If you were to ask me what my picture-perfect vacation would look like, it would involve packing my car with the necessary gear, and hitting the road to hike and camp with my dog.
I imagine that there are quite a few people who would agree with this notion.
That being said, car travel with a dog can be cut short, or made incredibly stressful for all involved, when your dog gets car sick.
UPDATED: Article originally published February 24, 2017
Your dog may pace, whine, vomit, or all of the above, and clearly act unhappy and uncomfortable.
For dog owners who know this plight all too well, you’ve likely wondered, “Why does my dog hate the car?”
It can be frustrating. After all, adventure is out there waiting for us and our four-legged companions, but more often than not, it’s a car trip away.
While I’m lucky that my Dachshunds Summit and Gretel don’t get car sick, I frequently dog sit and am sometimes faced with one that pukes or hates riding in the car.
If I want to travel while the guest dog is staying with us, I have to figure out how to solve the problem, or at least ease the symptoms.
So how do you travel with a dog that gets car sick?
Why Dogs Get Car Sick
Dogs typically get sick in the car for one of two reasons: motion sickness or dog car anxiety.
It’s possible for puppies and adult dogs to experience motion sickness when traveling by car.
With puppies, motion sickness has two primary causes – lack of experience or an inner ear that hasn’t fully developed yet.
Much like small children, young dogs are more affected by motion sickness due to a structure in their inner ear, called the “vestibular apparatus”, being underdeveloped.
The vestibular apparatus is responsible for maintaining balance and a sense of equilibrium, which is why your dog is more likely to feel dizzy, and thus sick, when it’s not fully formed.
While most puppies will outgrow motion sickness with time as this structure develops, some dogs never fully overcome it.
Note: since small dogs mature at around 12 months, and larger dogs at 18-24 months, It’s likely this is about the time your puppy would grow out of it.
Motion sickness in puppies is also common because they are not used to car travel – they may not yet be accustomed to the sensation of movement.
It’s also possible for an adult dog to start experiencing motion sickness later in life.
This could be due to an underlying medical condition that affects their balance or inner ear function (see your vet if you suspect this) or simply a change in the vehicle’s motion caused by a new car, a different sized vehicle, or a new driver.
Anxiety is also a common culprit for the uneasy behavior your dog may be displaying while riding in the car.
Puppies, and older dogs, not used car travel may experience anxiety because the engine, and road noise, inside a car can be loud and scary.
Also, being unfamiliar with the sensation of movement can cause a dog to be fearful of what is happening.
Other reasons a dog might be fearful of riding in the car include:
- Negative experiences
Dogs that have had negative experiences in the car, such as getting car sick or being in a car accident, may develop anxiety when riding in the car.
- Separation anxiety
Some dogs may experience anxiety when separated from their owners, including when they are in the car and you run into the store.
- Medical conditions
In some cases, anxiety in dogs may be caused by underlying medical conditions, such as cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) or vestibular disease.
The key to solving your dog’s car sickness issue is to figure out the why behind it.
But how can you tell whether the cause is motion or anxiety related?
How to Identify the Cause of Car Sickness in Your Dog
It can be tricky to identify why your dog gets sick in the car.
Whether your dog is prone to motion sickness or they’re severely anxious, the symptoms of both can be pretty similar, and can often stem off of each other due to negative association.
Also, while some symptoms of car sickness are obvious, such as vomiting, others can be more subtle.
Typically, when a dog is uncomfortable in the car, owners try everything to remedy one condition or the other (car sickness or anxiety).
When that doesn’t work, they can be “pretty sure” the cause is the other one and start to address that instead.
There are many articles out there that address “car sickness” and give you solutions.
However, these articles always give solutions for both nausea and anxiety, leaving you to experiment and try to figure out which your dog has on your own.
I wanted to help you narrow it down to give you, and your dog, the best chance of overcoming the issue.
Here’s a list of classic signs to look for that can indicate your dog is car sick:
Signs and symptoms of motion sickness in dogs
A few signs that may indicate that your dog is experiencing motion sickness rather than anxiety are:
Signs of nausea in dogs can include excessive drooling, panting, and constant licking of the lips
Motion sickness can cause dogs to vomit, while anxiety typically does not.
Dogs with motion sickness may appear disoriented or unsteady on their feet.
- Loss of appetite
Motion sickness can cause a loss of appetite in dogs because of the stress and upset tummy.
Signs that your dog is anxious in the car
A few signs that may indicate that your dog is experiencing anxiety rather than motion sickness are:
- Resistance to getting in the car
Anxiety can make a dog fear going for a car ride
- Panting or yawning
Repeatedly panting and/or yawning may be a sign of anxiety in dogs, especially if it is accompanied by other signs of anxiety, such as shaking or whining.
Whimpering or crying may be a sign that a dog is experiencing anxiety and is in distress
- Shaking or trembling
Dogs that are anxious in the car may shake or tremble, especially if they are not used to car travel.
- Attempting to escape
Dogs that are anxious in the car may try to escape or hide, such as by climbing into the back seat or trying to crawl under the seats.
These tend to be “red flags” that your dog’s car sickness is due to anxiety.
However, signs and symptoms can vary by dog.
It is possible that your dog could show some of these signs even though motion sickness is the cause.
The two conditions can go hand-in-hand because a dog could get car sick once then develop anxiety or be so anxious that they make themselves sick.
Confusing enough? That’s why I asked real dog owners for their advice
Advice From Real Dog Owners on How to Tell the Difference
I asked real dog owners with dogs that have problems taking their dogs on car rides.
I asked real dog owners with dogs that have problems riding in the car. This is the insight they offered regarding the difference between anxiety and motion sickness:
“For me the answer was knowing Felix and knowing what his anxious REALLY looks like.
When he licks his lips, he’s nauseous, but not when he’s anxious (even though that is a classic sign of both.)
Anxious Felix moves like a rat on crack, sick Felix huddles and shakes a bit.
This only works if your dog has at least one really solid anxiety though.” – Jodi, Kol’s Notes
“I have had dogs of both types.
With mine that actually experience car sickness, there is lots drooling and lip licking and then the ultimate possible vomiting. Not so much movement overall.
With the anxiety, some drool but I don’t see the lip smacking, and they are constantly moving and are over alert.” – Diane, Miss Molly Says
“Besides vomiting, Amy produces a lot of saliva. I mean, a lot [when she is sick].” – Valerie, Puppy Tales Studio
“I can tell Echo has car anxiety rather than car sickness because of the way he acts before we get in the car!
He resists getting close to an open car door and has to be placed in the car. He will not jump in even for a treat and he is a very food motivated dog.
My parents’ dog who gets car sickness has no issue going near or getting in the car.
His demeanor changes once the car is in motion and he will get sick to his stomach.” – Katie, A Girl and Her Husky
“Separation between anxiety over the car and motion sickness can be hard to do.
That being said, motion sickness normally does not occur until some distance has been travelled.
Anxiety will show up far more quickly.” – Suzanne, Dogs for Invisible Diabetes
How to Prevent Car Sickness in Dogs
Note: some of the links below are affiliate links, which means that we get a few pennies if you make a purchase at no extra cost to you.
By now you probably have a good idea whether your dog is having trouble because they get carsick or the car makes them really anxious.
Start with solutions for that specific problem and see if you can find something that works. If not, then move onto solutions for the other issue.
How to address a dog’s anxiety in the car, or ways to help them not feel fearful, could be a whole blog post on its own.
Someday I might write that blog post but, for now, here are some quick tips and resources for addressing your dog’s car anxiety.
Break the negative association
If the car triggers stress within your dog, the best thing you can do is rewire their association with positive experiences through familiarization.
Keep in mind that this may take time, and shouldn’t be rushed. Doing so could easily create more travel anxieties.
For a “how-to” when desensitizing your dog to the car, check out the articles Let’s Go for a Ride!” Desensitization for the Fearful Dog and Dog Afraid Of Car Rides? Here’s How to Get Your Dog Comfortable with Riding in the Car.
Ease their nerves
Reducing a dog’s anxiety before they get near the car, or calming their nerves once in the car, can make a big difference.
Some ways to do that are to “hug them” (apply calming gentle and consistent pressure) with a Thundershirt, use topical aromatherapy oil blends like Earth Heart Travel Calm Aromatherapy Spray, or this anxiety relief spray.
Playing music like Through a Dog’s Ear: Music to Calm Your Canine Companion can help too (just make sure it doesn’t also put you to sleep!).
Gradually acclimate your dog to car rides. Start by taking short trips around the block and gradually increasing the length of the rides.
Give them a calming medication or supplement
Yes, some of the medications that are used to treat anxiety in dogs may also be helpful for relieving anxiety related to car travel.
Your veterinarian can prescribe anti-anxiety medications for your car sick dog.
These might include:
- SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors)
SSRIs, such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and paroxetine (Paxil), are commonly used to treat anxiety in dogs.
These medications work by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain, which can help to improve mood and reduce anxiety.
Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax), are commonly used to treat anxiety in dogs.
These medications work by calming the central nervous system and may be helpful for short-term relief of anxiety.
- Tricyclic antidepressants
Tricyclic antidepressants, such as clomipramine (Clomicalm) and amitriptyline, are sometimes used to treat anxiety in dogs.
These medications work by increasing the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain and may be helpful for longer-term treatment of anxiety.
It’s important to note that these medications should only be used under the guidance of a veterinarian.
The appropriate treatment for your dog’s anxiety will depend on the severity of the anxiety and the underlying cause.
I suggest avoiding anti-anxiety medications if you can when transporting your dog in the car for “fun”, and you plan to hike or be otherwise active at your destination, because it can make them drowsy for longer than the length of the car ride.
I fully support using natural remedies for car anxiety if you can.
Natural remedies for anxiety
There are a few natural remedies that may be helpful for relieving your dog’s anxiety while riding in the car:
- CBD oil or treats
Some people have found that CBD oil or treats can be helpful for relieving anxiety and nausea in dogs.
It’s important to note that the use of CBD oil in dogs is not fully understood and more research is needed to determine its safety and effectiveness.
- VetriScience Composure Chews
The primary ingredient in VetriScience Composure Chews is colostrum, a calming compound naturally found in mother’s first milk.
- Distract them
However, giving your dog something to eat is NOT recommended if their issue is getting car sick so you might want to save this one until you know for sure.
Environmental remedies for dog motion sickness
Environmental remedies involve changing the circumstances and conditions of y our dog’s experience.
- Travel on an empty stomach
If a dog has food in their stomach, they can be more likely to feel queasy.
On the day you are traveling, you might want to skip your dog’s morning meal or at least feed them a few hours prior to your departure time.
- Restrain them
Your dog may be more likely to feel sick if they can roam the car, or get jostled around when you take corners, because it can throw off their equilibrium.
They may do well in a dog car harness, a dog car seat, or a dog crate that restricts movement.
- Let them see out (or don’t)
This one is tricky.
Many people have reported that elevating their dog so they could see out the window helped their motion sickness.
Some dog car seats, like our favorite the Snoozer Lookout, can help them see out the window and is also a great way to restrain them as mentioned above.
Unfortunately, this can have the opposite effect for some dogs though.
Some do better when they CAN’T see out.
In that case, they may do better sitting lower on the seat or in a crate covered by a blanket.
You will have to experiment here to see what works for your dog.
- Introduce cool, fresh air
Lower the car window a few inches, or turn the recirculating air off, to let in some fresh air and balance the air pressure inside the car.
What Can I Give My Dog for Motion Sickness?
Besides environmental changes, consider giving your dog medications or supplements to help with queasy stomachs.
It’s always recommended to talk with your vet before giving your dog a new medication or supplements.
Also remember that it’s important to use the correct dosage for your dog’s size and to follow the instructions on the package.
Here are some options you can ask your vet about.
Dramamine is an over-the-counter medication that can be used to help relieve motion sickness in dogs.
Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is an over-the-counter medication that can be used to help relieve motion sickness in dogs.
Note: It’s important to note that Benadryl can cause side effects in some dogs, such as drowsiness and dry mouth, and should not be used in dogs with certain medical conditions.
Cerenia is an FDA-approved veterinary medication used to safely and effectively treat vomiting in dogs, including throwing up due to motion sickness.
It’s typically given as a tablet or injection and is generally well-tolerated by dogs.
Zofran is a prescription medication – generic name Ondansetron – used to treat severe nausea and vomiting in dogs and cats.
Natural remedies for motion sick dogs
There are a few natural remedies that may be helpful for relieving motion sickness in dogs:
Feeding your pup a small amount of ginger can soothe nausea and motion sickness associated with long car rides.
Applying gentle pressure to the wrist (similar to how you would use acupuncture) can help relieve nausea in dogs.
If you are sure the issue is motion sickness, your dog doesn’t outgrow it, and the above management techniques don’t help, you may want to speak to your veterinarian.
How Long Does Motion Sickness Last in Dogs?
You may be overwhelmed, and perhaps have felt like you’re tried every car sickness or anxiety remedy, and may be looking for some hope.
You may be wondering, “How long will I have to deal with motion sickness with my dog?”
It’s possible for a dog to feel better soon after vomiting in the car, especially if the vomiting was caused by motion sickness or the ingestion of something that was causing stomach upset.
Vomiting can help provide relief from the symptoms of nausea and stomach discomfort.
However, motion sickness will happen again and again until your dog grows out of it, gets used to being in constant motion, or you find a motion sickness remedy that works for your dog.
Therefore, the duration of motion sickness in dogs can vary.
If the motion sickness is severe or if it is caused by an underlying medical condition, it may persist for a longer period of time and may require medical treatment.
If your dog is experiencing motion sickness, it’s a good idea to consult with a veterinarian to rule out underlying medical conditions.
Your veterinarian can also help you determine the cause of the motion sickness and recommend the best course of treatment to help relieve your dog’s symptoms.
What To Do if Your Dog Throws Up While You’re Driving?
Speaking from experience, your first instinct when your dog vomits in the car is to try to stop it from getting everywhere, including all over your dog.
This is especially true if your dog attempts to eat their puke. Yuck!
However, you should stay calm and resist the urge to do anything while you’re driving.
Instead, find a safe place to pull over as soon as you can and turn on your hazard lights (if you are on the side of the road or in another place it’s important to make yourself seen).
Once it’s safe to do so:
- Check on your dog to make sure they are ok
- Clean up the vomit using a cleaner and towels (or paper towels)
- Wrap as much of the dirty towel, blankets, and rags as you can
- Dispose of the vomit in a trash can or put it in a secure place in the car where you are unlikely to smell it.
You can then resume the car ride but consider going home if your dog continues to vomit (or to the veterinarian if your dog shows other signs of illness).
Vehicle dog vomit kit
I’ve become kind of a pro at cleaning up vomit in the car while we are traveling since we do it so often.
I have a “barf kit” in the car that includes rubber gloves, towels, an upholstery cleaner, dog grooming wipes, a couple plastic garbage bags, and extra blankets.
Since my small dogs ride in a car seat that acts kind of like a bucket, I place a waterproof cover over it, and blankets in it, so that is primarily what my dog vomits on.
I can then quickly clean up most of the mess by folding up whatever got dirty – blankets and waterproof cover – and putting them into a trash bag.
I then put new, clean blankets on the car seat.
I can use the grooming wipes to clean up my dog if they got it on themselves.
I clean up the mess the best I can on the road and then do a more thorough job once I get home if needed.
Having a dog you want to take on adventures with you, but that has a difficult time with the car, is frustrating.
If a dog hates riding in the car or gets sick, it may feel like it’s impossible to travel with them or take them anywhere.
But, in most cases, both causes – motion sickness and anxiety – can be reduced or eliminated.
The key is to determine which one is making your dog get carsick.
It’s important to note that it’s possible for a dog to experience both motion sickness and anxiety at the same time, especially if the dog is not used to car travel.
About the Author
Hi, I’m Jessica. I’ve been studying the Dachshund breed since 2007, owned 3 of my own, and shared in the lives of thousands of others through their owner’s stories. When I’m not sharing what I know on this blog, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.