Car Sickness: Tips and Tricks for Happy Car Rides

If your car rides are not as placid and tranquil as this adorable picture, read on!

A car ride! A car ride! For most dogs it’s the greatest thing since the biscuit and this time of year dogs tend to spend more time in the car due to fall getaways, hiking in the fall foliage, and the upcoming holidays. But a dog can get motion sickness just like people do which can mean that even a short car trip becomes stressful for the dog – and disgusting for the owner. Fortunately, there are ways to ease or eliminate a dog’s motion sickness, including behavioral conditioning and medication.

Motion sickness is much more common in puppies and young dogs than in older dogs, presumably because the ear structures used for balance are not fully developed in puppies. If the first few car rides of a dog’s life result in nausea, the dog may begin to equate travel with uncomfortable sensations even after his or her balance system fully matures. Therefore, a dog who suffers from motion sickness should be treated as soon as possible

Stress can also add to motion sickness; if a dog rides in a car only to go to the veterinarian, then the negative sensations associated with travel can be more pronounced. If a dog continues to appear ill even after several car rides, the owner should consult a veterinarian about treatment options for motion sickness.

Signs and Identification

Not all motion sickness manifests as vomiting. Signs of motion sickness in dogs include:

  • Inactivity
  • Listlessness
  • Uneasiness
  • Yawning or panting
  • Whining
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting (even on an empty stomach)
  • Fear of cars

Treatment Tips

To help owners prevent or treat motion sickness in dogs, our veterinarians often recommend one or more of the following approaches:

  • Help your dog face forward while traveling by strapping him into the seat with a specially designed canine seatbelt.
  • If you buckle your dog into the front passenger seat, make sure to position the seat as far as possible from the dashboard or disable the passenger airbag, which can be hazardous to dogs.
  • Lower car windows a few inches to equalize the inside and outside air pressures.
  • Keep the vehicle cool.
  • Limit your dog’s food and water consumption before travel.
  • Give your dog a small treat every time she gets into the car.
  • Give your dog a toy that he enjoys and can have only in the car.
  • Use a different vehicle to avoid triggering your dog’s negative response to your usual vehicle.
  • Take short car rides to places your dog enjoys, such as the park, especially if your dog associates car rides only with trips to the veterinarian’s office.

Gradually build up a dog’s tolerance to car rides. The following steps should take about a week per step:

  • Accustom your dog to approaching the car without getting in it, try playing with a favorite toy or giving a small treat.
  • Spend time with your dog in the car with the engine off while playing with his favorite toys. Do this for one week.
  • Play with your dog in the back seat with the car running, not moving. Do this for one week.
  • Take short trips (i.e., around the block) while playing with his favorite toys for one week.
  • Finally, take longer trips. Reward your dog with praise and/or small treats every time he does something well.

If a dog doesn’t outgrow motion sickness or respond to conditioning techniques, consult with one of our veterinarians about medication to help your dog. There is a medication, Cerenia, which is very effective in preventing nausea and vomiting due to motion sickness in dogs. However, if anxiety or other issues are involved, additional therapies may be recommended. Please feel free to call our office if you have any questions about your dog and motion sickness.

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Pittsburgh Spay & Vaccination Clinic is a state-of-the-art, full-service suburban veterinary facility serving the Pittsburgh Area since 1980.. We offer diagnostic, medical, surgical, and dental care to dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, and pocket pets in the Pittsburgh area.

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