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How to Curb Car Sickness in Puppies and Dogs

Car sickness doesn't affect only humans. Here's how to keep your dog healthy during car trips.

 |  Feb 4th 2013  |   7 Contributions


Editor's note: This article first appeared at Trips with Pets; we're running it here with permission so Dogster readers can weigh in. 

Much like humans, dogs and puppies can also experience a feeling of illness while on car trips, and it can make pet travel, whether short or long, quite an ordeal for dogs and their families. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help. 

Here are the most common reasons for car sickness in puppies and dogs:

  • The ear structures used for balance aren't fully developed in puppies. This can cause motion sickness. Fortunately, many dogs will outgrow car sickness.
  • Stress can also add to travel sickness. For example, if your dog has only been in the car to go to the vet, he may make himself sick from the worry and apprehension of seeing the vet.
  • If your dog has been nauseated the first few times traveling in the car as a puppy, he may have conditioned himself to see car travel as a time when he will get sick. 

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Let your dog sit up front, but maybe you shouldn't let him drive. French Bulldog driving car by Shutterstock

Common signs of car sickness include inactivity, restlessness, excessive yawning, whining, hyper-salivation (drooling), and vomiting. Typically, symptoms go away shortly after the vehicle stops.

There are a number of treatment options available to help prevent car sickness for your puppy or dog, including increasing physical comfort in the car, reconditioning, medication, and holistic treatments. Here's how to employ each method:

1.  Increasing physical comfort in the car

  • Face your dog forward in a moving vehicle so he will see less movement. Looking out of the side windows causes objects to blur, and that can cause or compound motion sickness.
  • Avoid letting your pet travel in the farthest backseat, because this is where there is the most motion.
  • Opening the windows in the car a little bit may help reduce air pressure inside the vehicle and allow for better ventilation.
  • Don’t give your puppy or dog any food for a few hours before getting in the car.
  • Try putting him in a travel crate. Sometimes, this helps to keep him from looking outside too much.
  • Keep it cool in the vehicle. A hot, stuffy ride can make car sickness worse for your dog.
  • Toys can help distract and entertain a high-strung dog.
  • Take frequent potty breaks.
  • Exercise before getting in the car.

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Facing backwards in a car can add to motion sickness -- for dogs and people. Golden Retriever waits in car by Shutterstock

2. Reconditioning

Reconditioning is needed if your dog associates riding in the car with something bad, like getting sick or going to the vet, but it takes patience for both you and your dog. Here are some tips to help recondition your dog:

  • Try a different vehicle. He may associate your vehicle with unpleasant memories.
  • Take short car trips to places your dog enjoys.
  • Gradually build your dog’s tolerance. Start by sitting in the car with your dog with the engine off. Do this over a few days. Then, when he seems comfortable, sit in the car with the car idling. Then, take a ride around the block. Next, try a longer trip. By doing this slowly and over a period of time, you are helping remove the stress of traveling from your dog.
  • Use treats to make the car a fun place for your dog.
  • Buy a special toy that your dog can only play with in the car.

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Short trips that don't end up at the vet's will help build your dog's tolerance for driving. Dogs enjoy car ride by Shutterstock

3. Medication

At times, medications may be necessary to help your dog during pet travel. Here are some over-the-counter and prescribed medications:

  • Anti-nausea drugs, to reduce vomiting.
  • Antihistamines, used to lessen motion sickness, reduce drooling, and help dogs stay calm.
  • Phenothiazine and related drugs, to reduce vomiting and to sedate.

Always discuss any medications with your veterinarian before using them. 

4. Holistic treatments

Holistic treatments are another option when traveling with your dog. Here are some common ones:

  • Ginger, for nausea. Give ginger-snap cookies or ginger pills at least 30 minutes before travel.
  • Peppermint, chamomile, and horehound, to calm the stomach.
  • Massage, to relax your pet before you travel.

Always discuss any holistic remedies with your veterinarian before using them. 

Patience and training are key in helping your dog deal with car sickness. Hopefully, with time and a little effort, your dog will be able to ride safely and happily in your car!

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