Does every short car ride end in a disgruntled dog, foul smells, and human tears as you scrape dog barf off your seats? Car sickness in dogs is a common dilemma that a lot of owners deal with. And the aftermath of cleaning the throw-up and taking care of your beloved pet can make you think twice about traveling with them.
The shaking, whining, and dreadful gagging noise from the backseat can ruin any rendezvous. Luckily there are a few things you can do to make your dog’s stomach a little more settled during car rides that we’ll guide you through below.
What Does Car Sickness Mean?
Car sickness is a kind of motion sickness caused by underdevelopment or sensitivity in the inner ear. Younger dogs are more susceptible to this, but older dogs may have nausea during car rides, especially when stressed. This illness causes your dog to become dizzy and often results in distressed behaviors like vomiting, pacing, or whining.
Can My Dog Get Car Sick?
Dogs get car sick either because of physical factors or from stress. True motion sickness arises from a disturbance of the inner ear caused by immature organs. It is common for young dogs to suffer from true motion sickness from the movement of the car, nervousness over a new experience, or from over-excitement for the trip.
This sickness tends to lessen or disappear as the dog matures and their inner ears can maintain equilibrium. However, many dogs may suffer from motion sickness for many years because they have been taught that car rides often end in a stressful situation.
Why Do Dogs Get Car Sick?
Motion sickness is common in dogs of all ages. Younger dogs tend to be sensitive to movement because the parts of their inner ear responsible for balance are not yet matured, leading to dizziness and nausea.
The vestibular system is responsible for balance in mammals and is maintained by the brain, and a series of organs in the ear collectively called the “vestibular system.” When dogs are young, these inner ear organs are underdeveloped and incapable of keeping your dog oriented when they move around too much. When they ride in cars, the fluid in their inner ear moves around, disturbs blood flow, and stimulates the nerves leading to the brain. This may cause vertigo or motion sickness. Luckily, certain puppies can grow out of this as their vestibular systems mature and better handle motion.
Adult dogs may still suffer from motion sickness far past puppyhood if they develop inner ear issues, have an ear infection, are driven in a higher altitude than they are used to, or if they often associate car rides with stressful events like going to the vet. Most issues happen because the eyes tell the brain that the body is still but the inner ear senses movement. This conflict in senses causes confusion and mixed signals to the brain, which cause the sickness.
Signs of Car Sickness in Dogs
Motion sickness in dogs can begin even before they get in the car. The anticipation of the ride alone is enough to set your dog off. If your dog knows they’re getting ready to head out for a ride (like the telltale carrier being left out by the door or the jingling of keys when you call for them). In this case, your dog may exhibit nervousness, including pacing, hiding, panting, or crying.
The time during car trips is when these symptoms become the most aggravated. If your dog suffers from motion sickness, they may experience the following:
- Whining or whimpering
- Excessive drooling
- Licking or smacking lips
- Inactivity or listlessness
- Repeated yawning
Post car travel, your dog can also exhibit dizziness, upset stomach, and other distressing behaviors until they calm down. The stress of the event may take a minute to subside. This means your dog may still have these symptoms even after the ride is over.
How Can I Prevent Car Sickness in My Dog?
The best way to prevent car sickness is to make the experience as pleasant as possible for your dog. Reducing their stress can help offset their stomach upset and ease disorientation. You can do this through several different methods.
Making the trip as calm and relaxing as possible is important. Bringing comfort items in the car like a blanket or toys can turn a scary trip into a fun time. Nervousness associated with what will happen at the end of the ride can be countered by teaching your dog that not all car rides end badly.
Retrain your dog to associate the car with more positive feelings and experiences. This can help take away their stress and nerves. Gradually, implementing treats, praise, and field trips to the dog park can re-teach your dog that cars do not equal a vet visit or a similar negative experience. They can anticipate an enjoyable ride instead of fearing the destination.
Taking quick trips can be a good place to start building your dog’s tolerance. Starting with just sitting in the car to working your way around the block can help advance them to long car rides later.
Schedule Their Meals
Avoid feeding your dog right before road trips. If there is nothing in their stomach, they will be less likely to feel sick and vomit. Time their meal a few hours before heading out so they are not hungry on the ride over but will have digested their food before the trip. Always have water at the ready, though! Dehydration can worsen queasiness, which is more likely to happen if your dog is nervous and panting.
Give them a Window Seat
The sensation of movement without seeing where you’re going can cause conflicting sensory signals and lead to dizziness and queasiness. Let your dog see out of the window while you ride so that they can orient themselves to the moving world.
Smaller dogs may have trouble doing this, especially puppies. But if possible, give your dog access to a window view. Or keep them on the floor of the backseat! Both of which may reduce their motion sickness.
As you know, dogs live in the world through their noses. Allowing fresh air into the car through an open window may be a welcome distraction from a queasy stomach. New and exciting smells carried by the wind provide an exciting experience that can help turn a nerve-wracking ride into an adventure. Cracking your car window a few inches is all it takes to allow for sniffing pleasure.
Medication for Motion Sickness
Other remedies may help your dog if the above techniques fail. Motion sickness drugs like Dramamine are safe for most adult dogs to take when utilized under vet guidance. Another medication like the FDA-approved Cerenia, has been approved for dog motion sickness by blocking the receptors in the brain that cause vomiting.
Adaptil may also help some dogs. It is a natural solution that mimics the pheromones a nursing dog would emit after giving birth that can help calm your dog and make them feel safer. Extremely nervous pets may benefit from stronger prescriptions of Xanax or Desyrel that reduce skittish behaviors in some pets. Of course, only take these under the supervision of a veterinarian who can monitor and manage your pet’s health.
If you don’t want to resort to medicine right off the bat, there are other things to give your dog to help with their car sickness. For natural queasiness reduction, aromatherapeutic scents like lavender and supplements containing catnip, fennel, chamomile, and ginger aid in canine motion sickness. Ginger is especially helpful as well. You can find ginger capsules and powder in many pet supply and pharmacy aisles. Puppies and young dogs under 16lbs can safely take up to 250mg of ginger, while larger dogs can take 500mg.
Herbal supplements like kava, valerian, passionflower, or skullcap may also ease your dog’s nervousness. You can administer these in capsule or pill form. Their consumption dates back centuries as a treatment for motion sickness. We don’t recommend essential oils for your dog as they’re ineffective and even dangerous.
CBD is another great option to consider for natural relief. Giving your dog a CBD treat before a ride in the car may calm them and even ease their queasiness! Give CBD to your dog an hour or so before a ride, depending on the product, to help you time their treatment beforehand.
Can Puppies Outgrow Car Sickness?
Young dogs tend to experience car sickness more than older dogs, but most dogs grow out of this after one year of age. At that time, the structures in their inner ears become fully developed, and they should be able to orient themselves better in a moving car.
Again, some adult dogs may continue to have this problem all their lives. Managing their nerves and retraining them to enjoy car rides instead of fearing them may reverse their susceptibility to car sickness.
Final Thoughts – Car Sickness in Dogs
Car sickness is a form of motion sickness that occurs when your dog gets a bit disgruntled during a car ride. It results in distressed behavior in your dog, including vomiting and whining. Your dog’s car sickness is caused by an underdevelopment of their inner ear structures or conditioning to fear rides. If your dog only goes for rides when they must go somewhere, like to the vet or groomers, they are taught to be scared any time they go for a ride.
Helping your dog stay calm is the key to easing the nervous behavior that leads them to vomit. Providing a security blanket or toys on a long ride, giving them calming supplements and herbs, and other veterinary prescribed medicine can all counter the effects of their motion sickness. CBD is a natural way to offset this skittishness and resulting stomach issues safely and naturally. Most dogs grow out of this problem. But some need a little extra help. Spend time considering the best option for your dog is the best way to get them back on the road!