Some dogs love going on car rides. They will happily ride shotgun or lie on the backseat as you experience life on the road with them. Since your dog would like to be with you at all times, it is great if things work out in the car. 

More commonly, however, dogs don't look forward to car rides. The experience is unnatural and disorienting for them. They will whine and claw at the seats and windows and beg you to end the ordeal. Why is it this way? Most dogs don’t ride in cars very often, and when they do, it is usually to go to the vet. Dogs may associate the negative experience of going to the vet with a car ride and develop anxiety. Similarly, if their initial experiences with cars were unpleasant, the anxiety can persist throughout life. Since pups are impressionable, scary experiences stay with them for a long time. 

Motion sickness involves anxiety while travelling in a moving vehicle. Younger dogs are more likely to experience motion sickness. The reason for this is that pups have vestibular (ear and brain) systems that are not fully developed. The inner ear canal, which transmits information to the brain regarding spatial awareness, is too small and cannot keep up with the sharp movements of car travels. 

Dogs who get motion sick may exhibit symptoms like incessant whining, drooling in dogs, nausea and vomiting. Most forms of treatment involve home remedies and behavioural change therapies. Vets may prescribe anxiety and anti-emetic drugs in severe cases.

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  1. Symptoms of motion sickness
  2. What causes motion sickness in dogs?
  3. Treatment and tips to reduce motion sickness in dogs
  4. Management of motion sickness in dogs

Your dog will be visibly distressed when in a car or moving vehicle. Other symptoms include: 

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Motion sickness can be explained by vestibular issues or emotional problems. It has not been ascertained whether particular genes are at play or if the condition is inherited. However, dogs that take a longer time to fully mature, such as Great Danes, are more likely to suffer from motion sickness for a longer time in their youth. They may exhibit symptoms up to two years of age, whereas smaller breeds that attain maturity sooner may display anxiety for a shorter span of time.

As mentioned above, this is because of the development of the inner ear canal and its relationship with balance and the vestibular system. In younger dogs, the inner ear canal is not fully developed and cannot properly accommodate changes in air pressure. This disturbs the sense of balance or equilibrium of the dog and leads to disorientation and discomfort. 

In older dogs, the cause can be psychological. Bad experiences in the past play a key role. The conditions in the car may not be suited to the dog either: it may be too hot or the ride may be too bumpy. Some dogs also prefer the window to be open as the car gets stifling.

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It may help to condition your dog to car rides. Certain exercises with pups may engage the vestibular system and prep them for car rides. Here's one such exercise:

  • Hold your puppy securely in your hands.
  • Gently tilt your dog so his or her face is pointing up towards the ceiling and the bum towards the ground.
  • Now, very slowly reverse the direction, so the puppy's face is pointing down and tail, up.
  • This needs to be done very gently and care needs to be taken to not startle the pup.
  • Stop immediately if your puppy shows signs of distress.

The changes in orientation are said to stimulate the adrenal gland and prime the dog to better handle future stress.

If you have an adult dog with motion sickness, try some behavioural change techniques. Here's how:

  • Start with just sitting in the car with your dog with the engine off.
  • Once your dog seems more comfortable, turn the ignition on.
  • If your dog appears calm, take the car out for a small ride. If not, start over.

The key is to do this gradually and to spread the exercise out over several days. Taking breaks while driving around can calm your dog down as well. Eventually, you can move on to longer drives. Remember, the point of this exercise is to help your dog build a positive association with the car. 

Here are some more things you can do to help your dog ride more comfortably:

  • Keep windows slightly open and the AC on, if required.
  • Try putting your dog in front, as the back of the car moves the most during travel. Facing forward will also give your dog a better idea of what is going on outside and he or she will be better oriented.
  • If your dog gets nauseous in the car or if you need to go on a long plane or train journey, it is a good idea to let your dog go without food for 12 or so hours before travel.
  • Keep water in the car, though: the excessive panting and nervousness will leave your dog wanting water. 
  • Further, the vet may prescribe some anti-emetic pills or mild sedatives to ease your dog’s discomfort.
  • Ginger is widely known for its anti-vomiting properties. Ask your doctor for a recommended herbal tonic, or give your dog a tiny amount of ginger mixed with hot water before a car ride. Yes, a little bit of ginger is safe for cats and dogs.

Having said this, every dog is different. And some might feel safer and happier in the back of the car - looking at the world go past through the back pane. If you know that your dog prefers to travel a certain way, go with that.

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It is important to understand that motion sickness is not something your dog can simply get over. Be patient in planning your interventions and be supportive of your dog. If your dog remains distressed, it is a good idea to avoid long drives with your pet for the time being. 

With regular practice, your dog should be able to handle car rides better and you will be able to share more experiences with your furry friend.

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  1. MSD Veterinary Manual [Internet]. Merck & Co., Inc.; Motion Sickness in Dogs
  2. MSD Veterinary Manual [Internet]. Merck & Co., Inc.; Overview of Motion Sickness
  3. Whole Dog Journal. [Internet]. Belvoir Media Group, LLC; What To Do If Your Dog Gets Motion Sickness
  4. VCA. [Internet]. VCA Inc.; Motion Sickness in Dogs
  5. Money K.E. and Friedberg J. The role of the semicircular canals in causation of motion sickness and nystagmus in the dog Can J Physiol Pharmacol, November 1964; 42:793-801. PMID: 14324212
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