Does your dog get car sick?

It’s a tough situation- you want to take your dog to socialize at the park or to classes or maybe to compete in agility, but every time he gets in the car, he starts to pant heavily, act restless, and maybe he vomits. These symptoms and more can continue for days, making him unable to concentrate or participate in activities, he seems lethargic and even anxious. These are signs of severe motion sickness in dogs, and it’s more complicated sometimes than buying some doggy Dramamine.

Often it is difficult to figure out if the sickness is caused by the dog being anxious, or if it is the other way around. Usually we approach a car fearful/ car sick dog on two fronts:

  1. Medical
  2. Behavioral

Here are the steps to building tolerance for car rides in dogs that have displayed anxiety or minor physical discomfort. The plan takes about four weeks:

  • Practice approaching the car and rewarding the dog for doing so without getting into the vehicle. Do this several times a day for a week
  • Spend time/feed small meals to your dog in the car with the engine off and windows down. Do this for half or all of at least one of your dog’s regular meals per day for a week.
  • Next repeat the last step, but take a trip around one block. Windows should be down to relieve pressure. Do this once a day for a week.
  • Gradually take longer trips while repeating the previous steps, and try to go a little farther each day, once a day for a week.

If you sense that your dog is truly miserable due to the motion of the car and not because he’s nervous, there are some options you can explore:

  • Make sure dog is facing forward in a harness/dog safety belt in which he cannot turn backwards or sideways while traveling.
  • Keep windows down at least a couple of inches to relieve air pressure and allow for fresh air.
  • Even with windows down, keep the car cool with A/C and never turn up the heat.
  • Give your dog something to chew to keep his mind off the ride.
  • If your dog has associated car rides with places that make him nervous such as the vet, groomer or other destination, make sure all car rides for at least a month end up either back at home or to some place the dog loves.

Lastly, please talk to your vet about prescription or over the counter options to prevent nausea and vomiting while you are working on easing him into longer car rides.