How to Deal with Dog Car Sickness

By Sarah Hinds Friedl on November 12th, 2020

Whether you call it dog motion sickness or canine car sickness, if your dog has it, every car ride can be a stressful experience. Not only do you want to minimize your pup’s discomfort, but you might also be at the end of your rope when it comes to cleaning up the backseat.

What’s tricky about dog motion sickness, though, is that it can be difficult to know whether your dog’s symptoms are actually due to dog car sickness or something else. 

So, in this BreezeGuard guide to dog car sickness, you’ll learn everything you need to know about this challenging condition: how to identify it, how to treat it, and ways to lower your pup’s discomfort for your very next car ride.  

What is dog motion sickness? 
The basic reason for car sickness in dogs is the same as it is for us humans. It all comes down to balance. During normal circumstances, even when your dog is chasing their own tail or diving off of a dock after a tennis ball, the balance center in their ear is able to keep everything in order. That little inner-ear mechanism tells them to move their tail this way or land on their back paw that way—or any number of tiny adjustments—so that they can maintain their balance.

But in the car, your pup is no longer in control. The world is moving around them, faster than they can adjust to it. So, instead of that inner-ear mechanism working in their favor, they simply feel nauseous. 

And, just like we may look for the nearest trash can after getting off of a roller-coaster, our dogs can react with a number of tell-tale signals of motion sickness, including:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Yelping or whining
  • Drooling or lip smacking
  • General distress or signs of discomfort

Now, you may be thinking, How can I know if these symptoms are really dog car sickness or something else? It’s a great question! Let’s tackle it.

Dog car sickness versus other ailments
Unfortunately, our dogs aren’t able to tell us why they’re feeling woozy. So it’s up to us to figure out whether these symptoms point to doggie car sickness, or something else.

One thing to keep in mind is that canine motion sickness is much more prevalent in puppies than in older dogs. This is because older dogs have a fully-developed inner-ear balance system, which has had more time to adjust to topsy-turvy conditions like car rides. In fact, many puppies who suffer from motion sickness will grow out of it by the time they’re one year old

So then, what about the dogs who show signs of car sickness even when they’re adults? There are a couple of possible explanations. 

On the one hand, you might be dealing with car anxiety. If your dog associates the car with going to the vet, being in a kennel or other negative experiences, their anxiety can cause symptoms similar to motion sickness. This is especially common with dogs who don’t travel often.

Another possible explanation: your adult doggo may be experiencing something independent of car sickness which is made worse by being in the car. Certain medications, for instance, ear infections, or other nausea-causing conditions can make riding in the car the perfect storm. This is why it’s a good idea to talk to your vet about your dog’s driving discomfort regardless of whether or not you think it’s motion sickness.

What can you do about dog motion sickness?
You’ve chatted with your vet about your dog’s symptoms, and, as it turns out, you’re dealing with motion sickness or car anxiety. What do you do now? Here are a few short- and long-term solutions to make driving less of a bumpy ride for your dog!

Small changes you can make today:

  • Keep those snouts inside the car

Let’s loop back to that roller-coaster metaphor. One of the best parts is feeling the wind on your face as you fly through the air, right? Well, as we covered in our article Why Do Dogs Stick Their Heads Out Car Windows, your dog also enjoys that sensation! The trouble is, dogs suffering from motion sickness aren’t doing themselves any favors by hanging out of the window. They could actually be putting themselves in danger if they’re feeling off-balance and disoriented. 

So, keep those snouts safely inside by installing BreezeGuard Screens over your windows. They’ll keep your pet safe and still give them a refreshing supply of air.

  • Minimize the pacing instinct

Often what happens in the car is that your pup, either from excitement or anxiety, will start racing around from window to window, over the seats, even in your lap. Not only is this dangerous for the driver, but it can make their motion sickness worse. 

Harnesses that attach to the seat or car kennels are great options, but only if your dog is already comfortable with them. 

  • Lay off the gas

Unfortunately, your driving habits can have a negative impact on a dog with motion sickness or anxiety. So, as much as you can, take it easy behind the wheel!

  • Don’t travel on a full stomach

If possible, feed your pup at least two hours before you’ll be getting into the car. After all, you wouldn’t feel too good about being jostled around after a big meal, either.

  • Transform your car into a zen paradise

Okay, you don’t have to completely transform your car for your dizzy doggo! But, there are a few small changes that will make the backseat a more enjoyable place to be. One example is the music. Swapping out loud, upbeat music with more calming, soft tunes or silence can help your dog relax. Also, try to maintain a cool, refreshing atmosphere—overheating can make their nausea much worse. 

And, a few long-term solutions that are sure improve your dog’s relationship with the car:

  • Work on building up your dog’s tolerance

Whether your dog is dealing with car motion sickness or car anxiety, they’ll benefit from some slow, steady counter-conditioning. The idea is simple: with short, slow driving sessions, your dog’s inner-ear or stress response will have the chance to adjust to the rocking and rolling of a moving car. 

It may seem counterintuitive to drive more to deal with driving motion sickness, but even just a quick trip around the block every day can help your dog feel more stable and less stressed in the car.

  • Call on a calming presence

If your dog is dealing more with driving jitters than motion sickness, then you can make your counter-conditioning sessions more effective with a helping hand. Is there a person, whether family member or friend, who seems to completely chill out your dog? Have them sit in the backseat with Fido. Their peaceful presence is sure to set the tone for an anxious doggo.

With some time, you can help your dog overcome their canine car sickness!
Dealing with dog motion sickness is unpleasant for you and your pet. But with some simple changes and counter-conditioning, your dog can become the best furry co-pilot you’ve ever seen!

Check in with the BreezeGuard Blog for more articles on common dog owner questions! 


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