Anxiety in Dogs in Cars: Dog Car Sickness, Reasons, Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment

Does your dog run away when you start the car? Does she pant excessively and become unsettled when you finally get her inside the car? Does she get vomit when you are on the road?

Travel anxiety and car sickness are never fun for you or your dog. It can ruin your trip and cause your dog’s unnecessary stress. Here are the reasons why your dog becomes anxious when it is inside a car and tips on how to deal with the car sickness.

Car sickness in dogs

The anxiety of your dog is usually caused by motion sickness or trauma. Car sickness has a greater impact on the puppies. Young dogs usually grow out of it. But if your dog associates the motion sickness with the car, she may be anxious by just seeing a vehicle.

Reasons why and symptoms of anxiety and car sickness in dogs

  • Trip to the veterinarian

Many dogs ride the car only if they go to the vet. And since most trips to the vet are stressful events for many dogs, anxiety ensues.

Your dog may think that a car ride is the same as a visit to the veteran. So, even before she gets into the car, her anxiety could be triggered. And the closer you are to the clinic, the more she might get stressed out.

  • The movement of the vehicle

Just like humans, your dog could become nauseous with the car’s movement. She can sense the movement with her body and her inner ears. This condition affects puppies more because their inner ears are still developing. Older dogs are not as affected.

The car’s sideways motion and vibration could have an impact on her stomach. The sickness of motion is never fun. She may vomit, whine, drool, yawn, or pant excessively. Also, she could be restless and show other signs of stress.

  • The sound of the engine

The sound of the car’s engine could be too noisy for your dog’s sensitive ears. She could exhibit additional anxiety signals like pawing at her ears, rubbing against the seat cover, or smacking her lips.

  • Trauma

In the past, your dog might have had a traumatic experience involving cars. She might have been left in the car alone. Maybe she was vomiting in a car and was severely scolded. Unless you help her get over it, this trauma will follow her.

Prevent dog car sickness

You can train your dog to like car rides by establishing positive and fun memories that she can associate with the vehicle.

Before we start, get this tip as the owner: go slow. This is particularly important if your dog already has car anxiety. It’s not a race. Train at the pace of your dog, not yours. If you lose patience, your dog may be further traumatized.

  • Desensitize your dog.

If your dog has never been inside the car, then this is a good training method. This is a good way to prevent car sickness in dogs in the first place. It can also keep your dog from getting car sick.

Start by allowing your dog to get used to the outside and inside of the car. The best part of the car for your dog is the back seat. But if she has motion sickness, it would be better for her to have the front seat.

Walk her to the car. Let her sniff it and understand that it is not an enemy or something to be afraid of.

Slowly open the door of the car. Your dog may startle with the sound, but assure her there’s nothing to be afraid of. If she wants to get out of the vehicle, let her go. Try another day again.

Without starting the car, bring her to her seat and stay with her. Give her treats, praises, and pets. Allow her to explore her official seat. Do this for a couple of days.

The next step is to stay behind the wheel and train your dog to stay at the back. Give her treats when she sits at the back.

When your pet is used to staying inside the car, turn it on. You might want to have another family member staying with your dog at the back.

Give your dog treats before and after you start the car because the sound may startle her even more than the sound of the door. Let your dog get used to the engine’s sound while it enjoys a snack. Keep her calm and happy as the engine is running.

Your dog may have panic or anxiety signs. For example, she could put her ears back or try to jump out of the car. She could also show the behavior of displacement such as scratching, licking, or sneezing.

Keep calm and positive. Show your dog that there is nothing to worry about. Give her treats and talk to her in a calm voice.

If your dog looks stressed, go back to the first step and move from there.

When you are sure your dog is ready to go to the next step, back out of the driveway. Check the reaction of your dog. See if you can go down your street or around your block for a short trip. Make sure the journey is fun.

Stop the trip and go back to your home if you see your dog becoming anxious. You can try again another day when your dog is calmer.

  • Counter-condition your dog.

If your dog already hates the car, you can train her to get over her anxiety and car sickness naturally.

This procedure is similar to the training for desensitization. But it will take longer since your dog to have a negative reaction to cars already. Patience is critical to the success of this training. This is the essence of one step at a time.

Remember, don’t force her to go in or near the car. Don’t drag her to the car and put her on a leash. That’s counter-productive. You’re only going to make her anxiety worse. Do not use treats or toys to lure her either.

Allow her to go near the car on her own. If she manages to do it on her own, reward her. If she decides not to go near it, do not scold her. Try again another day.

Give her a treat and verbal reward every time she looks or takes a step towards the car. Play with her if she manages to get close to the car. Be on the lookout for indicators of stress. Allow her to get away from the car if she wants to. 

Do the training for a few minutes each day. Keep increasing the amount of time in the vicinity of the car until your dog is completely fine with staying near it.

When she is fine with staying near the car, open the door. Again, give her treats and verbal praise if she even looks at the interior of the car. You are now building her confidence to get inside the car on her own.

Putting her inside the car is the next step. You can pick her up and put her on the back seat, or let her jump on her own inside the vehicle. Do not shut the door. If she feels anxious, let her jump out of her car. Reward her if she’s with you inside.

Now you are working to change her negative feelings into positive ones. Follow the training process of desensitization. Reward her at every step, from taking the wheel to closing the door to start the engine and take short trips. Increase the distance until your dog is completely fine with taking car rides. You can go to the same location as well but take different routes.

Treat your dog’s car sickness and anxiety

If your dog already has car sickness and anxiety, here are additional methods of helping her overcome this condition.

  • Create good memories for your dog from her first car ride.

Do not make your dog’s first car trip to the vet. Bring her to a fun place first.

Take her on road trips that do not involve the vet. Use the car to take her to the park or a pet store.

Combine this trip with something pleasant if you need to take her to the vet. This will subsequently let her get de-stressed. Do not combine another stressful place with the vet trip. For example, go to the park after the clinic instead of a trip to the groomers.

  • Make her feel comfortable inside the car.

Put a dog bed or blanket in the car. Some dogs feel more secure in a travel crate, carrier, or harness. Some trial and error will be needed, but you need to find out what your dog is comfortable with. This will also double as your pet’s safety precaution.

Add in some of her favorite toys and treats. Puzzle toys are great things to keep her focused on the game rather than on the ride.

Play soothing music for dogs. There are albums specifically created to calm down dogs.

  • Put your dog in clothes designed to calm her down.

Try the Thunder Shirt Dog Anxiety Vest. This special harness applies constant but gentle pressure to your dog’s body. The design is similar to swaddling a baby. Many owners and vets recommend it for dogs with anxiety issues. 

  • Give her supplements or anti-nausea medicine.

Consult your veterinarian about your dog’s best supplement or medication to relax during the ride. In general, with no major side effects, solliquin and zylkene can be given to dogs.

Do not give your dog medication without your vet. Your veterinarian knows the medical history of your dog and unique physical needs. So, ask your vet for medicines or prescription options that are over-the-counter.

  • Roll down the window a few inches.

This will make it possible for easy circulation of fresh air inside the car. But do not allow your dog to put her head out of the window. This ould make her car sickness worse.  Hanging her head out of the vehicle is also not safe for her.

  • Do not feed her a heavy meal before a car trip.

A full stomach could aggravate nausea. So, feed her a small meal, so you can add treats to her food.

  • Exercise or play with her before the trip.

This will lower her stress levels and calm her down. She might even spend the entire car ride asleep.

  • Treat her condition using a natural remedy.

Spray pheromones on the seat of the car. Pheromones are chemicals released for specific reasons by animals. Pheromones are available for breeding, battle, and caring. They release pheromones when they give birth to calm their puppies.

Try Adaptil, which has synthetically copied a mother dog’s pheromone. You can choose a collar, diffuser, or travel spray. It is clinically proven to calm down dogs.

Put a few drops of chamomile or lavender oil on a cotton ball. Put the cotton ball in the car 30 minutes before your trip. Your pet might have a calming scent. Don’t forget to remove the cotton ball or it may be swallowed by your pet.

Try a homeopathic remedy. Nux Vomica is used for stomach problems. So, it might prevent nausea and settle your dog’s upset stomach.

Additional tips

  • Do not exercise when outdoors it is too hot or too cold. Since extreme temperatures will affect the body of your dog could react negatively to it.
  • Never leave your dog alone outside and inside the car. Remember that being left alone in the car can be a cause of anxiety.

Conclusion

Your dog will be the perfect companion for a great road trip. She is a beloved member of the family with whom you want to share adventures. But, unless you help your dog overcome her anxiety and car sickness, none of you will be happy. Teach her to love the car and you’re going to explore new places together soon.

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