I just got back from a car ride where we had to drive on some really curvy roads for a while. Baloo was whining the whole time when he usually sleeps in the car. So I always assumed that he loves car riding. But today I was wondering if a dog could actually be car sick and what to do about it.
I’ve done some research on the topic. First and foremost, dogs can be car or motion sick. Some even have to vomit. But a dog can also be car sick without vomiting. Have you ever been car sick before? Well, I certainly have but I never had to vomit. It just made me feel absolutely horrible and I wanted to get out of the car as quickly as possible. I assume that’s how Baloo felt today.
In this post I’d like to show you how to find out if your dog is car sick and what do about it.
Note: I’m no big fan of medication if not absolutely necessary. This is why I’ll only show you drug free methods. Or at least drugs you can get without prescription (like homeopathic things).
What causes car sickness in dogs?
There are different causes for car sickness:
Ear structures not fully grown
Motion sickness mostly happens to puppies or younger dogs because their ear structure is not fully grown, yet. The inner tubes are responsible for balance. Until they are fully developed, dogs (and people) struggle more with motion sickness. This means that it’s possible that the motion sickness will grow out.
If your pup has been sick on his first few car rides, he might have been conditioned to feel sick or to vomit when being in the car. It’s very well possible that he was motion sick as a puppy but wouldn’t be any more, now that his ear structures are fully grown. But because he got used to feeling sick when getting in the car, his body just kept reacting in the same way.
If you only take your dog in your car to go to unpleasant places, such as the vet, your dog associates car riding with something uncomfortable. He will then already be worried and stressed when he gets in the car. This can also lead to nausea.
Signs that your dog is car sick
The signs are about the same as for stress in general. As described here, dogs show different signs when they’re stressed. The most common ones are:
- Excessive drooling
- Lip licking
- Excessive scratching
- General uneasiness
Note that some dogs might feel sick even if we don’t see it. Not all dogs show the obvious signs when they’re not feeling well. Some will just suffer silently. But as long as they don’t show any obvious signs, it’s probably tolerable for them. And if you don’t know that your pooch is sick, you can’t do anything about it anyway.
What to do about it
The best thing you can do is to slowly accustom your pup to car riding. Maybe he doesn’t get sick at all. If you realize that he gets sick, make some preparation for the next trip. Before you think about the measures you should first try to find out what causes your pupper to feel sick. Choose your measures depending on the reason. If your dog isn’t a puppy anymore, it is very likely that he’s getting nauseous due to bad conditioning or stress.
- Make it fun: Get your dog conditioned to love car riding. I’ll tell you how a bit further down.
- Less food: If you know that your dog is prone to get motion sick, feed him less before you go on a ride. However, you should always provide water. This can also help with the nausea.
- Thundershirt: These are just great for anxious dogs. If your dog had a bad experience during a car ride before, try it with this. It will calm your pup down and will probably make him feel much more secure. A relaxed dog is most likely gonna feel much better during a car ride.
- Ginger treats: Ginger has an anti-nausea effect. You can get them in any pet store. Ginger capsules are also an option. They can be found at health drug stores. Dogs under 16 pounds (7.25 kg) can safely take 250 milligrams or less of ginger, while dogs over 16 pounds can usually handle up to 500 milligrams of ginger.
- Ask your vet: if you’ve already tried everything that’s listed here and your dog is still puking on every car ride, talk to your vet. In some very extreme cases your pupper might need some prescribed medication. In my opinion, most cases can be handled without them, though.
Try simple things
Baloo is always lying in front of the front passenger (we don’t have our own car so we don’t have a crate). Whenever we stop or when we’re driving more slowly, he wants to sit or even stand up. Usually, I always tell him to lie down again because I want him to be calm and to relax. Today, I let him sit for a bit when he started crying because I thought he might feel more comfortable. But he didn’t stop for ages. Since I usually just try to ignore his crying, it really started to annoy me. So we took a short break for him to get some fresh air. After that, I decided to make him lie down again. And, ta da, he was quiet! So it seems like for him, the motion is less intense if he’s lying. Sitting or even standing makes it far worse.
Some more suggested reactions
Here are some further suggestions what you can do when you realize that your doggo feels sick:
- Don’t make a big deal out of it: The most important thing is to not make a big deal out of it. As always, your dog will imitate your behaviour. If you stay calm and don’t react to his whining or vomiting, he will soon realize that this won’t stop the car. The only thing that will stop the car, is when he calms down. So as soon as you realize that your dog is sick, wait until he has calmed down (a bit), then stop and take a break. If he had to vomit, clean it when he doesn’t see it. This way he learns that all the crying and even vomiting won’t stop the uncomfortable feeling. Only being calm will give him what he wants – a break. The calmer he is, the more likely he’s not gonna feel sick anymore.
- Take frequent breaks: fresh air always helps and some distraction is also a good idea. But be careful not to stop when he’s really stressed out and fully crying or vomiting. Stop when he’s rather quiet. Give your pup some time to explore the area. This distracts him and makes him tired, so he can be more relaxed when back in the car. Also, he will start associating car riding with exploring new places. This will give him a good feeling about getting in the car.
- Open the windows for fresh air. The most horrible thing when your feeling nauseous is to have hot and stuffy air around you. For your pooch it’s the same. So make sure your car is well ventilated.
If your pooch was conditioned to associate car riding with feeling sick, you should flip this condition around. Make the bad conditioning a good conditioning.
Show your pup that the car is a nice and comfortable place. If he’s being stressed only by seeing the car, start by giving him treats or playing with him in vicinity of the car. Then do the same inside the car with the engine off. Just make it as comfortable and fun as possible. Once your dog stays calm, start the engine but don’t drive away. Just leave the engine on and continue rewarding your pooch. As a last step, start taking short rides.The best way is to have someone else drive the car, while you can still reward your doggo when he stays calm. When you’re driving you shouldn’t give your dog too many treats, as this might lead to nausea again. Better reward him with calm words of praise and cuddle him in a calm way.
As always, gradually build it up. It might take up to a few weeks until you can take a ride with a relaxed dog if he used to be really stressed.