How to Cure Dog Car Sickness
Updated: Aug 9
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You’re driving to the park for a relaxing dog walk when suddenly your dog isn’t looking so good. Before you know it, those treats you gave earlier are now all over your car seats!
Dog car sickness is real, and it can make even the shortest trips extremely stressful for you and your dog. If it’s not managed properly, car sickness tends to get worse over time, so if your dog is showing signs of a problem, it’s best to tackle the issue before things escalate.
Table of Contents
1. Signs of a Travel Sick Dog
Dogs don’t turn an interesting shade of green that people do when they’re experiencing car sickness, but there are some signs of dog travel sickness you can easily identify. These include:
Inactivity, listlessness or uneasiness
Smacking or licking lips
2. Why is my Dog Travel Sick ?
As human children are more affected by travel sickness than adults, the same goes for younger dogs and puppies. Young puppies experience travel sickness because the ear structure responsible for balance hasn’t fully developed. Some dogs outgrow it, but unfortunately others don’t.
If your dog was sick during their first car ride, then vomiting may become associated with travel itself and could be the reason why your furry friend hasn’t outgrown their car sickness.
For most puppies, the first car rides usually consist of leaving their mother and the inevitable visits to the vets. In both cases these will be stressful trips for your puppy.
Most car sickness episodes in dogs are brought on by the stress and not the motion itself. Your puppy might well be associating the car with these stressful experiences. Mental, emotional, and even physical trauma may be related to the car ride.
3. Dog Desensitisation
This isn't as complicated as it sounds. The goal of a desensitising training plan is to alter your dog’s behaviour patterns by changing the way they feel about a specific situation. This is more than just getting familiar with riding in the car – it’s about creating a situation where the dog can associate car travel with something really positive.
Think of the finished behaviour -calmly riding in the car, as a series of behavioural puzzle pieces that must each be tackled separately. Your job is to help your dog become comfortable with one puzzle piece before progressing to the next.
So, you need to take on the role of canine behaviourist but don't worry, it doesn’t need to be a daunting task. First divide the problem into three distinct puzzle pieces then work on them in order.
The first puzzle piece is dealing with anxiety caused by the car itself. Begin by helping your dog to develop a positive association with your car. Make their experience of a car a truly enjoyable one. Follow these guidelines over the space of a couple of weeks, and remember, don’t rush it.
Spend time in your car without going anywhere at all. Allow your dog to explore the car and maybe add in some positive reinforcement with a few of their favourite dog treats. Continue this stage until you’re confident that the car itself is seen in a positive light.
Now build on this experience by starting the engine but still not moving the car. Remember each puzzle piece must be completed before moving on.
The next part of the puzzle is tackling the motion of the car moving. First drive a very short distance (maybe a short 5 minute journey) to gradually start reducing any anxiety associated with the car’s motion.
It’s really important that your dog is restrained and not just for safety reasons. Being restrained via a dog seatbelt tether, inside a soft crate or car seat, ensures that your dog is facing forward.
Why is this important? Facing forwards helps your dog’s brain make sense of what is going on, which can lessen the chance of motion sickness. Basically, we’re providing input through the eyes that helps the dog know which way is up. Allowing your dog to ride unrestrained doesn’t help with motion sickness.
Dogs suffering from car sickness ride better when they can see out of the windows. Adjust their seats or use a dog car seat, so they can look out the window while staying secure. Focusing on scenery can definitely prevent motion sickness.
We have researched and reviewed dog car seats which are designed to give your dog an elevated view so that they can relax and watch the world go by whilst you are left to concentrate on the road ahead. Particularly suitable for small dog breeds or puppies and useful for providing a secure resting area and a better view out of the window.
Read Top 10 Dog Car Seats
The final part of the puzzle is to change your dog’s association with car travel. Choose a relaxing, peaceful place like a park, that’s about ten minutes from home. Bring someone who can calm your dog as you drive to your destination. Once you reach the park, play with your dog and just make the park visit enjoyable.
During the ride home, have your passenger calm your dog again. When you arrive home, play with your dog as enthusiastically as you did at the park. Doing this repeatedly will make your dog realise the car ride should not be a reason to get anxious or sick.
Planning several short rides to fun places can help teach your dog that riding in the car is a good thing.
4. If all else fails...
Ask your vet about motion sickness medication. There are a number of prescription medications available and your vet may also recommend the use of an Adaptil collar or spray, which contain a natural, odourless pheromone to help reduce stress and relax anxious dogs. We do touch on Adaptil spray in our article Best Products for Dog Anxiety
Always check with your veterinary professional if you have concerns.
We hope that this article has given you some insight and ideas to help you tackle your dog's car sickness. Thanks for stopping by and reading our article on How to Cure Dog Car Sickness.