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Car Sickness in Dogs: What Causes it and How to Avoid it

Written by FOTP Team

Updated

French bull dog sticking head out of car window

Whether you’re an experienced owner, or about to bring your dog home for the very first time, it’s likely that you’ll have to manage motion sickness in your pet at some point. Afterall, your dog's ancestors didn’t cruise about in a four wheel drive! 

While this is undoubtedly unpleasant for both you and your four-legged friend, it’s actually really common. In fact, it’s estimated that around a quarter of dogs will struggle with car sickness at some time in their lives so if it happens to your dog, it’s not something you need to panic about. 

If your dog suffers from motion sickness, you will be glad to know that there are a number of things that can be done to help reduce the occurrence of car sickness. Some may even help you to eliminate it altogether.

Which Dogs are Most Likely to Struggle with Car Sickness?

Any dog can experience motion sickness at any time in its life, although car sickness is much more common in puppies and younger dogs. It’s believed that this is because the areas of the ear which relate to balance are underdeveloped. In most cases, pet owners find that their dogs will outgrow the symptoms and effects of car sickness by the time that they are a year old. 

Dogs are complicated animals, whilst they might not understand why they’re feeling bad or how to stop it, they could start to associate the car with feeling ill. This means they’ll soon start to anticipate that feeling before you’ve even started the engine which could turn into a larger traveling problem. Don’t wait for your puppy to outgrow their motion sickness, act now! 

How To Tell If Your Dog Gets Carsick

The most common symptom of motion sickness in dogs is, of course, vomiting. This can occur within minutes of starting a journey, or may happen after you have been traveling for a while. Not all dogs will make a fuss when they’re being sick and if yours is secured away in the trunk, you might not even know when in your journey they were ill. If you’ve got a traveling companion, have them sit in the back or near your dog so they can keep an eye out. 

As well as vomiting, there are a number of other symptoms to watch out for. Identifying these symptoms can help you spot when your dog is starting to get distressed, enabling you to manage the situation more easily. 

Symptoms include:

  • Excessive saliva
  • Yawning
  • Whining
  • Licking lips
  • Diarrhea

Treatments for Car Sickness in Dogs 

As travel sickness is a physical reaction, it’s not always easy to treat but here’s a few steps you can take to make life easier for everyone. 

Take regular, short trips

It may seem counterproductive to take your dog on car trips if they suffer with care sickness. However, one of the best ways to desensitize them is by exposing them regularly. This doesn’t mean taking long car journeys, but daily trips around the block can help to reduce symptoms and build resilience. The distance can gradually be built up over time. If your dog gets very anxious in relation to traveling, then it might be best to just get them used to being in the car initially, gradually exposing them to sitting in the vehicle with the engine running and eventually taking short journeys. 

Keep your dog facing forward

There is some evidence to suggest that motion sickness occurs less often when dogs are kept in a forward-facing position. Luckily, there are plenty of dog harnesses and specially designed seat belts which can help to keep your dog safely facing forward in a vehicle. 

Make sure your dog is comfortable

It can sometimes help to give your dog a piece of your clothing or a familiar toy to help reduce feelings of anxiety. Alternatively, some dogs prefer traveling in a crate as they feel more secure. 

Don’t feed your dog just before traveling

Having an empty stomach can help to reduce the occurrence of nausea and vomiting. If your dog suffers from motion sickness, try not to feed them for at least an hour before traveling

If you think your dog is going to be sick, try to pull over 

Pulling over and taking your dog for a short walk outside of the car, or even just letting them get a few breaths of fresh air, before they are sick can help to reduce feelings of nausea. This will often be temporary, but over time you may find that you need to stop less frequently. 

Drive with the window open

While this might seem like a relatively minor suggestion, it really can help. Opening the window slightly while you are driving can help to balance the pressure within the ears, reducing feelings of nausea and relieving symptoms of motion sickness. It also provides fresh air, which some dogs enjoy. However, you should always remember to only open the window a little so that your dog doesn’t try to jump out. 

Herbal Remedies

There are a number of herbal treatments which can help to alleviate the symptoms of motion sickness in dogs. These include: ginger, valerian and skullcap. Some of these will be combined in supplement form which can be given to your dog before traveling. If you know your dog always gets stressed before they get in the car, something like our Harmony supplement could help. With a blend of clinically-proven adaptogens and nootropics that target anxiety at the source, it’s designed to work within 90-minutes of consumption.

What to do if the Motion Sickness Doesn’t Improve. 

If you feel that you’ve tried all of the typical methods to reduce motion sickness in your dog, then it might be a good idea to consider using medication. There are a number of options for over-the-counter medications which can be given to pets before traveling. Many of these will reduce symptoms and allow for a more comfortable traveling experience for both you and your dog. Have a chat with your veterinarian and they’ll be able to recommend the right course of action. 

Often, over-the-counter treatment options will be medications designed to tackle nausea, although antihistamines are also sometimes used. 

If over-the-counter treatments don’t seem to work, your veterinarian may be able to offer a prescribed car sickness medication which can be useful in more severe cases. 

The exact options you choose to use when tackling car sickness in dogs will largely depend on the severity of the problem and your circumstances. Finding the right solution for you and your dog will help to make journeys much more enjoyable for you both, allowing you to experience more adventures together without the stress and anxiety that motion sickness can cause.