Canine Car Sickness

For some dogs, the car feels like a second home. Not only do they delight in going for rides, they love just hanging out in their car any chance they get. This is not the case for dogs who experience motion sickness. These poor pups dread car travel regardless of the destination.

Vomiting is, of course, the tell-tale sign of motion sickness. More subtle evidence that your best buddy is feeling queasy may include lip licking, heavy drooling, anxiety, and/or subdued behavior.

Car sickness or motion sickness is super common amongst puppies, and may be associated with immaturity of the inner ear apparatus that regulates equilibrium and balance. While many dogs outgrow this problem, others continue to experience motion sickness throughout their lives. For some, this may become a conditioned response- the dog learns to associate car travel with nausea.

Although motion sickness does not have any long-lasting health consequences, it is certainly a major drag for the poor dog and the poor human who must clean up the mess. If your dog experiences motion sickness I encourage you to take advantage of the following suggestions with hopes that your car rides together will become far more peaceful and enjoyable.

Tips for decreasing your dog’s motion sickness

– Allow your dog to spend good quality time in your car with the engine turned off. Spend these driveway moments with a peaceful, calm mindset and provide lots of positive reinforcement.

– Graduate from the step above to sitting in a parked car with the engine running and lots of positive reinforcement. Next comes very short road trips- no more than a trip around the block. Gradually build up car travel time, ideally winding up at destinations your dog considers desirable.

– Travel when your dog has an empty stomach (no food for 4-6 hours). This means skipping a meal or timing your travel according to your dog’s feeding schedule.

– While driving, confine your dog using a crate or a seat belt setup designed specifically for dogs. Less movement will lessen the likelihood of nausea. It is thought that facing forward may help prevent motion sickness. If using a crate, cover it in a fashion that prevents your dog from looking out other than in a forward direction.

– Try a different car. Here I am giving you a reason to go out and buy that new car you’ve had your eye on! Can you imagine the auto dealer’s reaction to taking your car sick dog going along on test rides? In all seriousness, if you do have access to more than one vehicle, see if one produces a more favorable response for your dog than the other. I can attest to the fact that I am much more prone to motion sickness in some cars than in others.

– Keep the car cool by cracking windows and/or using air conditioning. I am not an advocate of allowing your dog to travel with head hanging out the window. There is too much potential for bodily harm, particularly those precious corneas.

– Ask your veterinarian for a prescription for Cerenia (maropitant citrate), a drug that was developed specifically for the prevention of motion sickness in dogs. It is safe and effective and doesn’t cause drowsiness. Cerenia comes in a tablet form that is administered orally once daily. It works best when given two hours prior to travel.

– Over the counter medications developed for people with motion sickness are not as effective for dogs as is Cerenia. Additionally, most cause significant drowsiness. Do not use these products without first checking in with your veterinarian.

– Ginger may reduce motion sickness for some dogs. Some people believe that feeding a ginger snap or two to their dog before travel does the trick.

Aromatherapy with lavender has been shown to significantly reduce car ride-induced anxiety in dogs. While not proven to lessen canine motion sickness (to my knowledge, this has not been studied), the reduction in anxiety may prove beneficial. Unless you detest the smell of lavender, this is certainly worth a try.

Has your dog experienced motion sickness? If so, what have you tried and how has it worked?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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12 Responses to “Canine Car Sickness”

  1. Linda Pugh says:

    Thank you so much for writing this article. I feel so bad for my poor dog when she is trembling and drooling on the long car trips that we have to make twice a year. (We stop as often as we can to give her a break.)

    I have tried the Thundershirt, which sadly didn’t help my dog (who doesn’t like to be hugged).

    The vet suggested Benadryl and to withhold food, so we tried that and it took the edge off.

    I’ll certainly be trying Cerenia for our next trip.

  2. Courtenay says:

    I use Thundershirts with carsick dogs with good success. It doesn’t help every dog, but they’re return-guaranteed and I’ve seen a difference with most.

  3. Jackie says:

    Through a Dog’s Ear cds for car riding.
    Also, I have had amazing success with a homeopathic remedy from Boiron, but i can’t think of the name at the moment!

  4. Sky Benoit says:

    Not sure if one of my dog’s has carsickness or not. I do think it might be what I would call borderline carsickness. His symptoms are heavy panting, anxiety, barking which goes on for the first half hour to an hour of a trip. I have to stop every few miles to take him out to go potty. I have found that I cannot feed him or give him any water before a ride. After the first half hour to an hour he is fine. By the way, this dog loves to go for rides.

  5. Sharon says:

    Our poor Mystery has had car sickness from the second we picked him up. Okay, since the first 60 seconds – and we had to drive from Dallas to NC. As someone who also gets car sick, I completely understood what was happening and felt so bad for him.

    His car sickness was so bad that I had to stop taking him to training. He’d throw up three times on the way there and twice on the way back – even when I quit feeding him the morning of training (kibble sure stayed in the digestive tract a long time). In just two weeks, he’d lost so much weight that you not only could see his ribs but his tail bone was very prominent. He looked like a neglected dog. It took months and switching to a raw diet before his ribs were felt and not seen.

    We tried a number of methods to keep him from getting sick, including Cerenia, which also didn’t work. Eventually, I put him on the floor board in the front of my SUV, a place I am not happy with since I don’t think any pet should travel unsecured in a vehicle, but it’s the only thing that works.

    I started taking him down the mountain, about a half mile, and we would walk from there. Eventually, I made it to the vet, then to town. Initially, every time I stopped for anything longer than a traffic light, I’d rush to get him out and walk around for a bit.

    He actually faces the seat which has a special cover over it with a large trash bag on the seat and a roll of paper towels so, if he does vomit, it’s easy to clean up. He will turn and put his nose up to the vent which I always have blowing on cool air on his side – even this past winter. Makes a mess of the radio console but he only rarely throws up now. His current trainer mentioned ginger but we haven’t tried it or, thankfully, needed it.

  6. Lois Snyder says:

    Non – drowsy formula dramamine ( meclyzine ) works very well but you have to remember to give it to the dog an hour or more before the trip. (And it’s much cheaper than prescription medication. ) I give it to the puppies before their first trip so that they 324324 don’t have negative associations with the car.

  7. sc says:

    Gwinnie likes to look out the window. The problem is that she looks out the
    side windows and gets sick from the relative rapid motion she sees. She does much better since I encouraged her to look forward or towards the back window.
    She also much prefers to be in the “back of the outback” for the same reasons.

  8. sharon says:

    I think my dog Bijou might have the “conditioned response”, since she hasn’t vomited since she was a puppy. We always have a fun hike or walk, but the travel time was stressful for both of us. Up until recently, I had to hide the signs of leaving the house, trick her with a treat and then leash her to get her in the car. Two things have changed recently: a new quieter car (old car was a Honda Element… lots of road noise). I also got her a new soft fabric foldable crate (old crate was hard plastic with metal grill door). The door on the new crate is large, zipped, see-through mesh. I think being able to see me better might help. Now she gets excited when she sees the signs of a potential trip… changing my shoes, gathering my things, etc. She jumps in the car willingly. It’s such a relief to me that she is calmer now. I have to admit that I still give her a lightweight tranquilizer when we make the 5-hour trip to my cabin, but maybe I’ll ask my vet about the Cerenia. Thanks Nancy! Great column as usual.

  9. Ksenia says:

    The only thing that has worked for my dog is to avoid looking out the window. She gets in the back seat and she lays down. Problem solved.

  10. Linda says:

    My border collie had a severe carsickness problem from puppyhood until the age of 3. I experimented with position, covering, air-flow, not feeding for hours prior to travel, aromatherapy etc. and nothing worked until my vet suggested non-drowsy Dramamine. It worked like a miracle, and was such a relief to be able to take her places without having her get sick.

  11. Kristin Boggs says:

    Thank you for this article! My five year old beagle Henry often vomits on short car trips. He is in a car seat and secured with a harness. It’s as if it’s worse within the city. If we get out on the open road, he seems better, but that is rare. Usually it is stop and go city traffic. I’ve had some success with a natural product called Ginger Tummy, but am going to ask the vet about Cerenia. Henry enjoys going places, but getting there is tough for both of us.

  12. Connie says:

    I found that moving my dog’s crate toward the center and to a lower position on my car has helped. It seems to reduce the amount of sway he has to cope with. Of course this necessitate removing one of the back seats. It also moved him closer to me.