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10 Ways to Minimize Motion Sickness in Your Dog

Developed in collaboration with Andrea Johnson, DVM | Co-Founder | PetVet365

Last reviewed: December 14, 2023

Motion sickness in dogs is common, but manageable. Here we will look at 10 ways you can minimize and possibly even prevent motion sickness in your dog.

Your dog’s motion sickness can be an issue if it hampers your lifestyle. If you are used to traveling to hike with your dog in the mountains or just taking a short car trip to the dog park for exercise, motion sickness can keep you from your (and your dog’s) favorite activities.

And, if you are reading this guide, odds are that you have had your car’s upholstery christened with the morning’s breakfast on your last trip to the groomer’s.

Fortunately, there are ways that can help prevent your canine companion from getting car sick. This guide will look at some of the most common.

Key Facts
  • Motion sickness is common in dogs.
  • Puppies and young dogs are more prone because their ear mechanisms are not yet developed.
  • Anxiety and conditioning can also cause your dog to get car sick.
  • There are steps you can take to help your dog better handle traveling.
  • Prescription medications, supplements, and OTC medications can also help.

What Causes a Dog's Motion Sickness

Your dog’s motion sickness is most likely caused by either

  • An underdeveloped inner ear or,
  • Anxiety and stress from riding in a car

An underdeveloped vestibular system – the part of the inner ear that regulates balance – is generally the cause of a dog’s motion sickness. That is why motion sickness is more common in puppies and younger dogs than for adult dogs. This is because the vestibular system in puppies is not fully developed yet.

Many dogs eventually outgrow motion sickness once their ears have fully matured, but not all do.

In some cases, dogs are conditioned to get sick in the car. They have associated a car ride with an unpleasant experience, like going to the veterinarian. The stress and anxiety they equate with a car ride literally worry them sick.

Car-related anxiety is not true motion sickness; it is a conditioning issue, and it can be unlearned with time and effort.

Signs of Motion Sickness in Dogs

The symptoms of motion sickness and the signs of anxiety are similar. You may see signs like:

  • Panting    
  • Diarrhea
  • Drooling    
  • Retching
  • Restlessness    
  • Vomiting
  • Trembling    
  • Frequent Yawning
  • Whining    

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Your veterinarian may prescribe a customized, compounded medication. These medications are mixed by trained, licensed compounding pharmacists and often come in dosage forms designed to make giving or applying the medication easier and more accurate.

10 Ways to Prevent Motion Sickness in Dogs

There are a few things you can proactively do to make car trips a better experience for your dog. Remember that true physical car sickness and stress-related sickness often go hand in hand. You want to condition your dog to associate a car ride with a positive experience, so you need to do all that you can to make that happen.

  1. Desensitize Your Dog to the Car: Condition your dog to associate car travel with positive experiences. You can start by feeding or playing with them near the car. Then, try doing it inside the vehicle with the engine off. Next, try it with the engine running. Once they are more comfortable with it, take short trips around the block and work your way up to longer trips. This should help your dog's tolerance for the car.
     
  2. Limit Your Dog’s Food Intake: Plan your dog’s meal around the car ride. Give them as long as possible to digest their food before starting your trip. If you are planning a trip in the morning, your dog can go up to 8 hours without eating. At the minimum, withhold food for 2 hours. And don’t give them too many treats for getting in the car. The less food in their stomach, the less likely they will be to vomit, and it may help with less frequent potty breaks.
     
  3. Have Your Dog Face Forward: While this might be difficult at first, try to have your dog look forward out the front windshield instead of sideways out the side windows. When facing forward, there is less visual stimulus to trigger car sickness. Placing a car sunshade over the side windows can sometimes help to redirect your dog’s focus.
     
  4. Fill the Car with Cool, Fresh Air: Just like in humans, a little fresh air can help reduce your dog’s nausea. Crack the car windows and, if it’s a warm day, turn on the AC. The cool air will help, as well.
     
  5. Use a Carrier or Crate: Many dogs view their crate as a safe space. Start by traveling with them in their crate (if you have the room) and then transition to a carrier or travel crate as they become more comfortable. From there, you can transition them to a doggie seat belt or safety harness. Note: Keep in mind that pets are better off in the back seat of a vehicle. Riding in the front passenger seat is generally not recommended because pets in the front seat can be injured by airbags in an accident.
     
  6. Bring Smells from Home: Give them familiar and comforting smells from home like their favorite plushie or blanket. One of mom or dad’s t-shirts also works in a pinch.
     
  7. Create a Distraction: If possible, have a passenger sit with your dog and try to distract them and make them feel safe.
     
  8. Use Prescription Medications: Sometimes medication is the best treatment for your dog’s travel sickness. Your veterinarian can prescribe anti-vomiting and anti-nausea medications like maropitant or meclizine to help. Or if they have travel anxiety, your veterinarian can prescribe anti-anxiety medications like alprazolam or trazodone to calm and sedate them.
     
  9. Try Natural Supplements: Ask your veterinarian to recommend over-the-counter calming herbal remedies like kava, valerian, passionflower, ginger, or skullcap. Other natural remedies like Bach® flower (Rescue Remedy®) are available at your local pet store or order them online.
     
  10. Also Try OTC Medications: Over-the-counter motion sickness drugs like Dramamine® and antihistamines like Benadryl® can help with nausea and sedition. However, it is important that you check with your veterinarian before giving them to avoid over-medicating and interactions with other medications they may be taking.

Summary

Motion sickness is common in dogs. It can stem from physical reasons – like not yet developed ear mechanisms in young dogs – or from anxiety form a bad association with car trips. Many dogs will grow out of it, but for those that don’t, there are some things you can do to make traveling easier for your canine companion. These range from desensitization and behavioral modification to prescription, herbal, and OTC medications.

Talk to your veterinarian about ways you can help save your pet from the discomfort of travel sickness. It might just save your car’s interior.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a dog be cured of car sickness?

That depends. Motion sickness is more common in puppies and younger dogs. It is possible that they will grow out of it. If your dog is mature, it cannot be cured, but you can take steps to make your dog more comfortable during car rides.

Why does my dog throw up in the car?

Vomiting in the car can be from motion sickness, travel anxiety from a previous unpleasant experience in a car. It could also be from an undiagnosed underlying medical condition. If you are concerned, talk to your veterinarian.

Can I give Dramamine to my dog?

Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine®) – the same drug people take for motion sickness – works for some pets. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian to get the correct dose for your dog. There is variation based on age, breed, other medications, and concurrent conditions.  Also, there are some formulations that can contain harmful ingredients.   

Does Benadryl help dogs with motion sickness?

Veterinarians sometimes recommend diphenhydramine, brand name Benadryl®, for dogs to treat travel anxiety and motion sickness. Talk to your vet about the correct formula.  

Should I feed my dog before a long car ride?

If your dog does not get sick while traveling, you can stay on its feeding schedule. But if they tend to vomit, it is best to avoid food. Depending on the severity of their travel sickness, feed them anywhere between 2 and 8 hours before getting on the road.

This article is meant to provide general and not medical advice. We strongly recommend that a veterinarian be consulted for the specific medical needs of your animal.

Sources

Fetch by WebMD
Vets for Pets
VCA Animal Hospitals