When you bring your dog on a car ride, you may notice extremely varied reactions. Some dogs will stick their tongue out and take in the sights, excited to get out of the house. Other dogs might start to whine, seeming dizzy and queasy. Some might even vomit. Car sickness in dogs is fairly common, but it doesn't have to stop you and your pooch from cruising.
Like humans, dogs can become disoriented in a moving car when senses get mixed up and don't correspond with each other. While it's not in your dog's control, there are some things you can do to soothe them and make the ride go a bit smoother for your pup.
What is Car Sickness?
Car sickness is a type of motion sickness that causes feelings of dizziness and disorientation while taking a ride. Motion sickness occurs when the eyes and muscles aren't interacting properly, sending the brain mixed signals. This leaves the feeling of dizziness and even sickness.
The inner ears help control a sense of balance. Parts of the ear send information about the body's surroundings to the brain. Semicircular canals hold fluid that moves when the head turns. The sacculate and utricle are sensitive to gravity, telling the brain whether the person or animal is standing or laying down.
The brain will then take in all this data and attempt to understand it. But sometimes the brain gets confusing signals from other parts of the body, causing the individual to not fully understand if they are moving and creating motion sickness.
Can Dogs Get Car Sickness?
The short answer is: Yes! Dogs can get motion sickness, even during short trips. Most animals can experience car sickness. And just like us, it's more common in puppies and younger dogs than in adults. This may be due to the inner ear (which is involved in balance) not being fully developed.
Some people may confuse motion sickness with travel anxiety since they have overlapping symptoms. It can be tough to determine which one your dog is experiencing. But you'll probably notice more nervous behavior if your dog has travel anxiety, including shaking, tail tucking, and even attempting to hide.
Why Do Dogs Get Car Sick?
People believe dogs get car sick for the same reasons we do. Just like humans, dogs may be getting mixed signals sent to their brain. For example, their eyes may recognize that they are not moving, but their inner ear may sense that they are moving. When the brain gets these mixed signals, it triggers a pretty impactful feeling of dizziness, which may lead to vomiting.
Motion sickness appears to happen more commonly to young dogs. This is most likely due to their ear structure not being fully developed as puppies, meaning they don't have as much balance as adult dogs. Some dogs will "grow out of" being car sick as they get older, but others may not.
Signs of Car Sickness in Dogs
So how do you know if your dog is experiencing car sickness? There are common signs of car sickness in dogs to look for during or after a ride. Here is how to know if your dog is experiencing car sickness.
- Drooling: Often, dogs will start drooling when they are queasy and may be close to vomiting.
- Excessive panting: Your pup may breathe heavily as a reaction to stress.
- Pacing: Dogs might start pacing when they feel uncomfortable or nervous. They might also start to whine.
- Wide eyes: Just like when a human feels threatened or frightened, the whites of your dog's eyes may show in response to these feelings.
- Appearing hunched over: Your dog might be feeling sick and in a position where they are expecting to barf.
- Yawning: This is another form of body language dogs use to express stress. A stressful yawn is longer and more pronounced than a tired yawn.
- Licking lips: This is another common sign that your dog may be getting queasy and experiencing excess saliva. Licking might also be a nervous reaction to feeling discomfort and confusion.
- Pulled back lips: Tight facial muscles and pulled back lips indicate that your pooch is nervous.
- Seeming unbalanced: If your dog doesn't seem able to stand up or seems unstable, they probably feel dizzy.
- Fast, shallow breathing: This is another sign of stress and fear; a reaction when the body goes into 'fight or flight' mode.
- Vomiting: This doesn't always happen for dogs with car sickness but can result from feeling prolonged queasiness and dizziness. If your dog experiences vomiting when car sick, think of putting down a blanket or cover before heading out.
How to Prevent Car Sickness in Dogs
Even though car sickness is often out of your dog's control, there are ways to reduce the symptoms and help your dog feel more comfortable during car rides. There are a few things you can do to make car trips more tolerable for your pup.
Use a Booster Seat
You might be able to reduce the conflicting sensory signals triggering your dog's car sickness by restraining them in an elevated pet travel booster seat. However, this is usually only an option for puppies and smaller dogs. Alternatives include a pet travel harness or crate.
Travel on an Empty Stomach
Dogs will be less likely to barf if they have an empty stomach. Before a car ride, it's best to not give your dog a full meal. It's helpful to give them a teaspoon or two of food and maybe a couple of treats, so they have a little bit of food in their stomach. This will decrease their chance of getting nauseous. But don't skimp on the water. That's important to give your dog before a trip, ensuring that they stay hydrated.
Give Your Dog CBD
Before you leave for a car trip, try premium quality CBD for dogs (either CBD oil or treats). CBD is known to help promote calmness in your dog as well as reduce symptoms of an upset stomach. This can make it the perfect way to keep your dog relaxed during a car ride and reduce the likelihood of feeling queasy and vomiting.
CBD is a non-intoxicating natural phytocannabinoid found in the hemp plant. It's one of a few hundred phytocannabinoids discovered in hemp, and it's one of the most popular due to its benefits to your dog's overall well-being.
CBD works by interacting with the receptors in your dog's endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS contains all major systems in your dog's body. This includes the nervous, immune, and digestive systems. This is how CBD may have such a positive impact on so many areas of your dog's body and health.
Try giving your dog CBD about 30 minutes before the car ride. That's about how long it takes the effects to kick in. After that, it may be best to give it to your dog in oil form, allowing you to drop it into the back of their mouth. But if needed, CBD calming chews and CBD dog treats are also an option. Just don't give your dog too much since you want to keep their stomach almost empty.
Keep the Windows Down
Some fresh air circulated throughout the car can help your dog feel better and less stuffy. Open the windows on both sides to let the air flow through. But make sure that your dog is restrained. You don't want them to stick their head out of the window or jump out of the car. Sticking their head out of the window might injure their eyes, face, or throat.
Your dog will also feel less queasy if they face forward rather than looking out the window. Watching the blurry world speed by through a window can make anyone nauseous.
Make Frequent Stops
It's best to make frequent stops when you bring your dog on car rides, especially if they are longer trips. This will give your dog a break from the possibility of conflicting sensory signals, allowing them to regain their balance and composure.
Frequent stops will also let your dog sniff around and get a good break from the trip. They will also be able to use the potty, keeping your car safe from accidents.
Make Car Rides a Good Thing
If your dog feels anxious and sick during car rides, it may help to make car rides a positive experience for your pet. Create a positive association by giving your dog positive attention, pets, and a couple of treats every time they go in the car. You can build up your dog's tolerance to being in the car, going further each time until your dog appears a bit more confident and comfortable.
Try the Front Passenger Seat
Most people who experience car sickness feel it more when sitting in the back of the car. The ride is a bit smoother from the front. If you can keep your dog in the front of the car, definitely give it a try to make your dog feel a bit more relaxed. Keep them secured in a seat belt harness made for dogs to ensure they don't get injured in a car crash.
Can a Puppy Outgrow Car Sickness?
Puppies will often outgrow car sickness. This usually happens when they are around one year old, a time when dogs become a bit more developed, including the parts of their ear that help with balance. But like we said a bit earlier, not all dogs will outgrow car sickness. While it isn't as common in adults, many older dogs will still have car sickness they can't control.
If you're concerned for your pup even after taking all necessary precautions to prevent it, reach out to a veterinarian. Vets will be able to evaluate your pup and make sure everything is okay. Then they can provide medication or a treatment plan for your dog, making future car rides a bit less rocky.
Final Thoughts - Car Sickness in Dogs
Car sickness is caused by your dog's senses getting a bit jumbled. For example, their eyes may say they are not moving. Meanwhile, their ear may be saying they are in motion. When both of these senses reach the brain, it can leave your dog feeling disoriented and confused, maybe even queasy. Car sickness can't be cured, and it's out of your dog's control. But there are some things you can do to help your dog feel more comfortable during car rides.
This includes giving your dog a regular dose of CBD to help keep them calm and soothed, giving them frequent breaks during the trip, and even putting them in a booster seat. And remember, if your dog is just a puppy, they might grow out of car sickness when they are an adult. This is more common in younger dogs. So keep an eye on your dog and watch their behavior while taking car rides.