Dog Acting Strange in the Car? Could be Motion Sickness

Dog Acting Strange in the Car? Could be Motion Sickness

Medically Reviewed by Taylor Froiland, PharmD, RPh
Written by Adam McCown, PharmD

Motion sickness in dogs? Is that even a real thing?

We all know the stereotypical image of you cruising down the road in your car and your dog in the seat next to you with their head out the window. Their ears are flapping in the wind, they’re happy to be with you, and excited that they get to experience all the sights and smells they don’t normally see or smell at your house. In short, they are loving every minute of it.

However, like with many humans, some dogs can experience motion sickness that makes every car ride uncomfortable or even unbearable. And this is bad for both of you. Dog motion sickness leads to stress and anxiety for the little guy and, if they get sick, a nasty mess for you to clean up in your vehicle. This can then lead to more stress and anxiety for the both of you.

What Causes Motion Sickness in Dogs?

Motion sickness in dogs is more common with puppies, just as it is more common in children than adults. Part of this may be the result of the inner ear not being fully developed. Because the inner ear is heavily involved with balance, if it is not fully developed then motion can lead to feelings of queasiness and nausea. Motion sickness in puppies is fairly common and many will outgrow it by the time they are around a year old.

Although many dogs will outgrow motion sickness, many will not. Adult dogs who do not ride in the car very often will often become stressed and anxious just by being in the car, which will make matters even worse. This could be due to the fact that, for most dogs, the majority of their car-riding experiences are going to and from the vet. This means they will often associate every car ride with the fear and anxiety they often experience at their yearly checkups.

Adding to the feelings of motion sickness even further is the overstimulation that dogs often feel when out and about away from their daily routine. The movement coupled with seeing people, animals, other cars, and new sights can also sometimes lead to feelings of nausea. And lastly, your dog may have a medical condition like a middle- or inner-ear infection or vestibular disease (disease of the vestibular apparatus, located in the inner ear) that predispose them to nausea.

Overcoming motion sickness and the underlying issues or problems that may be causing it means that your dog can go for the occasional car ride that doesn’t turn into a scary, stressful ordeal for the two of you. Even better, if your dog can overcome their motion sickness then they will be able to accompany you to more places and you guys can spend more time together.

How to Tell If My Dog Has Motion Sickness

Unlike with humans, who will often verbally tell you if they are feeling sick or may even turn a greenish color, it’s not always so easy to tell if your dog is feeling uncomfortable. However, there are some telltale signs your dog may exhibit while in the car indicating that they may be experiencing motion sickness:

  •         Whining and pacing
  •         Excessive drooling
  •         Lethargy or inactivity
  •         Vomiting
  •         Diarrhea

The best thing you can do in those situations (especially if you think your dog is going to vomit) is pull over if possible and walk your dog around outside for a little while. This should help the feeling of nausea pass and will de-stress them a bit.

How to Treat Motion Sickness in Dogs

The good news is, there are treatment options available to help your dog’s motion sickness. Meclizine in particular is a safe and effective treatment. It is the antihistamine most often prescribed by veterinarians to treat dogs and cats that suffer from motion sickness.

Although an antihistamine, meclizine has properties that effectively inhibit the stimulation of the vestibular system in the brain. The vestibular system is located in the inner ear, and its primary functions are to detect motion and to coordinate balance. It is this overstimulation of the inner ear that leads to the dizzy or spinning feeling while moving that often then leads to nausea.

By preventing this stimulation, meclizine allows the vestibular system to function properly and maintain balance, which will prevent the symptoms associated with car or motion sickness. 

In addition to meclizine, there are a few other practices you can try to help your dog with their motion sickness. First of all, if your dog faces forward while the car is in motion, rather than facing sideways looking out the windows, they should experience fewer nauseating visual cues. There are specially made dog seat belts that are designed to keep them facing forward. Just remember that if you put your dog in the front passenger seat, air bags pose a potential hazard.

How Can I Get Meclizine for My Dog?

Meclizine is prescribed by a veterinarian, usually in tablet form. Typically, the dosage is one tablet daily, but your vet will determine the dosage and frequency of administration. They will generally take into account variables including the type and size of animal being treated, response to the medication, and the presence of any adverse effects.

As always when your dog is prescribed new medication, be sure to inform the veterinarian of any other medicine or supplements they are currently consuming. This is to avoid any negative drug interactions with meclizine. Drugs that have been known to cause adverse interactions include sedatives, tranquilizers, and heparin.

Dog Motion Sickness Is Treatable

The bottom line is that car rides don’t have to be the end of the world for your pet. Motion sickness is an unfortunate reality that many dogs and humans alike experience. But by asking your vet about meclizine, as well as following some of the tips we laid out in this article, you can work with your dog to overcome their motion sickness and maybe even start enjoying car rides, too!

At Express Vet Pharmacy, we aim to provide you and your pet with the medication they need for a price you can afford. We understand that health problems with an animal often put an unexpected strain on people’s budgets. This strain is on top of the stress and fear you experience when the four-legged member of your family is experiencing pain or has developed a serious health condition. For those reasons, we want to make getting your pet well again as easy and as affordable as possible for you.

Express Vet Pharmacy can get your dog or cat the treatment they need in order to go back to their healthy, active, energetic, and happy selves. Try us today.