Pet Talk: How to Help a Dog with Car Sickness


By Sally Salopek

Q. Our dog Princess gets car sick. We would love to be able to take her with us in the car more often, but it is hard with her always getting sick and throwing up. Any suggestions on how to help her?

A. Dog motion sickness is more commonly seen in puppies and young dogs. The movement of the car over stimulates the inner ear, which controls balance. In young dogs the ear structure for balance is not fully developed, causing them to get car sick. Puppies that get motion sickness often outgrow it. If Princess is still young she may improve with age.

If her first few car rides left her nauseated, she may be conditioned to equate travel with vomiting, even after her ears have fully developed.

Another possible cause is stress. One example is a canine who fears going to the vet and worries himself sick on the road trip there.

There are some things you can try to help reduce the risk of Princess vomiting in the car.

Generally, it is a good idea not to feed your pet within four hours before riding in the car. While some pets travel better on an empty stomach, others will feel better after eating a small meal. Some dogs just need a little food in their stomach to help them from getting sick. This was the case with my dog Hunter. I always had to make sure he had a little something to eat before a car ride to avoid him getting nauseated and vomiting. Try both ways with Princess to see if either helps her.

Try to make the car ride as comfortable as possible for your girl. She will experience fewer nauseating visual cues if she faces forward. You can purchase a special harness that attaches to the seat belt that will keep her facing forward on the road.

Another thing that may help is to lower your car windows a couple of inches, but not enough for her to lean out of. This helps balance the air pressure inside the car and along with the fresh air, may help reduce your dog’s nausea and discomfort. Also keep the car cool and well ventilated, as a hot or stuffy vehicle can contribute to unpleasant feelings for Princess.

If stress is causing her to become ill in the vehicle, toys may help distract and entertain her along with frequent stops for elimination. Try to take your dog on trips to fun places like the park or lake. This will help her to learn and associate the car with those things. It will help make the rides much easier on her knowing she is going somewhere fun. Start with short trips, always rewarding her afterwards with treats.

You may need to talk with your veterinarian if these tips don’t help. Medication to help prevent nausea or anxiety may be needed.

I hope some of my suggestions will help Princess overcome getting ill in the car so you can enjoy traveling together.

Sally Salopek is the owner and operator of Attend-A-Pet pet sitting services in northern Door County. She has also worked professionally with animals in health care, pet grooming, training, wildlife rehab and rescue. Send your pet-related questions to her at [email protected].

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