Many puppies and young dogs get carsick because the ear structures involved in balance have not yet fully developed. But many adults – especially those who have conditioned themselves to associate car travel with a previous negative experience – also suffer from carsickness.
Signs of car sickness can include whining, excessive drooling, inactivity and vomiting. If your dog gets carsick, a few preventative measures can make trips much easier for you both.
For some dogs, car rides are enjoyable adventures, but for others they are not. Dog travel sickness, also known as motion sickness, is a condition that occurs when the vestibular system of the inner ear is stimulated during movement in a vehicle. This system is responsible for maintaining balance and equilibrium. This stimulation of the vestibular system during a car ride causes conflicting signals to be sent to the vomiting center in the brain, resulting in nausea and vomiting.
If your dog experiences motion sickness during a trip, they will likely exhibit signs such as excessive drooling, swallowing a lot of air, panting, whining and pacing in the vehicle. These signs are a direct response to their discomfort, with some dogs even vomiting as a result of being nauseous.
There are several things you can do to help prevent your dog from feeling nauseous during a car ride. Firstly, try to keep your dog facing forward during the journey. This will provide less visual stimulus to the vomit centre in their brain than looking out of a side window. If this is not possible for your dog, a solid-sided crate or dog seat belt may help to limit their field of vision. Lowering the windows a few inches can also get fresh air flowing in, which can alleviate nausea.
Another way to prevent your dog from getting nauseous is to not feed them for about two hours before the journey. This will ensure that they have an empty stomach and therefore a reduced likelihood of throwing up in the vehicle.
Lastly, if your dog has a mild case of motion sickness you can also give them some anti-nausea medication such as Maropitant tablets. These are prescribed by your vet and need to be given about 2hrs before the journey. They are very effective in the majority of cases but can be quite expensive, so it is best to discuss them with your vet before using them.
Alternatively, there are over-the-counter medications and natural remedies such as ginger that have anecdotal evidence of reducing nausea in pets during car trips. However, these will not address the underlying cause of your pet’s symptoms, so they are only a short-term solution.
Dogs often become agitated and anxious in the car, and this may contribute to their feelings of motion sickness. If you notice your pup acting agitated and nervous in the car, try to calm them down. Avoid yelling at your pet, as this can only make the situation worse.
Instead, reward good behaviour by offering high-value treats when they get into the car or travel crate. This will help them associate car rides with positive experiences. Over time, this can also make them feel more comfortable in the car and less prone to nausea.
If you’re unsure how to approach this with your dog, speak to a qualified trainer or vet to see what advice they can offer. They can also work with you on desensitizing and counter-conditioning your pet to car trips, reducing their anxiety about travelling by slowly building up the length of time they spend in the car.
A lot of dogs who suffer from car sickness have underlying fears about travelling, or they’ve had a bad experience with car travel in the past. Your veterinarian may be able to determine the cause of your dog’s anxiety or motion sickness, and recommend treatments such as the over-the-counter antihistamines that have mild sedative effects (Meclizine, Difenhydramine) or more specific anti-nausea medications like Cerenia(r), which blocks the vomiting reflex.
Another way to reduce your dog’s motion sickness is to have them face forward, as this will reduce the number of conflicting sensory signals sent from the eyes and inner ear. This will also allow them to look out the window, which can give comforting and reassuring views of familiar landmarks on your journey.
Finally, don’t forget to stop and let your dog stretch their legs and sniff the fresh air on your trip. This will not only help them with any anxiety or nausea they may be feeling, but it will also give them the opportunity to relieve themselves if needed. And remember to bring plenty of water for your pet, to help prevent dehydration, which can also exacerbate motion sickness.
Medicating Your Dog
Dog car sickness can make even the shortest trips in the family car traumatic and stressful for your pet. Fortunately, there are plenty of preventive steps you can take to quell your dog’s nausea and make trips easier for both of you. These can include anything from treating the symptoms of dog travel sickness to changing your pup’s association with riding in the car.
One of the most common causes of dog car sickness is conflicting sensory signals reaching your dog’s brain from different areas of the body. These signals from the vestibular system in the inner ear, which is used for balance, can contradict those coming from your dog’s eyes. This conflicting information can lead to vomiting and nausea, similar to motion sickness in humans.
Most dogs who get carsick will outgrow this issue as they mature, but for those that don’t, a lot can be done to help them feel more comfortable on car rides. Puppies and young dogs are more prone to this issue because the structures in the inner ear that control balance haven’t fully developed, just like in children. The problem can also be caused by psychological stress, such as your dog’s first car ride or trips to the kennel when they were puppies.
Some dogs who get motion sick will respond to over-the-counter anti-nausea medication. These include maropitant (Cerenia, a veterinary-specific prescription drug) and dimenhydrinate (Dramamine(r) and Gravol(r)). These medications work by blocking the NK1 receptors in your dog’s brain that are responsible for the onset of vomiting. It’s important to consult your veterinarian before attempting to administer these medications, though, so that they can determine the correct dosage and frequency for your pet.
If your dog gets car sick despite trying anti-nausea drugs, there are some homeopathic and herbal remedies that can help ease the discomfort. Try giving your dog some ginger or chamomile before a trip, as these can relieve nausea and calm the nervous system. If your dog is primarily anxious about being in the car, a natural herbal remedy such as Cocculus indicus can be effective at relieving anxiety and lifting spirits.
Dog car sickness can turn even short trips to the park or vet into a miserable experience for both you and your pup. By using a combination of preventive measures, desensitisation and medication you can make your dog much more comfortable during car rides, making those trips easier for both of you.
Preventing a dog from feeling sick in the car is easier than many people realise. The main problem with dogs getting car sick is that the sensory signals that reach their brain from their eyes don’t match the movement sensing areas of their inner ear, and this confusion causes nausea and vomiting. However, other factors can also make your dog feel sick during a car ride. For example, puppies that get nauseous on their first few car rides may start to associate future travel with that particular traumatic event and vomit in anticipation of the trip. Adult dogs that are anxious about their travel or where they’re going may also vomit during the trip.
While there are numerous over-the-counter, anecdotal and supplemental treatments for car sickness, maropitant (Cerenia) is the only prescription medication that’s been clinically proven to reduce both car and motion sickness in dogs. This medication works by blocking the NK1 receptors in the brainstem vomiting center and is very effective, with only 7% of dogs showing any nausea during a one-hour car ride on Cerenia. It’s recommended that the medication be given to your pet at least two hours before the journey and can be found in tablet form.
Ginger has long been used as an anti-nauseant for humans, and it’s anecdotal that it helps to control nausea in dogs as well. However, it’s important to note that there are no specific studies showing its efficacy and, in fact, it’s recommended that you don’t give your dog any ginger supplements unless instructed by a vet.
Cracking the windows and keeping the car cool can also help with nausea. Some dogs also benefit from having their favourite blanket or toy with them during a car ride, and spraying a few drops of calming dog appeasing pheromone inside the vehicle can help calm a nervous animal.