Dog Car Sickness and Motion Sickness

January 27, 2021
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For many dogs, going on an outing in the family car is an enjoyable adventure. However, for dogs that experience motion sickness, car rides are anything but enjoyable, no matter how fun the destination may be.

What Causes Dog Car Sickness and Motion Sickness?

Motion sickness in dogs can result from conflicting sensory signals that are sent to the emetic (vomiting) center in the brain.

In other words, the signals from the vestibular system in the inner ear (which is involved in balance) conflict with signals from the eyes, possibly leading to nausea and vomiting, similar to motion sickness in people.

Many receptors are involved in this process, including:

  • Chemoreceptor trigger zone (CRTZ)

  • Histamine

  • Neurokinin 1 substance P (NK1) receptors

Fear, anxiety, or a previous traumatic experience in a vehicle may also trigger motion sickness in dogs. Dog motion sickness can occur during travel in any type of vehicle.

Puppies seem to be more susceptible than adult dogs because the parts of the inner ear that are involved in balance are not yet fully developed in puppies. The good news is that motion sickness in puppies often improves and resolves with age.

Signs of Dog Motion Sickness

There are many potential signs of dog car sickness to watch for, including:

  • Excessive lip licking

  • Whining

  • Drooling

  • Yawning

  • Vomiting

  • Excessive panting

  • Trembling/shaking

Are There Natural Remedies for Dog Motion Sickness?

There have been many natural remedies suggested for dogs that experience motion sickness.

Ginger

There is anecdotal evidence that ginger helps treat nausea and vomiting in dogs. Consult your veterinarian before trying it, though, as it should not be given to dogs with known bleeding disorders or in dogs that are taking anticoagulants or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Adaptil

Adaptil is a calming pheromone product for dogs that comes in a spray or collar. The collar can be used daily for calming effects, while the spray is intended to be used 15-20 minutes prior to travel or any other stressful event.

Spray the inside of your vehicle or the travel kennel that your dog will be riding in prior to loading your dog.

Calming Supplements

There are several supplements that are designed to calm dogs when given orally, including:

Some may need to be given daily for several days to weeks for maximum benefit. There are few negative side effects associated with these products, so they are safe options for most dogs.

Lavender

Lavender is also a safe aromatherapy option that you can use in a spray form. You can also saturate a cotton ball with lavender essential oil and place it in your vehicle a few minutes before leaving the house.

Just be sure to either throw the cotton ball away after your trip and to put it in an area where your dog cannot get to it and ingest it before or during the trip.

CBD Supplements

One other product you might consider trying for dog motion sickness is CBD (cannabidiol). CBD has become more widely available and comes in many forms, including chews, treats, and oil.

Regulations concerning CBD vary widely, and the quality of the CBD in products is not always guaranteed. If you are interested in trying CBD for motion sickness in your dog, contact your veterinarian to discuss reliable options.

Is There Medicine for Motion Sickness in Dogs?

There are a few pharmaceutical options for preventing motion sickness in dogs.

Cerenia

Cerenia (maropitant) is the only FDA-approved prescription medication for vomiting due to motion sickness in dogs. It blocks the NK1 receptors in the brainstem vomiting center, which is the location most responsible for the nausea and vomiting caused by motion sickness.

Dogs should be at least 8 weeks old to receive Cerenia, and it is given once daily. It is highly effective—in a study of dogs, only 7% vomited during a one-hour car ride after being treated with Cerenia.

Meclizine

Meclizine is an antihistamine with sedative and anti-vomiting effects that’s available over the counter and by prescription. The most common side effect is drowsiness. It is given once daily.

Benadryl and Dramamine

Two over-the-counter options that may be used for motion sickness in dogs are Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Dramamine (dimenhydrinate).

Both products are antihistamines that can be given every 8 hours and may have sedative effects.

Dramamine may be better tolerated given with a small amount of food. Benadryl can have potential gastrointestinal effects such as vomiting, diarrhea, and decreased appetite.

If using Benadryl, be careful not to get combination products that may be used for colds in people—the product should only include Benadryl (diphenhydramine) as the active ingredient.

Anti-Anxiety Medication

If your dog suffers from anxiety in the car that results in motion sickness, an anti-anxiety medication may be needed, along with behavioral modification.

For any medications you would like to use for motion sickness in your dog, your veterinarian can provide guidance on safety and what will work best in your four-legged family member.

How to Prevent Car Sickness in Dogs

Here are a few different things you can do to help minimize your dog’s car sickness while traveling.

Use Car Safety Restraints

Whether your dog suffers from car sickness or not, it is always a good idea to use a dog car seat, a dog harness with the seat belt, or a travel crate. Such products will help minimize sudden movements or a change in position that may trigger nausea.

Allow Your Dog to See Out the Window

It is also helpful if your dog can see out the window to help their eyes and vestibular system coordinate what is happening during travel.

If possible, cracking the windows just a little may help equalize pressure and minimize negative effects on your dog’s vestibular system.

Avoid Feeding Your Dog Right Before Traveling

Don’t feed your dog a large meal right before travel, and try to take breaks on long trips, which is helpful for human and canine passengers.

Work on Conditioning Your Dog to Car Rides

Whether you bring your dog home as a puppy or adopt an older friend, take the time to acclimate them to car rides.

For fearful dogs, this may mean a long process of desensitization and counterconditioning to help your dog overcome fear and anxiety associated with car rides.

Start by just sitting in the car with your dog for a few minutes and not driving anywhere. When your dog is successful with that, try going for a ride of less than 5 minutes, and gradually extend the length of the trip as your dog becomes used to the idea of car rides being safe and even fun.

As more families travel with their dogs, keeping everyone safe and comfortable has become more important. With a little time and patience, road trips can be another way to keep the whole family connected and to expand your dog’s horizons.

Featured image: iStock.com/Ulrika

References

“Overview of Motion Sickness” by Dr T. Mark Neer, DVM, DACVIM, Merck Veterinary Manual digital app

“Canine Noise Aversion and Motion Sickness: Underdiagnosed and Undertreated,” AAHA.org

“Ginger,” vcahospitals.com

“Preventing Motion Sickness in Dogs,” todaysveterinarynurse.com 

Plumb’s Veterinary Drug Handbook, 9th edition, by Donald C. Plumb