbling when walking, and collapse. And any symptoms of difficulty breathing or distress.


5) Your physical exam:

Ask yourself the following: Are his gums tacky or pale? Is his heart rate really high or really low? Does his/her belly feel painful when you gently press against it? Is his temperature above normal or too low? If you can answer yes to any of the above findings it is important to monitor these closely. If you discover abnormal physical exam findings that persist or worsen over any period of time it is best to seek veterinary care.


6) Duration of symptoms:

If symptoms persist with no improvement for greater than 24 hours, it is best to seek veterinary care.

Remember that this rough guideline is different for puppies and seniors. In puppies and seniors, I would wait no longer than 4-6 hours- depending on the severity.



So, follow these guidelines but use them in conjunction with knowing what’s normal for your own dog. I cannot stress enough the importance of practicing physical exams on your own dogs. Performing physical exams will help you make quick and accurate assessments of your dog in the event he starts acting sick. I challenge you to perform a physical exam on your own dog once weekly.

All these guidelines are important; however, it is important to look at the overall picture. Think of each guideline as a check box. If you can check more than half the boxes it is best to seek veterinary care. It is best to error on the side of caution, and it is never wrong to take them in for peace of mind.

The goal is to have the best possible travel experience with your dog. Having a good understanding of basic first aid care, knowing what is normal for your dog, and following the guidelines above will ensure this.

Also, it goes without saying, make sure you do your research ahead of time and know where the nearest vet clinics are located.

All of these practices will result in a new-found freedom to explore more with your four-legged adventure pal.

And in the meantime, here’s to exploring the great outdoors with our canine companions!


Libbie Fort, DVM





Hey Karla!
I apologize for my delayed response. I unfortunately do not get notifications when readers comment on my blog.
My parent’s dog has a similar issue. Especially when they have their pickup bed camper as it tends to make the truck bouncier. I would recommend talking to your vet about a dog specific, prescription anti nausea medication. You may find you only need it when you are driving roads that are really bumpy- as you stated- so i would just use it as needed and perhaps give it 1-2 hours before the car ride. May take some planning ahead but I probably wouldn’t use it for every car ride- just as needed. The medication I prescribed for my parent’s dog is a 24 hour medication.
I hope this helps!

Karla Brennan

We travel with our two dogs constantly. They have been across the country twice and into Canada two times as well. My youngest has always struggles with nausea and vomiting in the car. She has gotten a lot better as she will be four soon. She still gets sick when the terrain gets real curvy or bumpy. Do you have any suggestions to remedy this. We have tried Dramamine and she still gets sick. I feel so bad for her. Fortunately for us she has learned to look for the bowl we keep in the car for this purpose. I just wish she wasn’t so miserable. After all this is supposed to be fun for her. Thank you.

Leave a comment