Carsickness and Motion Sickness in Dogs

Written by Small Door's medical experts

If you’ve ever noticed your dog excessively panting, drooling, or licking their lips while on a car ride, your dog may be experiencing travel or motion sickness. While it is a common occurrence, motion sickness can be stressful for your dog, as well as an inconvenience for pet parents. Thankfully, travel sickness can be easily treated and prevented. Read on to learn what steps to take so that you and your pup can travel together worry-free.

In this article:

What is motion sickness in dogs?

Motion sickness is essentially a feeling of nausea or dizziness felt by your dog when in motion. Motion sickness in dogs is quite common and can manifest in different travel experiences in a car, boat, or plane. Your dog could become carsick, seasick, or airsick, which is an upsetting experience for you and your dog.

Signs & symptoms of motion sickness in dogs

Signs and symptoms of motion sickness or upset stomach in dogs may include the following: 

Some of these symptoms might be misread as anxiety, but it’s important to determine if your dog is experiencing motion sickness. If left untreated, motion sickness can lead to anxiety about getting in a car (or boat or plane). 

What causes motion sickness in dogs?

Motion sickness can have physical or psychological causes. Physical motion sickness stems from the vestibular apparatus within the inner ear, which is the area responsible for controlling the sense of balance. This portion of the inner ear also controls the brain region responsible for nausea and vomiting. When this site is triggered, your dog may feel nauseous and begin to show physical signs or behave differently.

Psychological factors such as anxiety, fear, and stress can also be a contributing cause of motion sickness in dogs. Often the mental stimulus of traveling, in addition to the actual motion of the vehicle, can lead to your dog experiencing travel sickness.  

How long does motion sickness last in dogs?

The duration of motion sickness in dogs can depend on the individual dog and the length of travel. If left untreated, motion sickness can last for the entire journey. 

How to treat motion sickness in dogs

Medicine for motion sickness in dogs

There are several anti-sickness medication options to help treat or prevent motion sickness in dogs. Talk with your veterinarian to determine which options would be most helpful for your dog. 

  • Maropitant citrate (also known as Cerenia), is one of the most effective FDA-approved medications for controlling nausea in dogs. Cerenia is available as an oral tablet or an injectable medication. The oral tablets are typically prescribed for the prevention of travel sickness and are administered a few hours prior to travel. This medication is safe and approved for dogs eight weeks of age and older and can provide anti-nausea protective effects for up to 24 hours.

  • Antihistamines have been found to have an anti-nausea effect in dogs. Your veterinarian will be able to prescribe an antihistamine dosage specifically for your dog.  

  • Anti-anxiety medications can also be a helpful remedy for treating motion sickness by promoting calmness and reducing stress. Medications for situational anxiety that your veterinarian may prescribe can include oral pills such as trazodone, acepromazine, and alprazolam. 

Is there a cure for motion sickness in dogs? 

Counterconditioning or desensitization techniques may be effective for treating travel sickness in some dogs. These training techniques can help reduce or manage your dog’s anxiety in relation to travel. Some forms of counterconditioning include: 

  • Begin by taking your dog on short trips to help acclimate them to the process of being in the car. Taking small steps, such as getting into the car, starting the car, and allowing the dog to be in an idling car for several minutes can be a good way to introduce them to riding in a car. 

  • Relaxation mat training prior to traveling with your dog can also be a helpful tool. This technique trains your dog to associate laying down and relaxing on a mat as being a positive interaction. Once your dog has been successfully trained to use a relaxation mat, it can then be utilized in stressful situations, such as during plane or car rides, giving your dog a “safe” space to relax and encourage feelings of calmness. 

  • Comforting pheromones (odorless chemicals secreted by mother dogs to communicate a feeling of safety and calmness with their puppies) can reduce travel anxiety and subsequent sickness in dogs. One product which emits these calming pheromones is a product called Adaptil, which is available as a collar, spray, or plug-in diffuser. Ask your veterinarian which product formulation may work best for your dog’s specific travel needs. 

  • Additionally, home remedies such as aromatherapy using lavender or chamomile-scented essential oils can help reduce anxiety during travel. It is recommended to spray the inside of the vehicle or travel carrier at least 10 minutes prior to placing your dog back into the car or carrier, and never spray an aromatherapy oil directly on your dog. As Veterinary Partner states, a study in dogs showed that lavender oil sprayed in a car promoted more resting, sitting and quietness in dogs.

Is motion sickness in dogs contagious for humans or other pets? 

No, motion sickness in dogs is not contagious for humans or other pets. 

What is the cost of treating motion sickness in dogs? 

The cost of treating your dog’s motion sickness can vary widely. It will depend on the treatment you use, where you obtain it, and whether you have pet insurance that covers all or a portion of the cost.

How to prevent motion sickness in dogs

Prepare for your trip by asking your veterinarian what methods of nausea prevention may work well for your dog. Having an anti-sickness prescription ready and on-hand to administer before or during your travels can be a good way to ensure that you have a smooth trip with your pup. 

Do not feed your puppy or dog for at least 12 hours prior to travel. Traveling on an empty stomach can help reduce the chance of your dog experiencing nausea. 

Reducing any potential additional travel stressors can also be helpful. Using small window shades or thundercaps can be helpful in lowering anxiety and motion sickness in the car since they block your dog’s view of the outside while in motion. 

Is there a vaccine for motion sickness in dogs? 

There is no vaccine available for motion sickness in dogs. However, there are injectable forms of anti-nausea and antihistamine medications that can be administered. Some injectable medications include Cerenia, metoclopramide and diphenhydramine. 

Summary of motion sickness in dogs

Addressing the source of your pet’s motion sickness can help set both you and your dog up for a lifetime of successful and memorable travels together. Your dog’s symptoms during travel can be treated and may be prevented. By creating a low-stress environment and using preventative tools, and medications if needed, you can ensure that you and your pup have a fun trip.

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