What Causes Carsickness in Dogs?
There is usually one of two reasons for dogs to get carsick: physical or psychological. And sometimes the latter can cause the former.
Just like in humans, motion sickness in dogs is related to the sense of balance. It’s most often seen in puppies, just as it’s most often seen in young children. That’s because the structures in the inner ear used for balance aren’t fully developed yet. Of course, also like humans, some dogs never outgrow the nausea and vomiting caused by motion sickness.
Dogs may also suffer from car-related anxiety. If, for example, your dog’s first few car trips resulted in being car sick and vomiting, she may start to associate the car with being sick. Or a dog may associate being in the car with unpleasant or traumatic things, like a trip to the vet or being separated from her litter. She may see the car as the cause of her stress and nausea.
Regardless of the cause, if every car ride turns into something out of a horror movie and ends with a very unhappy dog and a car that needs a thorough cleaning, there are things you can do.
Make the Car Ride More Comfortable
- Adjust what your dog sees. Watching the world speed by in a blur through a side window can nauseate anyone. Put your dog in the middle seat in the back so he’s more likely to look forward. Use a doggie seat belt or safety harness to keep him safely in place. Some dog owners prefer using a solid-sided crate to limit their dog’s field of vision.
- Lower the car windows. Even a few inches of fresh air will equalize inside and outside air pressure and that can help reduce nausea. Keeping the car cool and well ventilated is helpful, too.
- Restrict your dog’s food intake prior to travel. If possible, withhold food for 12 hours before the car trip. But don’t restrict access to fresh water.
- Bring something that smells like home for your dog, whether it’s a much-loved toy, his favorite blanket, or even your old tee shirt.
- Buy a special toy that you only give to the dog in the car. Help him associate car travel with fun.
Conditioning and Desensitizing To Treat Carsickness
You can take steps to help your dog overcome motion sickness and car anxiety. Start with putting the pup in the car with you for a few minutes a day. Don’t turn on the car or drive anywhere, just sit quietly, giving praise and gently petting.
After a few days sitting in the car, try starting the car and letting it run for a few minutes with her in it. Bring a toy and play with her. Make it a happy time. Then shut off the car and exit. Do this for a few days until she shows enthusiasm for going to the car. The trick here is to progress slowly after she shows no sign of sickness.
The next step is to drive up and down the driveway or road in front of your house once then stop and exit. Slowly increase the amount of travel until you can take short trips to somewhere that your dog likes, maybe a park or to visit a playmate. If she gets sick, take a step or two back in the process until she builds up tolerance to the car.
If there are slip-ups or lapses, stay calm. Your dog may show signs of anxiety, such as whining, drooling, licking her lips, or even vomiting. Yelling at her or making a big deal out of it will only amplify her stress. Keep cool and try again tomorrow.
Medication for Your Dog’s Carsickness
When nothing else works, your veterinarian may recommend medication, such as something for nausea or anti-anxiety medication. The vet may even suggest a sedative. There are also natural herbs and plants that may help to calm your dog and settle his stomach, such as lavender, ginger, and valerian. Be sure to consult your vet before giving your dog any medications or herbal remedies.
Although many dogs will outgrow carsickness, some are prone to it throughout their lives. It would be a shame if every trip to the vet is traumatic (for both of you) or if your dog has to miss family outings and vacations. It’s well worth the time and effort to try and alleviate your dog’s car misery and make car travel easier for everyone.