Motion Sickness in Dogs

Key Takeaways

Motion sickness (also known as car sickness) is when a dog shows signs of nausea and/or vomiting as a result of being in motion outside of their control. 

• Motion sickness is common in dogs, especially puppies, and is usually associated with car rides

• Symptoms include vomiting, hypersalivation (drooling), panting, and lip licking

• Medication and desensitization are effective treatments for motion sickness

• Motion sickness is not life threatening, but it can be distressing for dogs and pet parents

• Prognosis is good and most cases resolve with minimal intervention

A Closer Look: What is Motion Sickness in Dogs?

Motion sickness is a common condition, particularly in puppies. Car travel is a common trigger for motion sickness, but it also occurs in other situations. The symptoms of motion sickness are: vomiting, hypersalivation (drooling), panting, and lip licking. These symptoms also occur during car ride anxiety, a condition that sometimes arises as a complication of motion sickness. Less common symptoms of motion sickness are lethargy and restlessness.

Cases of motion sickness are diagnosed using clinical history and physical examination. 

Motion sickness is effectively treated with a desensitization program and medication. It is not a serious condition but is often distressing for dogs and owners. Prognosis for recovery is good but some dogs may require treatment and in a minority of dogs the condition won’t resolve

Risk Factors

Motion sickness is a common condition, affecting 48% of dogs. It is most common in young dogs. Motion sickness sometimes progresses to car ride anxiety. Each episode of motion sickness lasts for the duration of the unfamiliar movement. Motion sickness in young dogs sometimes resolves spontaneously as the balance center in the inner ears matures.

Possible Causes

Motion sickness occurs when unfamiliar movement stimulates the balance organ in the ears and vomiting center in the brain. After repeated exposure to the stimulus, a dog often anticipates becoming nauseated and starts to show symptoms earlier in the car ride, even before unanticipated movement occurs. This leads to increasing the severity of the symptoms. The most common trigger of motion sickness is car travel, but other modes of transport or movement which the dog is not anticipating also trigger it.

Main Symptoms

Vomiting is the primary symptom of motion sickness. Nausea occurs  prior to vomiting and presents as excessive drooling, panting, and lip licking.

Testing and Diagnosis

Patient history and physical examination are usually sufficient to diagnose motion sickness. Blood work, fecal analysis, urinalysis, and diagnostic imaging are useful for ruling in or out other conditions that cause nausea and vomiting.

Steps to Recovery

Some puppies outgrow the tendency to develop an upset stomach during car rides. Sometimes trial and error to test different strategies for riding in the car is helpful. For example, one dog might be more likely to get sick while traveling on a full stomach, while another does better on an empty stomach; some dogs don’t get car sick when they can see out the window or have fresh air blowing on their faces; some do better in a  kennel where they cannot see outside of the car.

The nausea and vomiting that accompany motion sickness are temporary and resolve when the stimulus stops.

Medication is available to help dogs who experience severe or frequent car sickness.

Prevention

Motion sickness is not contagious. It may be prevented by avoiding the stimulus that causes it. Following a desensitization program when initially introducing a dog or puppy to riding in the car may be helpful for preventing motion sickness.

Is Motion Sickness Common in Dogs?

Motion sickness is a common condition, particularly in young dogs

Typical Treatment

Typical treatment of motion sickness includes:

• Wait for a puppy to outgrow it • Trial and error with travel strategies • Desensitization program 

• Motion sickness medications

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