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Does your dog look shell-shocked as you buckle them up in the backseat?
Is your dog drooling and lip-smacking in the rearview?
Not to mention the whining, shaking, and vomit – all over the backseat.
You may be wondering if this car behavior is normal.
Rest assured that car anxiety is not unusual. Car sickness in dogs is remarkably common.
If your dog acts lethargic, bothered, and overall unimpressed with car trips, know that they aren’t trying to be ironic. Your dog is legitimately miserable.
This article can help you get to the bottom of your dog’s funky feelings, help uncover why they get sick in the car and offer tips that might make your next road trip less stressful for you and your dog.
Car Sickness in Dogs
While dogs may experience car sickness at any age it’s most common in puppies. Maintaining balance is typically more difficult for puppies under a year old. A puppy’s balance system is not fully developed which makes younger dogs more prone to getting car sick.
When puppies fail to maintain their balance, it’s simply a normal part of development. (Puppy falling fails are well documented!) Then, between the ages of six months and one year, puppies gradually stop feeling carsick.
But not all puppies outgrow car sickness.
Some puppies experience carsickness well into adulthood or develop car sickness later in life. If your dog is well into adulthood and getting carsick it’s natural to feel concerned.
Can Dogs Get Carsick?
Yes, they most definitely can. The same way dogs can get a runny nose or the flu, they can also get motion sickness, much the same way that humans do.
Dog car sickness symptoms to watch for:
- Smacking or licking lips
- Dog breathing fast
Why do dogs get carsick in the first place?
Dog car sickness stems from one of two driving forces:
Dogs can develop car sickness after experiencing a car-related trauma.
Let’s look at how dogs form associations between events.
Does your dog run and hide, or become visibly stressed as soon as it hears the jingling sound of car keys in your hand? While dogs don’t know what keys are, they learn quickly what follows when they hear you pick them up.
Dogs learn primarily through association.
The trigger (car keys), associated with an experience (the car), forms a conditioned response (fear, anxiety, nausea) telling your dog to take an action (run away, hide, cower).
Dogs that have a stress-avoidant reaction to car rides due to a bad experience may show symptoms of dog car sickness way before getting in the vehicle. Remaining on high alert to avoid trauma causes high-stress levels. The effort to avoid repeating the traumatic event can cause anxiety, shaking, or vomiting.
Possible traumas that can cause dogs to form negative associations with riding in a car include:
- Motion sickness on a previous trip
- Stressful visits to the vet
- Getting returned to a shelter
- Getting dropped off and abandoned
- Being locked in a car
- Experiencing abuse in a car
Dogs traumatized by an event inside a car, or after riding in it will feel the same fear and anxiety from the initial event. High levels of stress due to trauma are enough to cause an onset of dog car sickness.
Inner Ear Problems
Dog car sickness can develop after a physical injury like when the inner ear is injured or inflamed. Disruption to the inner ear can throw off a dog’s sense of balance and cause nausea.
The back of the brain and the inner ear regulate a dog’s balance. Sensors detect a dog’s movements and send the signals to the brain.
By adjusting their body, head, and eyes dogs stand without falling over.
Puppies don’t have fully developed inner ears until around age one making it harder for them to stand steady and more susceptible to car sickness.
Ear infections in dogs result from bacteria, yeast, fungus, ear mites, trauma, stuck foreign objects, tumors, or polyps.
Dogs with an ear infection may have:
- Ear sensitivity
- Hearing loss
- Redness in one or both ears
- Pain when opening its mouth
Dogs will behave differently when an ear infection causes them to experience inflammation and discomfort.
When a dog gets car sick look for behaviors like:
- Reluctance to chew
- Head shaking
- Scratching and/or pawing at the infected ear
A dog’s ear canal is an invitation for bacteria to settle and a perfect environment for infections to develop.
It’s easy for moisture to get stuck inside a dog’s ear because of the way the ear is shaped. A funnel-shaped opening at the ear canal makes it easy for bacteria to get inside, get trapped, and thrive.
Bacteria is the most common culprit causing ear irritation in dogs. Bacterial infections are the most frequent.
Treating a dog’s ear infection as early as possible is paramount. When left untreated infections may develop into more serious ear problems including:
- Eardrum damage
- Ruptured eardrum
- Permanent hearing loss
- Vestibular disease
It is always best to visit a veterinarian to get an official diagnosis and to verify what caused the infection in the first place. Depending on the severity of the infection, treatment may include a medicated topical remedy, antibiotics, or anti-inflammatory medication.
Untreated or chronic ear infections risk of developing the peripheral vestibular disease – an infection that causes inflammation to the nerves connecting the inner ear to the brain.
When the nerves of the inner ear are inflamed dogs will have trouble keeping their balance. Dogs may lose coordination, stagger, and vomit. Nausea and dizziness are also common in dogs with inner ear nerve inflammation.
What can cause such severe irritation in dogs’ ears?
A few things:
- Overly-enthusiastic ear cleaning
- Head injury
- Tumor or polyps
- Cleaning a ruptured eardrum with the wrong cleanser
- Damage or defect present at birth
- Chronic or untreated ear infections
Do Dogs Get Carsick From Medication?
Gastrointestinal issues are possible side-effects of medications given to a dog by mouth. Dog car sickness can become an issue for dogs taking certain drugs including:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories
Dog Car Sickness Natural Remedy
Dog car sickness is real. And a real bummer at that. The good news is there are natural remedies available to help your dog feel less woozy while riding in the car.
Remedies that contain natural ingredients can be just as effective as synthetic medications depending on a dog’s specific needs.
Common types of natural dog car sickness remedies include:
Ginger is an herb that can be used to help ease a dog’s nausea and curb motion sickness-induced vomiting.
Fresh ginger may be fed to dogs prone to dog car sickness wrapped in pieces of ham or hidden in wet food.
For small dogs, a teaspoon of fresh ginger 20-30 minutes before travel can work wonders. For larger breeds, the amount given should be a bit less than a tablespoon.
Lavender is part of the mint family and is considered an herb. It has a sweet fragrant smell and may be used as an aromatherapy treatment to minimize dog car sickness.
Lavender oil may be used as a spray but always dilute lavender oil in water!
Add 1-2 drops of lavender essential oil to 4 fluid oz. of distilled water for a fragrant room spray. Spray the lavender mix around the car or inside the dog’s kennel before you travel.
A lavender spray is a great alternative to leaving a lavender scenting cotton ball in the car. A cotton ball is easily forgotten in addition to dogs sniffing it out and accidentally ingesting it.
Used as a natural calming agent, the smell of lavender can promote relaxation in an anxious dog. Anxiety may be causing dog car sickness.
Dog Appeasing Pheromone
Pheromones are like a personal identification code used to communicate between same-species animals.
Dogs emit pheromones from anal glands, paw pads, ears, and mouth. The chemical is like a profile relaying a dog’s information to other dogs.
Pheromones reveal information about a dog’s age, sex, sexual status, social rank, and emotional and physiological condition. In addition, dog appeasing pheromone promotes a sense of wellness and bonding.
Dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) is released through a nursing dog’s mammary glands to her puppies. Dog appeasing pheromones are comforting and familiar to dogs – the scent induces a sense of calm and bonding between a mother and her pups.
Adaptil is a dog pheromone product that mimics dogs’ natural pheromones. It is used as a spray or worn as a collar to promote calm used to help dogs who are prone to anxiety.
|Remedy||How it helps||Type||How to use||Don’t use|
|Ginger||Anti-nausea||Raw||Give ginger in wet food|
1 tsp sm dogs
1 tbsp lg dogs
|Dogs with blood disorders, on anticoagulants, NSAIDs, or pregnant|
|Lavender||Calming||Room Spray||1 – 2 drop lavender essential oil to 4 oz water. Spray before travel||Undiluted or in high doses, do not ingest|
|Pheromones||Calming||Room Spray or collar||Spray or wear before travel||Considered safe, the collar may be worn one month|
Natural Remedy Precautions
While natural calming remedies are available over the counter it’s best to seek the advice of a veterinarian. An expert can help you choose the right natural treatment for your dog and offer information about potential risks depending on your dog’s specific needs.
While many herbs and spices are not regulated, they are considered mostly safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Still, those that are FDA-approved may not be as strictly regulated as over-the-counter medications.
Medicinal use of Ginger is not FDA approved, for instance.
Lavender oil must be diluted prior to using it as a treatment. While it’s deemed safe for topical use once diluted, pure, non-diluted, essential lavender oil should never be applied to the skin or ingested as it is highly toxic.
Dogs have an impeccable sense of smell. The scent of pure lavender oil may be overwhelming, so it’s best to dilute it even when using it for its aromatic benefits.
The smell of lavender may not positively affect all dogs. If your dog is repelled by the smell, by avoiding lavender to treat dog car sickness you might spare your dog developing a new stress-avoidant trigger!
Because natural remedies are not exempt from potential side effects, it’s vital to understand what you are giving your dog through research in addition to consulting with your veterinarian.
What Can You Give a Dog for Car Sickness?
Natural remedies are not superior treatment options simply because they are natural. If a natural fix isn’t the right solution for your dog, you could discuss over-the-counter treatments with your veterinarian.
Common over-the-counter medications made for people is usually safe and effective for dogs too. Which over-the-counter medications are used to treat car sickness symptoms in dogs?
You can try these:
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine)
Benadryl for Dog Car Sickness
Diphenhydramine, also known as Benadryl, is an antihistamine. One of the side-effects of Benadryl is drowsiness helping to calm car sick dogs.
Benadryl can relieve mild to moderate travel-related anxiety and is also effective at relieving dog car sickness.
Risks include lethargy, dry mouth, and urine retention. Decreased appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea are rare but possible.
Go for a Benadryl formula where Diphenhydramine is the only active ingredient. Dosing: 1 mg per lb. given 30 minutes before traveling.
Dimenhydrinate, otherwise marketed as Dramamine in the U.S. and U.K. and Gravol in Canada is an over the counter antihistamine.
Dogs prone to dog car sickness can be given Dramamine for the prevention and relief of nausea and vomiting. The active ingredient in Dramamine is often used for travel sickness.
Benadryl vs. Dramamine
Both Benadryl and Dramamine are over-the-counter drugs, and both are antihistamines. Antihistamines work by dulling the inner ear’s motion sensors and intercepting messages to the brain that cause vomiting and nausea.
Benadryl and Dramamine are almost the same medication as both have similar active ingredients. Dramamine and Benadryl are slightly different.
Dramamine contains one extra ingredient, a mild stimulant called chlorotheophylline. It’s also slightly weaker than Benadryl and best given to dogs with a small portion of food.
Both medications are safe for dogs and are a common treatment option for dog car sickness because of the sedative effects.
Either drug may be given to dogs every eight hours for dog car sickness.
Dramamine vs. Gravol
Dimenhydrinate is the active ingredient in Gravol and is identical to Dramamine.
The difference between Gravol and Dramamine is the name. This medication is marketed as Gravol in Canada and Dramamine in the U.S. and U.K.
|Benadryl (Diphenhydramine)||Antihistamine||Drowsiness side-effect, calming effect||1 mg./lb.|
Give 30 minutes before travel
|Dramamine/ Gravol (Dimenhydrinate + Chlorotheophylline)||Antihistamin + mild stimulant||Anti-nausea and vomiting||2 – 4 mg./lb.|
Give 30 minutes before travel, best to give with a small amount of food.
Prescription Drugs for Dog Car Sickness
Antihistamines can calm motion sickness and relieve dog car sickness-related symptoms like drooling. For severely anxious dogs’ prescription drugs may be recommended to reduce travel anxiety.
Prescription dog motion sickness medication is stronger and may be appropriate for worst cases. A might prescribe medications like Alprazolam (Xanax) or Trazodone (Desyrel) for dogs with severe anxiety.
Dog Motion Sickness Symptoms
Dizzy, disoriented, and nauseous, in a nutshell.
Motion sickness is the primary component of dog car sickness.
Symptoms of motion sickness are not exclusive to car trips. Dogs can experience motion sickness on a plane, boat, or in any other situation involving motion disrupting the inner ears’ delicate balance system.
Motion sickness in dogs may include symptoms such as:
- Pacing in circles
- Uncontrolled drooling
- Excessive panting
- Uneasiness, apprehension
- Displacement behaviors
Dogs salivate when they are about to receive food and smack their lips to catch the excess saliva. However, when dogs are stressed lip-smacking is constant and is often a sign of nausea.
Dogs that feel nauseous will produce more saliva and lick their lips incessantly. Lip licking is often followed by vomiting.
Dogs that are nauseous may pant, drool, tremble, swallow repeatedly, retch, and vomit. Dogs may get more vocal if they are nauseous and become hyperactive and nervous.
Motion Sickness in Dogs Lethargic vs. Tired
Dogs that are tired return to normal after a bit of shut-eye. Lethargic dogs experience a dramatic shift in behavior from their base behavior. When dogs are lethargic, they may not eat, have a shortness of breath, and seem wiped out.
Easily overlooked, displacement behaviors are things dogs do to self-soothe when feeling stressed. Displacement behaviors are actions dogs do naturally, out of context.
In a stressful situation, dogs may engage in excessive grooming, sneezing, scratching, or sniffing the ground. Displacement behaviors serve to displace anxiety dogs are experiencing at that moment.
Symptoms of motion sickness in dogs usually go away once the motion stops. It is possible for dogs to experience a loss of appetite after the event is over, returning to normal several hours later.
Tips to Prevent and Help Dogs with Car Sickness
It’s difficult when dogs get sick. Dog parents just want their dog to be okay.
A dog’s stress is a dog parent’s stress.
Dog Car Seats
Pet booster seats have more than one benefit for traveling dogs. There are a variety of dog car seats often equipped with seat belts and harnesses, so dogs remain secure in and strapped in.
Car seats are designed to keep dogs safe in the backseat while traveling. Dog car seats reduce car sickness symptoms by keeping dogs facing forward rather than a side window.
Fast scenery blurring past outside can make dogs feel motion sickness.
Dogs become car sick when there is too much movement. Car seats keep dogs securely fastened and minimize movement like shaking and bumping during the drive.
Open a Window
Helps to circulate the air and level out the air pressure inside the car. Helps reduce nausea from motion sickness. Additionally keeping the car cool and quiet can help dogs stress less.
Dog Seat Belts
Seat Belts designed for dogs are a type of safety harness with a loop for a car seat belt to fit through and securely strap dogs in. Dog seat belts keep dogs secure and help keep them facing forward to reduce car sickness.
Dogs are usually most comfortable in their homes because home is where they are most familiar. Bringing an object that smells like home can help dogs feel better about being in the car.
Familiar objects like an old t-shirt, dog blanket, or dog toy may provide some level of comfort. At the very least, dogs have something to keep them anchored and reminded of their safe place.
Any amount of comfort to minimize a stressful situation for dogs is worth considering.
Take Breaks to Reduce Motion Sickness in Dogs
Dogs need time to stretch and sniff the air especially on long road trips.
Dogs need a bathroom break too! Water dogs every couple of hours or so to keep them hydrated.
Not all dogs are world travelers and that’s okay. There’s no need to travel across the ocean.
Intermittent car trips to parks and planned play dates are a simple way to condition dogs to crave a little adventure. Conditioning dogs to travel (and places dogs enjoy!) can help prevent motion sickness in the future.
Dog car sickness hits close to home as nearly all humans can relate.
Although, dogs may suffer worse from car anxiety and dog car sickness because of their complete and total dependence on their owner to recognize it and help them feel better. Dogs are emotional creatures but may not always be able to express that something is wrong or why something makes them anxious.
Now you can watch for symptoms that are able to tell your dog can’t and use a few tricks and remedies to make future trips in the car feel less daunting and start to be more enjoyable for you and your dog.