Even a short trip in your car is often a stressful event. Traffic congestion, time-sensitive appointments, weather hazards – we all know those situations too well.
Now add a puking puppy passenger to the mix and it’s hell on wheels.
Just like humans, dogs can get motion sickness in the car. Although it’s more common in younger dogs, some dogs seem to be more prone to it than others and have recurring episodes throughout their lives. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help your pet get more comfortable on the road.
First, the science.
Car sickness most often occurs in puppies and – with puppies – there’s a good chance they’ll outgrow it. The theory is that a young dog’s vestibular system isn’t fully developed yet. The vestibular system is what is commonly referred to as the ‘inner ear’ and is involved in maintaining balance and equilibrium. Senior dogs can have vestibular issues, too but an adult dog with car sickness might have an underlying condition like an infection.
Another factor in car sickness is stress. A dog of any age that’s unaccustomed to riding in a moving vehicle might be very stressed by the strange new environment and noise. If most of a dog’s experience with road trips is going to the vet, the dog might associate the car with scary vet visits and become very anxious when they get in the car.
What are the signs of car sickness?
These vary from dog to dog but the most common ones are:
- Excessive lip licking
- Excessive yawning
- Crying or whining
- Excessive panting
What can you do? A lot, actually.
That said, it’s important to take these steps very, very slowly when helping a dog overcome car sickness. In the meantime, I recommend putting some pee pads down near your dog in the car. In case your dog does throw up, it will make cleanup much easier.
- Take a look at how your dog is situated in the car. A secure dog is a comfortable dog – for some dogs, car sickness goes away when they’re buckled in with a car harness or confined to a crate (crash-tested, preferably). Crates and harnesses can create a sense of comfort as well as provide in-vehicle safety – check out the ones made by Sleepypod. (Want to learn more about car safety? Click here.)
- You can also try lowering the car windows a little to let some air in. This helps balance the air pressure outside and inside the car.
- An empty stomach can be a factor in motion sickness but so can a full one. Take note of when your dog last ate on the times he gets car sick and try making adjustments like giving him a small meal an hour or so before you get in the car.
- Acclimate your dog to the car. Let him spend time in the car when it’s not running. Sit in the back seat with your dog and let him eat or have treats or play with a favorite toy. This should make an anxious pet less anxious about the vehicle.
- When you get the motor running, it’s lots of very short rides at first. ‘Short’ as in 2-3 minutes, maybe just down the street and back. Don’t overdo it. We’re trying to create a positive, calm association to the car. If you’ve got the short rides down and your dog isn’t queasy, add on a few minutes, circle the block a few times. Extend your road trips very slowly, keeping an eye on your dog’s comfort.
- If your pet is still experiencing car sickness, many human medications are safe for dogs. Benadryl, Dramamine and pet CBD are all safe options but you might want to consult your vet before trying these. Persistent car sickness in an adult dog might be related to an underlying condition so solid veterinary advice is a good idea.
Just as most puppies outgrow car sickness, most dogs grow to love riding in the car. Sometimes it just takes a little longer to get there. We hope with lots of practice and enjoyable times together in the car that you and your dog will become the most enthusiastic of road-trippers.