Dogs are excellent companions and not just as roommates. They're also great road trip buddies — or at least most dogs are. If your dog suffers from motion sickness and/or anxiety related to car trips, vomiting, dry heaving, and other symptoms might make both of you miserable on even the shortest car trips to the store. Fortunately, many cases of dog car sickness can be treated easily using medications for motion sickness, like Dramamine or Cerenia. Consult with your veterinarian before giving your dog any medications for motion sickness.
Why does my dog have motion sickness?
Motion sickness is a common problem in dogs, especially puppies. Veterinarians believe this may be because the parts of the inner ear, or the vestibular system, that affect balance don't fully develop until a dog is full grown. Many people assume that all dogs love car rides — after all, there's not much that's cuter than a dog with their head out the window and their ears flapping in the wind. It is particularly common for young dogs to suffer from motion sickness, but the good news is that most puppies will outgrow their motion sickness by the time they're 1 year old.
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Adult dogs may suffer from motion sickness for a number of different reasons. The most common reason is simply that the dog is unfamiliar with riding in a car or they are overwhelmed by the many stimuli they encounter in the car, such as strange smells from the air conditioner, other animals they see out the window, unknown sounds from different areas, etc. If your dog only travels a few times a year or less often, they might suffer from anxiety and stress that can cause vomiting or diarrhea.
Other reasons your dog may suffer from motion sickness include:
- Having a traumatic experience in the car at some point in their life that made them fearful of traveling in vehicles.
- Taking medications that cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
- Suffering from medical conditions that predispose them to nausea or motion sickness, such as ear infections or other ear problems.
It is important to keep in mind that your dog likely feels pretty miserable if they are vomiting and generally feeling motion sick in the car. You should never punish them for being sick. Just like in humans, it's a natural response that's impossible to control.
Dog car sickness symptoms
When a human starts to feel sick in the car, they'll usually tell you, but even if they don't, you'll likely notice that they are looking pale or turning green when their stomach starts to turn. Unfortunately, your dog can't tell you if they feel nauseated, and you can't see if their skin starts to change colors. Instead, look for these symptoms to determine if your dog is suffering from motion sickness:
- Excessive licking
- Excessive yawning
- Fear of vehicles, particularly getting into a car
- Heavy drooling
- Inactivity or lethargy
- Nausea or dry heaving
- Nervous pacing
- Trembling, anxiety, or fear
- Rapid breathing
Medications that treat motion sickness in dogs
There are many brand name options for medications that can help treat your dog's motion sickness, including Dramamine, Benadryl, meclizine, and Cerenia.
Dramamine for motion sickness in dogs
You can help treat motion sickness by giving your dog Dramamine half an hour to an hour before getting in the car. Dramamine is an antihistamine usually used by humans to treat motion sickness, but it can be safely administered to dogs for the same purpose. It is important for pet owners to recognize that using Dramamine for dogs is only helpful if your dog actually suffers from motion sickness and not anxiety, although it can help prevent nausea in anxious dogs, and its sedative effects may help reduce some level of car-related anxiety.
There are actually several different types of Dramamine, including the original formula; chewable tablets; the children's formula; the All Day, Less Drowsy formula; and the Non-Drowsy Naturals tablets. These all contain dimenhydrinate, which is a combination of diphenhydramine (the active ingredient in Benadryl, which is also commonly used with dogs) and chlorotheophylline, which helps stop drowsiness.
The All Day, Less Drowsy formula contains meclizine as well, while the Non-Drowsy Naturals tablet contains ginger. Using both meclizine and dimenhydrinate doesn't negatively affect dog health, but do not give dogs the Non-Drowsy Naturals tablets, as these contain too much ginger to be safe for dogs.
Benadryl for motion sickness in dogs
Benadryl, or diphenhydramine, is another option for treating motion sickness in dogs. Much like Dramamine, diphenhydramine can be given to your pup a half hour or an hour before travel. Benadryl is also an antihistamine, but unlike Dramamine, it is also used regularly to treat allergies in both humans and dogs. It has similar side effects to Dramamine, including sleepiness/lethargy and other sedative effects.
Consult your veterinarian about the correct dosage for your dog, but dogs can be given 1 milligram of diphenhydramine per pound of body weight every 8 to 12 hours. So, for example, a 25-pound dog would receive one 25 milligram tablet. If you have large dogs that weigh 100 pounds or more, check with your veterinarian about a proper dose first. Never give a dog any combination product that contains Benadryl plus another active ingredient, like a decongestant, since this can be dangerous to dogs. Always check that diphenhydramine is the only active ingredient in any Benadryl product given to dogs.
Meclizine for motion sickness in dogs
Meclizine is another viable option for treating motion sickness when you travel with your dog. It is also an antihistamine, but unlike diphenhydramine and dimenhydrinate, it is much shorter-lasting and therefore wouldn't be a great choice if you're taking long car trips. If you have a dog who can't take a short trip to the dog park or the veterinarian, this might be an option for you.
Cerenia for motion sickness in dogs
Cerenia, known generically as maropitant citrate, is often the first choice for dogs unless there's a compelling reason not to use it. It works well at stopping the vomiting without causing sedation, a side effect that can make traveling with your dog less fun. Additionally, it only needs to be given once every 24 hours. However, for short or spontaneous trips around town, there can be drawbacks, such as the need to give it two hours before a car ride, that it can only be given for two days, and that it can only be given to dogs older than 16 weeks. Ask your veterinarian which drug would be most appropriate for your dog.
Dramamine dosage for dogs
Talk to your veterinarian before administering any medication to your dog. Drug interactions and potentially dangerous side effects can occur if your dog has any underlying conditions or is on other medications. In general, dimenhydrinate can be given at a dosage of 2 milligrams per pound to be given no more than three times a day with 8 hours between doses. In other words, if your dog weighs 20 pounds, you can give them 40 milligrams of dimenhydrinate every eight hours. You can also find dosage calculators online if you prefer not to do the math yourself but be sure to check their accuracy.
If meclizine is one of the active ingredients in the Dramamine product, like the "All Day, Less Drowsy" formula, dog dosage should be limited to no more than 25 milligrams, given only once per day. If your dog is very small, miniature, or teacup sized, be sure to consult your veterinarian about dosing.
Have your dog weighed at your veterinary clinic, or you can also weigh them at home using a human scale if you can pick them up. Stand on the scale holding your dog and record the weight. Then, weigh yourself and subtract your weight from the combined weight of you and your dog. That should give you your dog's approximate weight. If you're not 100 percent sure about your dog's weight, err on the side of safety and underestimate their weight so you give them less medication rather than too much.
Side effects will become less frequent with repeated use, but the traditional formulation commonly results in sedation, dry mouth, and urine retention. Uncommon side effects include diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss. Sedation is also a common side effect associated with meclizine, but less common side effects can include rapid heart rate, dry eyes, and hyperactivity.
It is particularly important to talk to your veterinarian before giving your dog Dramamine if your dog suffers from certain conditions. Do not give your dog Dramamine without first speaking to your veterinarian if your dog is pregnant or nursing or if they have:
- Bladder neck obstruction
- Enlarged prostate
- Gastric outflow obstruction
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Narrow-angle glaucoma
- Seizure disorders
Stopping dog car sickness
For dogs with motion sickness caused by anxiety, in addition to medication to control their symptoms, they may also benefit from gentle desensitization strategies to help them become more comfortable with riding in cars. If your dog suffers from anxiety related to car rides, you may need to help desensitize them by taking them on short car rides until they feel more comfortable and can accompany you on more lengthy trips.
If they are particularly anxious, you may need to put them in the car without turning it on a few times to get them familiar with the vehicle, and then you can get them used to sitting in an unmoving car that is left running. Be sure to give your pup lots of healthy treats and praise to help them develop a positive association with the car. If at any point your dog seems anxious or nervous, stop driving as soon as possible and start the training process again later.
Other ways to reduce nausea in dogs
In order to help reduce your dog's nausea and queasiness, make sure they are well hydrated before the trip. Withholding food two hours before a trip can also help, but you should never deprive a dog of food for longer than that.
If you think your dog is going to be sick while on a car ride, stop the car and take your pet for a walk to help relieve their stress and nausea. Keep the car relaxingly cool and quiet by playing soft, calming music and running the air conditioner. You can also keep a window down to provide cool air and a flow of fresh air. You should never punish your dog for vomiting in the car.
To help reduce your dog's anxiety, try bringing along a T-shirt or blanket with your scent for your dog to lie on in the car. You can also help make car rides a happy experience by giving your nervous dog a special toy that they can only play with while in the vehicle. Keep anxious dogs in a car carrier or safety harness in the car to help prevent them from hurting themself. If your dog's anxiety is persistent or severe, you will likely benefit from a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist who can help change behaviors and ease anxiety.
The bottom line
If you have a dog who regularly suffers from motion sickness, rest assured that there are many options for treating your dog. The first step is to verify that your dog does indeed suffer from car sickness rather than anxiety or uneasiness in a moving vehicle. Next, consult your veterinarian about whether to use an over-the-counter or prescription antihistamine to treat motion sickness, such as Dramamine, Benadryl, meclizine, or Cerenia. There are also steps you can take to minimize your dog's nausea, such as rolling down a window for fresh, circulating air and reducing anxiety in the car.