Dealing with Car Sickness in Dogs

Many of my clients with dogs, especially puppies, complain that their dogs get sick when riding in the car. I am often asked how to deal with car sickness and why it happens.

Why Dogs Get Car Sick

Dogs can get carsick either because of the motion of the car or because of stress and anxiety associated with the car ride. Motion sickness associated with riding in a car is similar to the motion sickness that some people experience when they ride on a boat. In young puppies, car sickness due to motion may occur because the internal parts of the ear are not yet fully developed.

In these cases, car sickness in dogs may regress as the dog matures. However, if the dog experiences nausea and car sickness often enough as a puppy, the response may become conditioned and the behavior may continue despite the fact that ear structures have matured.

Another common reason for canine car sickness is anxiety. Many dogs become quite stressed when riding in the car and may experience nausea and vomiting as a result. Other symptoms seen with anxiety include hypervigilance which may be mistaken for a dog that is trying to “see everything”, yawning, whining, excessive salivation (drooling) and uneasiness. Some dogs may become inactive and listless rather than hypervigilant.

Dealing with Car Sickness in the Dog

There are many different methods of dealing with car sickness in dogs. Associating the car ride with pleasant rather than unpleasant experiences can be helpful. Providing a favorite treat when the dog is riding calmly in the car is acceptable. Taking the dog for a car ride to a favorite play spot or to take a walk in a pleasant area can help create a positive association with a car ride as well, that can help preventing car sickness in dogs.

Car Sickness in Dogs

In cases where the dog is anxious about riding in the car, counter-conditioning and desensitization may be necessary. This needs to be accomplished very slowly in a step-wise fashion, gradually allowing the dog to become accustomed to being in and riding in the car.

Logical steps in this process include feeding the dog near the car until he is comfortable doing so. Moving the food inside of the car while allowing the car doors to stay open while the dog is the car may be the next logical step. Once the dog is comfortable taking food in a car with open doors, try closing the doors gently and slowly.

Starting the car is the next step and may require moving the dog away from the running car and repeating the feeding process, gradually moving the food closer to and eventually inside of the running car. Once the dog is comfortable in a car with the engine running, try moving the car a short distance, perhaps only a few yards. Gradually increase the distance traveled as the dog becomes accustomed to the moving car.

Medications Used for Car Sickness in Adult Dogs and Puppies

In severe cases, medications may be used to alleviate the symptoms seen with car sickness. Medications commonly chosen for this purpose include anti-emetics (medications that stop vomiting) such as Cerenia®, antihistamines such as Benadryl®, and tranquilizers.

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How to Prevent Car Sickness for Your Dog

So in conclusion, motion sickness in dogs is a common problem. Motion or car sickness is more common in younger dogs than adults. The reason may be due to the fact that the parts of the inner ear involved in balance are not fully developed. Puppies will often “outgrow” motion sickness by the time they are about 1 year old.

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