Remedies for Puppy Car Sickness & Helping Them Grow Out of It

If your puppy gets motion sickness when they go for car rides, here are some ways you can help them feel better.

Published January 5, 2023
Man holding a puppy in a car

If you've ever felt that sinking, queasy, nauseous sensation when riding in a car, you know motion sickness is far from pleasant. Your puppy can't always let you know what they're feeling, but they can experience this same discomfort. Luckily, puppy car sickness is easy to prevent. You just need to start training and other interventions early. Acclimating your puppy to new experiences early on, understanding the remedies for motion sickness, and knowing when to be concerned can help your puppy overcome their car sickness.

Training Your Pup to Cope

Puppies are more suspectible to car motion sickness, probably because the part of their ear that deals with balance - known as the vestibular system - isn't fully formed yet. The exact cause isn't fully understood. However, the theory goes that if this system is stimulated too much - or if what the puppy is seeing doesn't match what their vestibular system is telling their brains - it can lead to the symptoms of motion sickness many pups experience.

There are two main ways you can use training to help your dog cope with motion sickness: distraction and desensitization. Both methods can reduce symptoms, and you can use these methods together to help increase your pup's success. Just be patient, because nothing works immediately. Helping your puppy overcome their car sickness is a process.

Distract/Redirect Your Puppy

Distraction involves redirecting your puppy's attention to something else when they start to show signs that they are feeling queasy, which helps get their mind off whatever's causing them discomfort. This isn't always easy in a car, so you need to get a little bit creative here. Start with short car rides, where your focus is on your puppy and helping them overcome car sickness. The best approach is to plan ahead, and either have someone drive you and your pup, or bring a passenger along to help distract your pup.

Distraction also means helping your puppy to orient away from watching the world fly by. Keeping their focus forward, off of whooshing scenery and flickering lights that can exacerbate their discomfort, may help. Some dogs do better if they can't see out of the windows at all. You will have to observe your puppy's symptoms to see what affects them more. Secure your pup in the car, and keep them calm while you engage with them gently to help them associate the car ride with positive feelings.

Try not to positively reinforce anxiety reactions. Don't treat or praise your puppy if they are whining or showing signs of distress. Instead, distract them with their favorite toy, or even try playing calming music. When they display calm behavior, give lots of praise (hold off on treats for now, however, as you don't want to put too much into their tummies just yet).

Desensitize/Counter Condition Your Puppy

Desensitization involves exposing your dog to things that trigger discomfort until they get used to them. This is often done through counter-conditioning, where you give your dog something they like after exposing them to something they don't.

This is a method of behavioral training that can help your dog develop a higher tolerance for riding in the car. First, just practice getting into the car with your puppy. Don't turn it on yet. Give your puppy tons of praise and treats just for being in the car. Take a break, and wait a bit to begin another training session.

For your next session, when your pup is calm and happy about getting into the car with you, try securing them in the back seat while you sit in front. It's OK to be in the back seat with them, too. Just focus on making the experience as positive as possible.

Now, during your next training session, do the same thing, but this time start the car up. Slow and steady progress makes desensitization work. Always make it positive. Repeat this process a few times. Consistent, repetitive training sessions are what you need to do for now.

Once your puppy is calm and happy in a running car, you can start getting them used to a moving vehicle. Go slow, and use repetitive, short trips backing in and out of your driveway, offering praise and rewards throughout each session. As they get used to this, take very short trips, just down the street at first.

Gradually, extend these training session trips, but follow your dog's lead. If they show discomfort, you're probably moving too fast. Slow down, and go back at least one stage in this process until they can handle car rides without showing much (if any) discomfort.

It's OK to try both methods together. Using distraction is often the best method if you notice your puppy is nervous and they are showing symptoms of car sickness, but you have to take them somewhere. When you can plan ahead with training sessions, desensitization may work better. If one method shows better results for your dog, stick with it. If not, take a break and try both again after a few days have passed.

Remedies for Car Sickness in Puppies

There are many types of motion sickness remedies for dogs. Some of these include medications, herbs, and supplements. You may also want to try natural products to see if they help relieve your dog's symptoms. The following are some of the more popular choices:

  • Cerenia: This is the first (and so far, only) medication specifically approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration specifically to prevent motion sickness in pets. The tablet form of Cerenia is used to treat pets for symptoms associated with motion sickness, and it does not make pets drowsy. You need to give your dog the correct dosage around two hours before travel for maximum effectiveness. Talk to your veterinarian if your puppy is experiencing vomiting or symptoms of motion sickness to find out if this medication is the right choice.
  • Dramamine: This drug, which is often used to treat motion sickness in humans, comes in liquid form that some veterinarians may be willing to prescribe for puppies. Do not give Dramamine to your puppy without veterinarian guidance and approval. It's important to note that although Dramamine has been approved by the FDA for use in people, it has not been evaluated or tested specifically on dogs. As such, there is no guarantee that it will work safely or effectively for your pup.
  • Ginger Root: Ginger root has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for nausea in humans and animals alike. It works by stimulating the production of saliva, which helps to coat your dog's throat and prevent them from getting nauseous when they're exposed to motion. Ginger root is also thought to relax muscles in the stomach, which can reduce symptoms even more. Preparations in powder, liquid, capsule, and tablet forms exist. Ask your vet about which type to give, and follow their directions.
  • Peppermint Oil: Peppermint oil has long been known for its ability to soothe upset stomachs in people, and now it's starting to gain popularity among pet owners, too.
  • Full-spectrum CBD: Motion sickness happens when there is a conflict between senses and what the brain is perceiving. When this occurs, it can cause nausea and vomiting. CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system to reduce these symptoms.

The most important thing to remember is not to give your dog any medication or natural remedy unless you've discussed it with your veterinarian first. Just because it worked for your neighbor's dog doesn't mean that it will work for yours. Some medicines can cause serious problems if taken in combination with other medications, or over a long period of time. Your vet will be able to help you determine which medications are safe for your pet and which ones aren't appropriate. If you're leaning toward natural options, consult an integrative or holistic veterinarian.

When to Be Concerned About Car Sickness

Most of the time, motion sickness in puppies is mild and temporary. However, it can be dangerous for your dog if it goes untreated. It can cause vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration or electrolyte imbalance. If your dog has motion sickness symptoms and does not improve after trying home remedies, like giving them anti-nausea medications or ginger treats, take them to a veterinarian immediately.

Although uncommon, respiratory issues can also pose a threat to your dog. If they're having trouble breathing, or their gums are turning pale or blue, these are also serious signs that something is wrong, and it's time to take them to the vet right away. Your veterinarian may run some tests to determine why they are experiencing such severe signs.

Growing Out of Motion Sickness

Motion sickness may affect puppies more than adult dogs. There are some breeds of dog that are especially prone to motion sickness, but all dogs are at risk. It's more common in larger breeds, such as German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers, but smaller dogs can also experience symptoms.

Motion sickness often occurs because of the way the brain and eyes of a young puppy work. Dogs' brains aren't fully developed until about six months old, so until then, there are some things that can make them feel sick during car rides or other types of movement.

Your dog's vestibular system is immature when they are born, which means they have a hard time balancing themselves and orienting their vision correctly when they move around. Also, because their eyesight isn't fully developed yet, they may be confused by what they see while moving. This makes them more likely to feel queasy on a car ride, especially if there are sudden stops or turns involved.

This is why some puppies grow out of motion sickness. Once their vision and brain develop fully, they may no longer get sick on car rides. Sometimes, it just takes time.

There's no way to predict how long it will take your particular puppy to get over the nausea associated with motion. Some dogs grow out of motion sickness around 6 to 7 months of age, but others may take up to one year, or may never get over motion sickness. Your dog is an individual and they have their own unique set of characteristics. Fortunately, even if your dog never grows out of motion sickness, there are some things you can do to help.

More Tips to Keep Your Pup Free of Car Sickness

Traveling with your puppy can be a fun and exciting adventure. It's also a great way to get your puppy used to new experiences, but it can be stressful for both of you. Here are some tips to make traveling with your puppy easier:

  • Don't Feed Before Travel: Give your puppy's digestive system a little time to clear out if you know you have to take them on a long car ride.
  • Secure Them Inside: Use a dog-safe restraint system. If you're traveling with your dog in a crate, make sure there's enough room for them to stand up and turn around.
  • Give Them Some Airflow: Sometimes, cooler temperatures and fresh air can help prevent motion sickness in pets.
  • Take a Break: Stop to rest if you see signs of nausea or anxiety.
  • Change the Focus: Give your puppy something to chew on while traveling, such as a Kong toy.
  • Keep Them Comfortable: If you're traveling in a car, keep your dog in a sitting position and make sure they can rest both of their feet on the ground. This will help prevent pressure on the stomach and reduce nausea.
  • Get Them Situated: Try to keep their head above their heart level so that there isn't as much pressure on their inner ears.

Combining Your Knowledge

If your puppy doesn't grow out of their car sickness, but the signs aren't severe, you can begin to work on desensitization training to get them acclimated to travel and motion. You may also want to look into pharmaceutical or holistic medications to reduce or eliminate motion sickness in your puppy. Don't give your puppy any medication without the supervision of a veterinary professional. If your dog begins to experience severe symptoms, you need to talk to your veterinarian to prevent life-threatening ailments.

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Remedies for Puppy Car Sickness & Helping Them Grow Out of It