How To Cure Your Dog's Car Sickness and Anxiety
This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian,
Does your pup suffer from motion sickness? Are you tired of cleaning dog vomit off the floor of your car every time you take your pup for an outing? Or perhaps your dog is exceedingly restless and stressed every time you take them out for a drive?
You might be surprised to hear that car sickness is very common, particularly in puppies and young dogs. The structures inside the head that control balance are much smaller and less developed in puppies (this is also why human children suffer from motion sickness much worse than adults!). Some dog breeds also tend to be more prone to car sickness, including staffies and working breeds.
While car sickness can improve with age, anxiety can exacerbate the problem in many cases. Some dogs simply dislike car trips altogether and it can be a significant source of anxiety for them, especially for those who experience motion sickness and nausea as puppies.
Skip to a section:
What are the signs of motion sickness?
It's easy to spot the signs of car sickness in dogs. Your dog may appear dull, morose, and may salivate, lick their lips, yawn, and of course vomit. Car anxiety, on the other hand, can manifest in panting, pacing, crying, and restlessness.
Does nausea cause anxiety? Often anxious dogs exhibit their stressed behaviour because they feel nauseous - but sometimes they can make themselves so stressed that they become sick. With anxious dogs, it's hard to know whether the nausea is causing the anxiety, or whether the anxiety is causing the nausea.
Because car anxiety and car sickness are so often related, we have included tips for both cases in this guide. Luckily there are a few easy ways to get your pup the relief they deserve. Hopefully you'll be able to enjoy some vomit-free trips in no time at all!
How to cure your dog's car sickness
1. Anti-Nausea Drops for Dogs
Natural Animal Solutions TravelEze is an oral liquid designed specifically for curbing travel sickness in dogs. It is a great non-medicated option to try for puppies. It contains ginger as well as withania and chamomile, and can be added to food or straight onto the tongue, 30 minutes before travel. Unlike some drops for humans, it is alcohol free and completely natural.
2. Fresh Ginger
Just like for humans, ginger can work wonders for queasy pups. Simply give a spoonful of ginger to your dog around 20-30 minutes prior to the car ride. For small breeds try a small teaspoon, and for larger dogs (staffies upwards) try a dessert spoon. Most people find this surprisingly effective. You can certainly try to administer the ginger straight into your dog's mouth, however you might find this a little tricky! Instead, most dogs will happily take fresh ginger if it has been concealed in a bit of wet food, or a tasty piece of meat. Wrapping a lump of ginger in ham is an easy way to get them to accept it!
What kind of ginger is safe for dogs? Thankfully all types of ginger are safe for dogs (unlike garlic!). In general, we recommend finely chopped fresh ginger, or minced.
3. Position Your Dog With Good Visibility Outside
Have you ever noticed how car sickness in humans is improved if they sit in the front seat? This is because improved visibility and a forward-facing position helps stabilise the head and associated balance structures.
Dogs are no different. When you think about it, it's easy to appreciate how being stuck in the back of a car without a view outside can exacerbate motion sickness.
If possible, try to position your dog so they can see out a window. Opening a window to deliver fresh air can really help too. To help with visibility, you might like to prop your dog up with a car seat, or try and crate train them. If you don't have a travel crate, always be sure to keep them secure with a seatbelt-attaching harness. (In most states, this is a legal requirement!)
This booster seat features a soft padded interior with raised base that elevates your pet so they can see out the windows and also has an internal attachment that clips onto your dogs harness for safety.
This easy to use attachment is designed to secure your dog's harness to the seatbelt, to help restrain your dog and prevent driver distraction.
A deluxe carry bag with internal safety tether for your small dog or cat.
This naturally formulated remedy for dogs and cats contains natural ingredients, including ginger, withania and chamomile, to help relieve motion sickness.
How to cure your dog's car anxiety
Now that we've addressed some helpful ways to stop your dog feeling car sick, let's delve into how to reduce travel anxiety. Remember, stress is often interlinked with car sickness; as your dog can become stressed because they feel nauseous, or nauseous because they feel stressed. (It's a bit of a viscious cycle!)
1. Desensitise them to the car gradually
If you have a young puppy, it is important to get them used to the car gradually and desensitise them to the vehicle. This desensitisation process can also be done for adult dogs who display restlessness and anxiety in the car. Desensitisation is especially important if you have any long trips planned.
Start by placing your dog in the car while it's stationary. Let them sniff all around the car and become familiar with all the smells associated with it. Keep the doors open so they can escape if they become fearful. Reward any calm behaviour with lots of praise or a treat. Try doing this every couple of days without actually taking them for a drive - as this will hopefully allow them to become comfortable with being inside the car without the extra stimulation of people/dogs passing by.
Once you're happy that your dog is comfortable with the car, try strapping them in with a harness, or into their booster seat if you have one. Again, just do this while the car is stationary to begin with, and be sure to reward them with plenty of praise and treats.
Once you're happy that your dog is calm with being restrained in the car, try taking them out for very short drives; no more than 5 minutes to start with. The process up until this point may take a bit of time, and it's important not to rush or progress before your dog is ready.
2. Try a pheromone product
Anti-stress pheromone products are great for both dogs and cats. Pheromones are a great place to start when dealing with any form of anxiety as they are completely safe and free of side effects, unlike medication.
How do pheromone products work? Anti-stress pheromone products tend to mimic the natural 'appeasing' pheromones produced by calm animals. Dogs and cats are very sensitive to pheromones, and their mood is incredibly responsive when pheromones are present in the environment.
Adaptil is actually a synthetic version of the pheromone that mother dogs release into the environment to calm their puppies shortly after birth. Adaptil is completely odourless to humans, and comes in a spray, a collar, or a plug-in diffuser. Read more about how to use Adaptil.
For cats, the main pheromone product available is Feliway. For cats who get stressed in the car (which, let's be honest, is almost every cat!), Feliway is a must-try. Like Adaptil, it is also available as a spray or diffuser. Did you know: most vet clinics have an in-house Feliway diffuser in their feline consult rooms, as it is so effective at helping to calm kitty patients in hospital!
3. Give them a Calming Supplement
There are a number of effective calming aids that can help calm your dog prior to travel. Many of these contain tryptophan, an amino acid which is a precursor for serotonin (the 'happy' chemical). Oral supplements are also great for other types of chronic stress in pets including separation anxiety or general behavioural issues. Our most effective calming supplements include:
These tasty chews are formulated with tryptophan, B vitamins and a blend of multivitamins and nutrients to support the general health and nervous function of dogs.
With natural chicken and duck meat, these tasty chews deliver Tryptophan and B group vitamins to maintain an ideal emotional balance.
Zylkene contains a natural product derived from casein (a protein found in milk). It's been shown to have calming effects for both cats and dogs.
This naturally formulated remedy contains L-tryptophan, Vitamin B1 and Hemp powder to help relieve stress and anxiety.
4. Try an Anxiety Wrap
Anxiety wraps are great for short-term bouts of stress, such as a thunderstorm or a car trip. They work by applying gentle, constant pressure to the sides of the torso - like a secure, comforting hug. Similar to the concept of swaddling a baby, this works to naturally help relieve stress and anxiety in dogs. Most varieties of body wraps also contain rear leg straps which may help target pressure points in the hindquarters; where dogs often hold tension.
If you're still having trouble, it is a good idea to have chat to your vet about further options including medication. There are plenty of prescription-only medications that can help relieve nausea and/or stress. In some cases, this might be the only thing that works.
Ultimately, car sickness and anxiety are certainly frustrating issues to deal with. But thankfully, there are so many ways to help get your dog the relief they deserve. With our helpful tips, we hope you and your pup will be enjoying some stress (and vomit!)-free car rides in no time!
Want to read more? Check out our other articles: