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Can dogs get carsick? - A dog sticking their head out a car window

No pet parent likes to see their dog feeling unwell. A sudden bout of canine car sickness can be unpleasant for both you and your furry friend. Unfortunately, car sickness in dogs is incredibly common. On the bright side, there are several steps you can take to prevent and treat it. Read on if you've ever wanted to know:

  • What is motion sickness in dogs?
  • What causes a dog to get carsick?
  • What’s the difference between motion sickness and travel anxiety?
  • What are the signs of car sickness in dogs?
  • What treatments are available for dogs with motion sickness?
  • How can I prevent car sickness in my dog?

Traveling with your canine companion can be a challenge, but there are steps you can take to make your next road trip go smoothly. Let's begin by exploring what motion sickness is.

What is motion sickness in dogs?

Motion sickness is a condition where dogs show signs of anxiety and nausea, vomiting, and excessive drooling as a result of being in motion. Motion sickness is also commonly known as “car sickness” because dogs travel in the car with their owners more frequently than any other type of vehicle. That said, signs of motion sickness can occur in any form of transportation, such as boats, trains, or planes.

The good news is car sickness has an excellent prognosis. Most symptoms resolve with minimal intervention as soon as your dog is no longer moving unpredictably. Plus, there are multiple strategies and medical options available to support your pup with recurring car sickness and get you back on the road with your furry friend in no time.

What causes a dog to get carsick?

Car sickness occurs when your canine is subjected to unfamiliar or unpredictable movements. Rapid motions can disrupt your dog's sense of balance, causing them to feel unwell.

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"Your dog's inner ear is responsible for regulating balance and sending messages to the brain about how their body is moving through space," explains Dr. Jo Myers, a Vetster veterinarian. "When movement is unpredictable, it’s hard for the brain to process those signals, and nausea results.”

Car sickness can occur due to any unexpected movement. The problem is most common in puppies, as their underdeveloped sensory systems may make them more susceptible to rapid motion.

What's the difference between motion sickness and travel anxiety for dogs?

Motion sickness and travel anxiety are both unique problems caused by different factors. It can be difficult to separate the two as symptoms of both issues are often very similar. Your canine may even suffer from both problems at the same time.

The difference between the two problems lies in their root causes. While motion sickness is a physical condition, travel anxiety is psychological and can result from several factors. For example, your dog may show signs of anxiety while in the car because they have had previous experiences of motion sickness when riding in a vehicle. They could also be upset because they're leaving the safety of home. Your dog might also find car rides stressful if they have had negative experiences when riding in the car previously.

How do I determine whether my dog has motion sickness or travel anxiety?

It can be tricky to tell the difference between car sickness and travel anxiety in dogs. If your dog shows symptoms as soon as it gets into the car, but the vehicle hasn't begun moving yet, travel anxiety is likely the source of your dog's sickness.

Similarly, dogs with anxiety may take longer to recover when the car stops moving because they are still stressed about the experience. In contrast, if your dog's illness results from motion sickness, symptoms are expected to resolve shortly after the car stops moving.

If you're struggling to determine the root cause of your dog's symptoms, a vet visit can help. Your veterinarian can assess the cause of your canine's illness and suggest next steps for effective treatment.

What are the signs of car sickness in dogs?

Symptoms of motion sickness vary from dog to dog. Common signs that your pet is carsick may include:

Your dog's car sickness could begin as soon as the vehicle starts to move. It could also take a long time for your pet's symptoms to show. Some dogs only experience motion sickness after hours of continuous driving.

Note that changing road surfaces, weather conditions, atmospheric pressure, and humidity can each cause your dog to develop car sickness, even if they don’t usually struggle with motion sickness. For example, a dog on a winding, bumpy road on a hot day is more likely to develop motion sickness than a canine traveling on a straight, well-surfaced freeway on a mild morning.

It's important to remember that many other illnesses cause vomiting. Talk to a veterinarian if your dog vomits while not in a moving vehicle or has other symptoms. It’s also best to call a vet if your dog’s motion sickness doesn’t resolve quickly once the movement or travel is over.

If your dog frequently exhibits symptoms of motion sickness, or you'd simply like more information about your pet's condition, an online vet can answer your questions any time.

What treatments are available for dogs with motion sickness?

Having a carsick canine is an unpleasant experience. Fortunately, there are several ways to treat the problem. The recommended treatment will depend on the cause and severity of your dog's symptoms.

Medications for your dog's motion sickness or car anxiety

When you talk to your vet for advice, they will assess your dog's symptoms to determine the best course of treatment. Depending on the situation, they may recommend anxiety or anti-nausea medications. For example, they could prescribe:

  • Antihistamines
  • Antiemetics like Cerenia
  • Anti-anxiety medication
  • Sedatives and tranquilizers
  • Never give your dog any over-the-counter medications before you consult your vet.* Different dogs require different courses of treatment for motion sickness. Your vet can recommend a suitable treatment plan. Make sure to allow time to try the medication before you travel because it’s normal to expect some trial and error before you land on the ideal solution for your dog.

Are there any natural remedies for my dog's car sickness?

Medication isn’t always necessary to treat your dog's car sickness. Some of the best remedies for your dog are entirely natural. Many dogs outgrow car sickness with time. If your dog is young or just isn’t used to traveling in a moving vehicle, practicing shorter trips and giving them time to adjust may fix the problem.

Aside from that, the best course of action is to adopt a 'trial and error approach.' Every dog is different. Experimenting with various methods when traveling with your canine is the best way to find a solution to their motion sickness. For example, you might try:

  • Ensuring your dog has an empty stomach before travel
  • Making sure your dog can see out of the car.
  • Allowing your dog to sit in the middle seat (with a dog seat belt or safety harness).
  • Letting your dog stand up
  • Providing fresh air and open windows
  • Experimenting with shorter and longer trips
  • Trying different routes to see if bumpy terrain is the cause of your dog's symptoms.
  • Traveling on colder vs. hotter days if possible
  • Making the car more comfortable for your dog

At-home remedies and herbal medicines are a point of contention for dog owners. While some anecdotal evidence suggests they could alleviate anxiety symptoms, there is little to no published information showing strong evidence that they are effective. Despite limited scientific evidence, some alternative medicine products remain popular, such as:

  • Ginger
  • Lavender
  • Adaptil
  • Acupuncture
  • CBD

Unfortunately, many alternative medicines are ineffective and are not expected to help your dog's symptoms. It's always best to consult your veterinarian before treating your dog at home. A vet can assess your dog's condition and offer advice tailored to your canine's individual circumstances.

What is desensitization, and how can it help my dog's car sickness?

One potentially effective way to treat motion sickness is through desensitization. This involves helping your dog grow accustomed to traveling over time. The more they become familiar with the situation, the less likely they are to have motion sickness symptoms.

Think of desensitization as a way to help your dog become familiar with an unfamiliar situation. When your dog is uncomfortable traveling, it can be very stressful for them. As mentioned earlier, motion sickness and travel anxiety are similar and often occur together. When your dog is stressed about travel, it can create a scenario where they are more likely to have motion sickness.

To desensitize your dog, start by placing them in your car and running the motor, but don't travel anywhere. Once they're comfortable with that, try pulling out of your driveway and returning. Then, try thirty seconds of driving, then a few minutes, and so on. Slowly building up the amount of time you spend on the road gets your dog used to traveling in your car. If you do need to travel a longer distance, take regular breaks. This gives your canine time to destress.

How can I prevent car sickness in my dog?

Early intervention for preventing car sickness is more likely to work than waiting until a mature dog consistently has motion sickness in the car before taking action. The most effective prevention method is to help your canine create positive associations with car journeys from an early age. If you're concerned your dog may be experiencing motion sickness, try different strategies as soon as possible.  As your dog continues to have episodes of car sickness, they are more likely to develop a negative association with traveling in the car. This can create a feedback loop leading to more car and travel stress for your dog, and makes it harder to desensitize them.

If your dog experiences severe motion sickness, has motion sickness for an extended period, or you want to learn more about your dog's symptoms, an online virtual care appointment with Vetster can help. We'll help you to understand your pet's condition and provide actionable advice to help you fix the problem.

FAQ - Can dogs get carsick?

How do I know if my dog is motion sick?

Signs of motion sickness in dogs can include excessive drooling, panting, lip licking, yawning, whining, trembling, shaking, and, on occasion, vomiting. These symptoms typically occur during a car ride and can vary in intensity. If your dog is anxious about traveling, they may also become stressed when approaching your car.

Does car sickness cause vomiting in dogs?

Car sickness can cause your dog to throw up, but this won't always happen. Some dogs may only exhibit mild symptoms, such as whining and panting. Others may feel nauseous and vomit due to motion sickness.

Why do dogs throw up in the car?

Your dog's inner ear is very sensitive to unpredictable movements. This can cause confusion in your canine's brain, which compensates and triggers symptoms of motion sickness and nausea, leading to vomiting.

Do dogs outgrow car sickness?

Car sickness can vary from dog to dog. In some cases, puppies and young dogs might outgrow car sickness as they become more accustomed to travel. In others, repeated exposure and positive experiences in the car may gradually reduce symptoms. Some dogs require more comprehensive treatment to solve their symptoms. Every dog is different, and there's never a one-size-fits-all approach. If you're concerned about your dog's car sickness, it's best to consult your vet.