Dog Car Sickness: Symptoms and Medications

Dog Car Sickness: Symptoms and Medications

Alpha Paw Sale

Aug 09, 2021


  • Dogs that have car travel sickness experience nausea, anxiety, as well as excessive drooling and diarrhea.

  • There are several types of medications for treating car sickness in dogs, but you should talk to your veterinarian to find out what they recommend.

  • Some natural remedies for managing dog motion sickness are lavender and chamomile oil, nux vomica, ginger, and peppermint tea.

Dog car sickness: symptoms and medications

What Is Dog Motion Sickness/Car Sickness?

Car sickness is a type of motion sickness. In case you didn’t know, dog motion sickness is, actually, pretty common and it affects thousands of pets across the world.

Riding in the car can make a dog feel stressed not just because of the motion itself, but also because they might associate the experience with stressful adventures such as going to the animal hospital.

Car sickness is far more common in puppies and young dogs, especially since they are not capable of controlling their reactions as well as healthy adult dogs.

On top of that, the inner ear of puppies and young dogs hasn’t fully developed, and the inner ear is essential when it comes to keeping a dog’s body well-balanced.

Senior dogs can be carsick, too, even if they’ve taken more than enough rides in the past and nothing has happened.

What Causes Motion Sickness In Dogs?

We’ve already mentioned anxiety and age as two predisposing factors, but dogs can be sick in a variety of situations — from short trips to long car rides, any puppy or adult dog could get sick.

Another cause of motion sickness in dogs is any condition relating to the inner ear. For example, dogs that have middle or inner ear infections or those who suffer from vestibular disease are far more likely to experience motion sickness compared to healthy pets.

The inner ear contains a sensory organ that’s connected to the brain, particularly to the vomiting center in it. So that’s why pets with otitis or any ear conditions can be carsick.

Some types of medication can cause carsickness, too. If you know that your pup is more likely to experience nausea in the car, it might be a good idea to tell your vet so that they can prescribe the right medication, one that doesn’t cause this side effect.

Signs of Motion Sickness in Dogs

Some dogs love chasing cars, but hate being in them, and probably because of car sickness. If your dog has gotten car sick before, you probably think that you know what to expect. But the truth is that the symptoms can vary from one car ride to the next and also depending on a number of factors.

If they suffer from car sickness, dogs can show the following clinical signs. Not all of them have to appear on the same dog, but some can exhibit several.

Car motion sickness in dogs shares some of its signs with travel anxiety. Believe it or not, there are dogs out there that are unlucky enough to suffer from both, and they have the hardest time putting up with car rides.

How to Treat A Dog with Car Sickness

Take Your Dog to The Vet

If you think that your dog is suffering from car sickness, the best way of going about things would be to first talk to your veterinarian. As you probably know by now if you are a responsible pet parent, dogs need to visit the animal hospital at least once a year.

In the beginning, you can help your dog to deal with the issue by avoiding car rides as much as possible. Unfortunately, most dogs that experience motion sickness of this type are also likely to experience other types. That means that taking the bus or the train to the vet clinic as an alternative might not be a good idea.

Puppies can show the same signs as adults, so it doesn’t make any difference.

Since the vet is not going to be able to see your dog ‘in action’ since they’re probably not going to be in the car next to you, you will have to do your best to memorize your dog’s symptoms and then pass that info on to the veterinarian.

Make note of their behavior and how they respond to the car ride. Big dogs like Great Danes will experience a car ride differently than a smaller dog such as a Dachshund.

Another tip that we can give you is to use your smartphone to record the way your dog is behaving, especially if someone can help you so that you don’t have to take your eyes off the road.

Since motion sickness is not a typical disease, the veterinarian will prescribe several medications to limit the severity of the clinical signs as much as possible.

Dog car sickness: symptoms and medications

Medications for Nausea In Dogs

For dogs that aren’t generally anxious or that don’t have ear infections or any ear pathologies, you will have to give your pet the medication only before taking a car trip.

If the medication proves to be ineffective, your veterinarian will prescribe something different. There are many options in terms of treatment from anti-nausea to anti-anxiety medications.

The veterinarian will also advise you as to what you are supposed to do before the trip so that your dog’s experience is as comfortable as possible.

Here are several examples of medications that you might have to give your pet.

Cerenia

In dogs, Cerenia is quite effective for combatting the signs of motion sickness. Moreover, it is vet-approved and has been found to be completely safe to give to most dogs, even those that might have other chronic health problems.

The biggest advantage to asking your veterinarian for Cerenia is that, unlike some other dog medications, it doesn’t cause drowsiness.

Unlike Cerenia, a different motion sickness treatment can make a pet drowsy, confused, and sometimes, even uncoordinated. Older dogs are more likely to experience such clinical signs, and due to their health status, they can be quite alarming.

So we would argue that Cerenia is the best option for combatting nausea, stress, and all the other unpleasant symptoms caused by motion sickness.

Meclizine

Also known as Antivert or Bonine, meclizine is an over-the-counter antihistamine that can calm dogs down and also treat the signs of motion sickness such as nausea.

Even though there is a particular version of this drug that’s made for less drowsiness, the truth is that the medicine can still make your dog at least slightly drowsy. Many dogs also experience a dry mouth from being medicated with meclizine for the duration of road trips.

Dimenhydrinate

The commercial name of this medication is Dramamine and you’ve probably heard of it before if you have experienced motion sickness yourself.

A dog’s body reacts similarly to this substance compared to meclizine, so it produces the same side effects – dry mouth and drowsiness.

Avoid Giving Your Dog Human Medications

If you decide to give your puppy human medication for motion sickness, not only will you not help your dog, but you might actually make some of the clinical manifestations worse.

Some dogs can experience even more anxiety, not to mention that some human drugs can be poisonous to other species. As you might have noticed from the previous section, there are two OTC medications that we have mentioned.

However, we would like to advise you to ask your veterinarian for specific instructions for treating pet motion sickness.

Can I give my dog Benadryl for car sickness?

This is a pretty good question, but the answer is not a hard yes. Back in the day, vets used to prescribe Benadryl all the time for managing the motion sickness.

Nowadays, with newer medication more specifically designed for dogs available, Benadryl is considered less safe compared to some medications, including Cerenia.

While it is relatively effective in treating car sickness at least in a number of dogs, in others it might cause more serious side effects such as agitation.

In any case, before deciding to give your dog Benadryl, we strongly suggest that you first talk to your veterinarian — to find out the right dosage and whether it might be a suitable option for your pet.

Dog car sickness: symptoms and medications

Train Your Pup Early On To Enjoy Car Rides

Prevention is worth a pound of cure, so make sure that your puppy gradually gets used to taking car trips to the point that their anxiety or vomiting completely disappears is a great piece of advice.

If you do not want to manage any accidents in the car, make sure you don’t give your dog any food for several hours before the trip.

While it’s advised that you do not feed your dog, giving water to your four-legged buddy is extremely important. Always keep your dog well-hydrated.

Consider keeping your dog in a crate throughout the duration of the car travel experience. The reason we’re recommending this is not just because it’s a winner in terms of pet safety but also because it keeps your dog more grounded, so there are fewer factors that can trigger a vomiting episode.

Your dog’s body is not going to bounce around as much as it can when they’re not kept in a crate. If your puppy isn’t fond of crates for some reason, you can always use a special car safety seat.

Turn on the AC or roll down your window to let some fresh air get into the car. If you know that your dog tends to get sick once every several hours, make frequent stops — this will also prove to be useful in preventing accidents.

Last, but not least, getting your dog accustomed to taking car trips is great, but making sure that they associate it with a wonderful experience is even better.

When you have time to travel, such as on the weekends, take your dog in the vehicle and go to a great park or on a long hike somewhere. All dogs love to spend time outdoors and if you also give your dog pet cookies or their favorite chews or treats after the ride, they’ll learn to be calm and experience less stress in the car.

Of course, while you’re spending time outdoors, be sure to check that your dog is not allergic to pollen and other irritants.

Also, if you’ve found a good calming supplement, make sure you give it to them before riding in the car for hours.

Natural Remedies for Dog Car Sickness

Ginger

Due to its anti-nausea effects, ginger can prove to be quite useful for treating canine motion sickness. In fact, some pet parents argue that it might be even more effective than Benadryl and it doesn’t even cause any side effects, whether in a puppy or an adult dog.

What we would like to note is that you should still ask your vet before giving your dog ginger just to be on the safe side of things. Pregnant dogs or diabetic ones could experience other symptoms.

CBD

CBD or hemp oil can be another option for dealing with motion sickness.

While it could lower the intensity of the effects of the car ride, the truth is that there haven’t been enough studies made on the exact way CBD works in a dog’s body.

It’s not exactly unsafe, but it might still not be the best choice for dogs undergoing treatment for other conditions or those that have chronic health problems.

Essential oils

Lavender and chamomile oil are widely known for their calming effects so there’s no point in avoiding to use them in our canine friends.

However, the safety of essential oils remains debatable and you should avoid applying them directly on your dog’s skin. Aromatherapy is safer by comparison.

You can also apply the fragrant oil to a cotton ball that you can hide in your car about 30-40 minutes before the trip.

Nux vomica

Nux vomica is particularly useful for minimizing digestive distress. It can also keep a dog calm even in difficult situations.

It is now available in the form of tinctures, but there are treats available containing it, too, as well as tablets.

Peppermint

While peppermint essential oil is not a good choice as it is very potent and can irritate a dog’s skin and respiratory system, peppermint infusions are perfectly safe and great for managing the motion sickness.

Not all dogs are willing to drink peppermint tea, but if your own does, it’s definitely something worth trying about 24 hours before car rides. Just replace your dog’s water with peppermint tea.

Final Thoughts

Car sickness is never a good way to experience a car ride – for humans or our four-legged buddies. Training them to get used to car rides at an early age will do wonders for the problems they may face later in life.

More importantly, always use a dog seat belt and even better, a dog safety seat. Sometimes, there is just nothing that works so adding a seat protector when you travel will be worth the headaches and cost of cleaning up accidents.

Alpha Paw Sale
author image

Dr. Christina Vulpe, DVM

Member of Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts

Dr. Cristina Vulpe is a board-certified small animal veterinarian. She earned her veterinary degree in 2011 from USAMV in Iasi, Romania, and her PhD in Canine Oncology in 2015 from USAMV in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. She is passionate about anything from animal nutrition & welfare to veterinary parasitology & infectious diseases. As a responsible pet parent herself, she enjoys giving reliable medical advice that pet owners can trust, which is why she joined Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts on our mission to help our readers give their pets the happy & healthy lives they deserve.

Top Posts

Hot Spots on Dogs: Causes, Treatment & Prevention [Vet Expert Guide]
Hot Spots on Dogs: Causes, Treatment
How To Clean Dog Ears in 4 Easy Steps (According to Our Vet)
How To Clean Dog Ears in 4 Easy Step
The Essential New Puppy Checklist Your Family Needs
The Essential New Puppy Checklist Yo
How to Spot Fleas on Dogs: Signs, Solutions, and Prevention
How to Spot Fleas on Dogs: Signs, So
What Is Leptospirosis in Dogs? Here’s Everything You Should Know
What Is Leptospirosis in Dogs? Here&

Welcome to our Vet Corner

Each week, we publish high-quality, helpful content written & reviewed by our team of board-certified veterinary specialists. Think of us as your partners in pet parenthood: we’re here to provide you with expert medical answers to your pet health questions, so you can continue to give your pets the happy & healthy lives they deserve.

The Vet Stamp of Approval

Ah, the coveted Vet Stamp of Approval. We live for this badge. When you see it, you’ll know you’re in good hands. (Not seeing the badge on an article that needs it? Reach out to us and we’ll get right on it!)

Disclaimer

The medical, nutritional, or behavioral advice we provide is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Our editorial content is not a substitute for formal or personalized medical advice from a veterinary professional. Only board-certified veterinary specialists who have examined your pet should diagnose medical conditions, provide personalized treatment, or prescribe appropriate medication. For questions regarding your pet’s health, or if your pet is exhibiting signs of illness, injury, or distress, contact your veterinarian immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on our site.