Electric cars (EVs) reduce car motion sickness in dogs

Dogs are more at ease travelling in electric cars (EVs) compared to conventional ones. Car sickness otherwise known as motion sickness is fairly common in dogs. Research indicates that it is also experienced by domestic cats. I’m focusing on dogs because a recent study which has yet to be peer-reviewed strongly indicates that dogs prefer travelling in the back of an electric vehicle (EV) where they experience less car sickness because, it is believed, noise and vibrations are much reduced.

Dog in car

Dog in car. Image by Radosław Zmudziński from Pixabay

Motion sickness can occur when the input from a dog or cat’s senses to their brain contradict or are different from those predicted. In the UK, the NHS says that motion sickness is caused by the inner ear sending different signals to a person or animal’s brain from those received by their eyes. The brain receives confusing messages causing a person or an animal to feel unwell.

The inner ear contains the vestibular system which is essential for balance, and it triggers motion sickness.

And it would also seem judging by this study that the noise and vibrations of a vehicle contribute to motion sickness. Further studies are required. I suspect this is due to the unnaturalness of the sound of cars combined with dogs’ acute hearing.

Prof Mills, the lead author of the study said: “Given the number of dogs that have difficulties in travelling, given that owners consider their pets very much part of their family, I do think this is the sort of thing that factors into people’s decision when they get in a car.”

The study found no negative side effects of dogs travelling in electric vehicles. Some dogs suffer from nausea due to motion sickness in vehicles and travelling in an EV may cure this.

Prof Mills worked with the second-hand car business CarGurus to carry out the study. There were 20 dog participants. It is the first study of its kind. There have been motion sickness studies on cats and dogs but none comparing the potential benefits of EVs over diesel and petrol engined cars.

They videoed each animal as they travelled in an EV and measured their heart rate and also tracked the dogs’ responses. They found that the dogs were more settled and more likely to stay lying down in an EV.

Two of the dogs suffered from nausea (car sickness) when in a diesel-engine car. Their heart rate spiked, and their behaviour indicated distress.

Both dogs were fine when travelling in the EV. Their heart rates decreased by about 30%.

Prof Mills said: “The dogs in the diesel cars would lie down but they kept breaking their lying down and did not settle to the same degree as the ones in the electric vehicle”.

In analysing the data they found that dogs broke their settled, lying down posture 50% more often when travelling in a diesel car compared to an EV.

Car sickness is indicated by dogs salivating a lot plus other signs such as smacking and licking of lips, whining and pacing and lethargy.

The professor concluded that dogs prefer less vibration and noise. If that is the reason behind a reduction in motion sickness and dogs in EVs, further work might be required on hybrid vehicles because, for example, the Toyota hybrids are very quiet and smooth. There might also be benefits in travelling in these sorts of vehicles too.

The study will definitely interest dog owners. I hope there will be a similar study on cats. There are several scientific studies on cats in motion sickness listed on the Google scholar website. It is predictable that cats and dogs suffer from motion sickness because their anatomy is very similar in respect of the inner ear and eyes to humans.

VCA hospitals say that a cat owner can help their cat deal with travel sickness by ensuring that they are as calm as possible, employ Feliway artificial pheromone, use anti-nausea medication if required, employ calming herbs and keep the car cool and quiet. You might also withhold food for 12 hours before travelling.

Notice that they refer to keeping the car cool and quiet. Diesels are noisier than petrol engined cars and of course EVs are the quietest. You can see a connection between noise and motion sickness. Cats and dogs have very acute hearing.

Certainly, cats are very acutely aware of road traffic if they happen to be on the pavement (sidewalk). They can regard vehicles as hostile ‘creatures’ presenting a danger to them. Cats don’t understand cars. This must be a factor. And most cats are unfamiliar with being inside a vehicle which of itself can cause confusion. You can see how simply being inside a vehicle can compound the problem of motion sickness.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.
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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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