Road trip ready: Addressing your dog’s motion sickness

Irish Setter

Whether it is to the local park or on a long family road trip, we like taking our dogs with us whenever possible. Having our pups with us makes vacation better but getting there can be a challenge. If your dog suffers from motion sickness, travel can be difficult, if not impossible. It also makes taking your dog on necessary trips, such as veterinary visits, grooming appointments, and doggie daycare, challenging. How can you tell if your dog has motion sickness? What can you do to help? 

Table of contents 

Causes of doggy motion sickness 

Car or motion sickness is typically caused by either physical or psychological reasons. Unfortunately, psychological issues can also cause physical problems and vice versa, notes Fear Free Pets. So, getting carsick can be an endless loop for some dogs. 


True motion sickness is related to the sense of balance. Movement of any kind causes fluid in your dog’s inner ear to move, helping them to orient themselves and stay balanced. Too much movement, which can easily happen while driving, can cause dizziness and motion sickness.  

Just like with human babies, young puppies are more susceptible to getting motion sickness. This is because structures in their inner ears are not fully developed yet. While dogs can get motion sickness at any age, most pups do grow out of this as they get used to riding in the car. Because the inner ear contributes to equilibrium and balance, infection in this area can also lead to issues with motion sickness in adult dogs, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. 


Motion sickness may also be the result of stress related to riding in the car. It is possible that your dog has developed a negative association with driving. They may, for example, think cars only take them to unpleasant vet appointments or traumatic groomer visits. 

While this psychological stress can result in physical signs of motion sickness, it is also possible for physical discomfort to cause psychological stress. Your dog’s first few car trips may have triggered distressing motion sickness and vomiting, so they now have stress related to an association between cars and nausea. It is a vicious cycle.  

What to look for 

Car trips are exciting and stimulating experiences. There is so much to see, and the ride is likely full of anticipation about where you are going. Symptoms of motion sickness can be misinterpreted as excitement. Merck warns that your dog may be suffering from motion sickness if they are exhibiting: 

  • Increased salivation and drooling 
  • Restlessness and pacing 
  • Panting 
  • Excessive lip licking 
  • Whining 
  • Yawning 
  • Lethargy and inactivity 
  • Nausea, dry heaving, and vomiting 

Addressing motion sickness in dogs 

There are several ways to help your carsick dog have happier travel experiences. To mitigate nausea, vomiting, and other physical discomfort, try: 

  • Limiting pre-trip food – If your dog does not have anything in their tummy to throw up, they will be less likely to feel sick. Be strategic about mealtimes ahead of road trips and restrict food intake at least a couple of hours before getting in the car. You can always offer water, however. 
  • Making sure they can see outside – The motion of a moving car without a view of the road and the world around them can upset your dog’s stomach. This is also true if your dog can see outside, but only through side- or rear-facing car windows. Pet owners may also know from personal experience that sitting towards the rear of a car can be a recipe for nausea. Put your dog in the middle seat in the second row so that they can look forward out the front windshield. Use a doggy seatbelt or harness for safety.  
  • Cracking a window – Open a window, even just an inch or two, to provide some fresh air. Doing this will equalize the air pressure inside and outside of the car, helping to reduce nausea, notes The Spruce Pets. Open windows also promote ventilation, keep the car cool, and let your dog sniff all the new smells carried in the wind. This can help reduce—or at least distract them from—nausea.   
  • Taking breaks often – When driving long distances, take frequent breaks to get out of the car and walk around. This will help your dog get temporary relief from both motion sickness and any stress they may be experiencing in the car. 

If your dog’s motion sickness is related to mental stress, you should work to condition and desensitize them to car travel. You can create positive associations by turning the car into a happy place where they get special toys and treats. Bringing a comfort item from home, something that smells like you, can also help relax your dog. Consider carrying a favorite blanket or old T-shirt on your next car ride. 

Desensitization requires time and patience. Here is a step-by-step guide to working through stress-related motion sickness with your dog: 

  1. Start by sitting in the car with your dog for a few minutes each day. Do not turn on the car or drive anywhere, just sit quietly, giving praise and gently petting.  
  2. Progress gradually to starting the car engine and letting it run for a few minutes. Again, simply sit quietly and either offer praise and affection or bring a toy to play with. Continue this until your dog shows enthusiasm for going to the car. 
  3. Next, try driving up and down the driveway just once, and exiting. Slowly increase the amount of time you spend in the car. Travel to nearby destinations that your dog will enjoy, such as the park or to a friend’s house. 

If your dog gets sick or shows signs that they are stressed, take a step or two back in the process until they build up tolerance to the car. The key is to develop confidence and comfortability in the car. Conditioning your dog to ride comfortably in the car may require several days or even weeks. Be sure to gradually expose your nervous pet to more and more challenging stimuli. You cannot force your dog to “get over” or “deal with” their stress. 

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Any health or medical information in ElleVet blogs is from a variety of public and reputable sources. This information is intended as an education resource only and is not a substitute for expert professional care.