Dogs and Motion Sickness

You and your dog are in your car headed to the dog park, when suddenly he's not looking so good. Before you know it, those biscuits you gave him when he hopped into the car have reappeared -- in the mess he vomited all over your leather seats.

As you've probably already figured out, dog motion sickness is real, and it can make even the shortest trips stressful for you and your pooch. Fortunately, there are things you can do to quell your pup's nausea, from conditioning your dog to car rides to using dog motion sickness medications.

What Causes Dog Motion Sickness?

Dog motion sickness is more commonly seen in puppies and young dogs than in older dogs, just as carsickness afflicts more children than adults. The reason for this is because the ear structures used for balance aren't fully developed in puppies. This isn't to say that all dogs will outgrow travel sickness, though many will.

If the first few car rides of your dog's life left him nauseated, he may have been conditioned to equate travel with vomiting, even after his ears have fully matured. Stress can also add to travel sickness, so if your dog has only ever ridden in the car to go to the vet, he may literally worry himself sick on the road.

Signs of Dog Motion Sickness

Dogs don't turn the unflattering shade of green that people do when they're experiencing motion sickness, but there are some signs of dog travel sickness you can learn to identify. These include:

  • Inactivity
  • Listlessness
  • Uneasiness
  • Yawning
  • Whining
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting

Treatment for Dog Motion Sickness

The best way to prevent dog travel sickness is to make the car ride as comfortable as possible for your dog.

Your dog will experience fewer nauseating visual cues if he faces forward while you're traveling, rather than looking out the side windows. One way to guarantee this is by using a specially designed dog seat belt. If you choose to have your dog ride on the front passenger seat, keep in mind that air bags do pose a potential hazard to dogs. Even though you can't be sure your dog will face forward while riding in a travel crate, many people prefer to use crates for safety -- and they do have the added benefit of containing vomit, should your dog become ill.

Another thing that may help your dog's motion sickness is to lower your car windows a couple of inches while the car is moving. This helps balance the air pressure inside the car with the air pressure outside, which may help reduce your dog's nausea and discomfort. Also, be sure to keep the car cool and well ventilated, as a hot or stuffy vehicle can contribute to unpleasant sensations for your dog.

One trick used on the show circuit to prevent dog motion sickness is to limit your dog's food consumption prior to travel. Then, right before the trip, give your dog a small piece of sugary candy (like a jellybean), which seems to reduce sensations of nausea. Never give your dog chocolate candy, however, because it is toxic to dogs.

If your dog has learned to associate riding in the car with feeling stressed and nauseated, there are a variety of conditioning techniques you can try to lessen this connection. These include:

  • Taking a break from car trips for a week or two.
  • Changing vehicles to avoid association with past unpleasant experiences.
  • Taking short car trips to places your dog enjoys, like the park.
  • Gradually building your dog's tolerance to car trips. Start by getting your dog used to approaching the car, then spend some time in the car with the engine off. When your dog is ready, take short trips (think: around the block) to build tolerance before progressing to longer car rides.
  • Using treats to make the car a fun place for your dog (but be careful you don't give too many and make your dog nauseated.
  • Buying special toys that your dog enjoys and only has access to in the car.