Thursday, September 1, 2011

How to Help a Carsick Dog

By Linda Cole

When our Jack Russell/terrier mix sisters Sophie and Kelly were puppies, we began taking them with us when we'd go for rides. Kelly loved hopping in the back seat and she settled right in, but Sophie wasn't as keen about it. In fact, our very first ride ended with Sophie throwing up in the back seat. There is hope, however, for dogs that get carsick.

What causes carsickness in dogs?

The ear structure of puppies is still developing, and their balance is thrown off when they are in a moving vehicle. Usually it's just puppies and young dogs that have a problem with an upset stomach, but a dog that experienced nausea in the car as a puppy may carry that anxiety with him as he gets older. If a dog equates an unpleasant experience – such as a trip to the vet or to a house where the cat picks on him – with riding in the car, he can make himself sick worrying about where he's going. You may actually be going to visit someone he loves or taking him to a dog park to hang out with his canine buddies, but he doesn't know that.

Signs of carsickness

The end result is vomit in the backseat, but before that happens most dogs will be inactive, uncomfortable, listless or uneasy. They may whine, yawn or drool. Some dogs will have a definite “I'm going to throw up” look. Others, like my dog Sophie, won’t show any signs of carsickness and will throw up with no warning. Sophie has always been apprehensive about getting in the car, so we're always prepared, “just in case.”

Treating carsickness

It's important to try and make a car ride as pleasant and positive as you can to help reduce the stress your dog is feeling. Instead of just taking him in the car for vet visits, include other trips where the destination gives him something fun to do, like a dog park or an afternoon hike. Teach him that car rides can also be fun which can help reduce his stress.

You can try to distract your dog with a few CANIDAE TidNips™ treats which may work for some dogs. Others may prefer an empty stomach when it comes to riding in the backseat of a moving vehicle. Experimenting with treats, a small meal before the ride or no food at all can help you find out what works best for your dog.

Running the air conditioner or cracking the windows to keep the car from becoming too stuffy and hot can help. Cracking the windows gives your dog fresh air which may be more appealing to him than the air conditioner; plus, it allows a variety of interesting smells to filter into the car which can help refocus his mind.

It's never a good idea to allow your dog to ride in the front seat, especially if your car has airbags. The safest place is in the backseat, buckled up in a seatbelt made for dogs that keeps him facing forward, which helps reduce nausea. Some dogs feel safe and secure in a crate, and that may be a good solution if your dog uses a crate at home. Sometimes it's a matter of finding a spot in the car where your dog is comfortable. Sophie tolerates riding in the car if she can lay on a blanket on the floor in the backseat. For her, not being able to see out the windows helps her feel more secure.

For dogs that don't outgrow carsickness, you can find over the counter medications or you can get prescriptions from your vet that can help. Always consult your vet before giving your dog over the counter medication, though. The dosage on the package is for people, not pets, and it's easy to overdose your dog.

To recondition a stressed out dog who doesn’t like riding in the car, leave the engine off and sit inside the car with them. You can also try using a different vehicle if you have one, and take short trips to places where your dog has fun. Get special toys your dog likes to play with, and keep them in the car so the only time he can play with them is when he's in the car.

Top photo by Mark Robinson
Bottom photo by Valerie Everett

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. My dogs hate to ride in my car at the moment since I have such a small car. They cannot figure out how to get in the back seat and the front seat is too small so they don't fit. So the only time they get in the car is to go to the vet. Those are some good ideas though.

  2. I HATE the car, so I can relate to these poof woofies!!

  3. No matter where we go, Jethro (JRT) always gets car sick on the way back, within a mile of getting home. Haven't figured out what triggers it.

  4. My girl got sick for the first 10 car rides that we took together. Now she loves to go for rides, it usually means we are going some where fun!! I found treats help coax them into the back seat. I also made sure to never rush and be very patient. I found the best seat protectors are fabric shower curtains. They are water resistant and fairly cheap. I always keep an extra one in my trunk. Using them saved the day several times!!


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