Carsickness isn’t just a phenomenon that humans experience. In fact, carsickness in dogs is a common condition. But what causes your dog to feel this way, and how can it be treated?
What Causes Carsickness in Dogs?
Dogs usually get carsick for 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, like humans, some dogs never outgrow the nausea and vomiting caused by motion sickness.
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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, they 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 their litter. They 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 they’re more likely to look forward. Use a doggie seat belt or safety harness to keep them 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 internal and external air pressure, which 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, a favorite blanket, or even your old T-shirt.
- Buy a special toy that you only give to the dog in the car. Help them 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 of sitting in the car, try starting the car and letting it run for a few minutes with them in it. Bring a toy and play with your dog. Make it a happy time. Then shut off the car and exit. Do this for a few days until your dog shows enthusiasm for going to the car. The trick here is to progress slowly after they show 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 they get sick, take a step or two back in the process until they build 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 their lips, or even vomiting. Yelling or making a big deal out of it will only amplify their 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 their 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.