Can Dogs Get Carsick?

Unfortunately, dogs do get car sick. Even the shortest car rides can make your dog feel like it’s the worst driving he had experienced! It’s not pleasant for your dog and definitely not for you who has to clean up all the mess afterward. But luckily, some puppies do outgrow them and dogs can be conditioned to not feel sick during car rides. Keep reading to find out what causes them and how they can be treated.

dog in the car

What are the causes of car sickness in dogs? 

There can be various reasons why your dog gets car sick. The first and most important one you should look at is an underlying medical condition. Medical conditions like arthritis, ear infection, vestibular disease, and high blood pressure may cause your dog to feel nauseous. Typically, a visit to your vet can clear your dog off any ailment. If he does, then you can look at these other causes.

Dog motion sickness is a real problem for some. Nobody really knows what causes them but experts believe it’s the same reason why humans get motion sickness. Motion sickness happens when the signal from the eyes to the brain says he is not moving, but his vestibular system or inner ear says he is. The fluid in the vestibular system, the one responsible for balance, moves with the car’s movement while his eyes see that he is not moving. These mixed signals can confuse your dog and cause nausea.

Another reason that’s closely related to car sickness is travel anxiety. Travel anxiety can be hard to determine from car sickness as they show the same symptoms. Although for some unfortunate ones, they can suffer both at the same time. If your dog gets car sick then it’s most likely he developed anxiety from being ill in the car. 

Similarly, a negative association with cars like vet rides can be stressful for most dogs. Think of it as humans dreading a visit to the dentist for a root canal. The only difference being: we know we don’t have dentist appointments every time we go out. But dogs don’t know this. Hence, they get anxious and queasy for what’s about to come. 

Now, you might wonder, “Are there any signs that my dog is about to throw up?” Yes. But unlike humans, you can’t really see them turn green and pull over in the nick of time to save the leather seats. Excessive drooling and panting are some of the early signs you can look for.

dog in convertible

Symptoms

  • Yawning
  • Excessive drooling
  • Licking lips
  • Whining
  • Restlessness or uneasiness
  • Vomiting

I know what you’re thinking. It’s better to just avoid bringing him altogether to your road trips. But that’s just sad, right? After all, trips become more memorable when spent with the ones you love; and we love our dogs!

Fortunately, motion sickness can be treated. With a little dedication and patience, you’ll be on your way to the next big adventure with your pup.

Here’s how…

Treatment for puppies

Car sickness can happen to dogs of any age. However, it’s most common in puppies. The American Kennel Club says that one of the reasons your dog suffers from motion sickness is the lack of early handling. Exposing her to different motions that mimic a car ride can go a long way. Some of the things you can do is cuddling her upside down in your lap. Picking her up in the air and rolling her around like a log on the floor can also help. Continuously exposing your puppy with small motions like these can help her outgrow her motion sickness.

puppy in the window seat

Treatment for older dogs

I don’t believe that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Nor that we can’t help them get over some of their fears. Which is why I’ve compiled some of the things you can do to help him get over his motion sickness. Remember: the key to preventing motion sickness is to make the car ride as comfortable as possible for your pup.

Desensitizing

One thing you can do to help your dog overcome his fear is conditioning him that cars are not scary at all. Gradually introducing him to car rides and increasing the challenge as he gets better at it. You can start by letting your dog sit inside the car and starting the engine without moving for a few minutes. Repeat this step the next day but try driving up and down the driveway this time. After a few days, you can try driving around the neighborhood. If she gets sick, move the process backward until she feels better again. Building tolerance for car rides is the main goal here.

Happy places

Similar to desensitizing, you can condition your dog to think that car rides lead them to happy places and not just needles and thermometers. Make plenty of stops to fun places like the dog park and beach.

Make it smell like home.

There is no denying that the presence of their human can make dogs feel calm. Adding a blanket or a shirt that has your scent to your dog’s crate (if he is staying in one) can add a sense of security for him.

dog in the backseat

Let her face the front

Like humans, positioning is also important in preventing motion sickness in dogs. Letting her face the windshield rather than the zooming objects on the side windows can lessen her motion sickness. You can safely do this by using a harness or a car seat belt. Here are the best car seat belts we recommend.

Special toys and treats

Another trick you can use is to buy special toys and treats that he can only access in the car. This could provide a distraction for him during the trip and associate nice things with car rides. However, be careful about giving him too many treats. You don’t want it all over your car seat! 

Time meals

A rule of thumb is to not give him food 12 hours before long car rides, plane, and train travel. An empty stomach does not mean that they can’t puke. They still can. It’s different for every dog. However, for some, a little bit of food can actually reduce their nausea. Also, make sure that your dog has access to water as this can help ease a queasy stomach.

Fresh Air

Rolling down the windows a little bit for fresh air can help reduce symptoms of motion sickness. A word of warning: This also balances the air pressure inside with the air pressure outside that can also ease your pet’s discomfort. 

Frequent stops

Frequent stops are not just for potty breaks. They allow your dog to stretch their legs and get a break from the conflicting sensory signals. This makes car rides fun as well as they love to explore new places with their noses. 

dog in the window car seat

Be a pack leader.

More than we know it, our dogs look up to us for almost everything. They can sense our emotions and takes cues from them as well. However, most of the time it’s us who can’t get over unpleasant experiences. We get too anxious that they’d throw up and it, in turn, makes them feel anxious too.

The best thing you can do is display a strong and calm pack leader to your dog.

Other alternatives

If nothing just seems to work, there are over-the-counter medications and calming aids for motion sickness. 

These are the best calming aids we recommend.

Conclusion

For owners whose pet suffers from car sickness, trips become a hassle. For some, leaving their dogs who can’t stand the trip becomes the solution. But motion sickness should not become a hindrance to fun adventures nor a reason for a dog to be left behind. With the right tools, your dog can enjoy the ride as much as you do. One of the things you can do is prepare your dog for the trip. Timing his meals, and giving him a good view of the road can keep his nausea at bay.

If you have time before your trip, you can try counter-conditioning his fear of cars. This method may take days to weeks to accomplish but it’s the most effective way out there. 

You may also ask the advice of your vet on how to treat motion sickness in dogs. He can recommend a good over-the-counter medication to ease your dog’s anxiety and nausea. 

If this was helpful for you, share this with your friends who you think might need this advice too. 

Becky

Becky

4+ cats and 2 dogs over the past decade, loves to write, not a huge fan of coffee... but LOVES her pets! Read More
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