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March 10, 2017

When a puppy gets car sick, many tell you that the puppy will outgrow it. And, you hope. Then, reality sets in. With Tori’s second birthday coming up in July, we’ve renewed our pursuit of a solution to her relentless car sickness once and for all. Below is a list of all the meds and home remedies that have failed and preview of our behavior modification strategy to try and fix canine car sickness.

Canine Car Sickness Challenges

The problem with having a very car sick dog where we live is this:

The first 10 miles / 20 minutes and
the last 10 miles / 20 minutes of
EVERY drive means treking along our canyon road,
with many curves and some steep sections.

This is Tori’s worried face from a trip to puppy class in November 2015. Things have not improved.adventures in canine car sickness

Canine Car Sickness Options

Here is the full list of the home remedies and prescription meds we tried in our quest to fix Tori’s extreme car sickness:

  • Candied ginger
  • Ginger snaps, including the very special ones from Trader Joe’s
  • Mint-ginger drops
  • Compusure calming chews
  • Dramamine (over the counter)
  • Cerenia (prescription / very expensive)
  • Xanax (prescription)
  • Cerenia and Xanax together
  • CBD oil

** Note: Tori’s pet insurance policy has a lifetime exclusion for car sickness because it’s considered a pre-existing condition. No kidding.

In addition, we tried:

  • Changing where her crate is placed
  • Changing which way her crate faces
  • Not using a crate at all
  • Harness on the seat
  • No harness
  • My 4Runner
  • Tom’s truck
  • One of us sitting with her in the front seat
  • One of sitting with her in the back seat
  • Windows up
  • Windows down
  • Taking tiny drives every day for several weeks
  • Leaving for puppy class an HOUR early to give her tummy time to settle — Tori gets there and is miserable the whole time, so we stopped going.

We did get to a point where if we did NOT feed her at all before she needed to get in the car and gave her meds as much as 3 hours early, then she drooled a lot … and maybe barfed up some drool, but that’s it. It remained an unhappy experience for her. Every. Single. Time.

Our Best Successes in Canine Car Sickness So Far

In the fall of 2016, we tried CBD oil on an empty stomach and took Tori down for her veterinary appointment (post-op). She made it all the way to the veterinary clinic without throwing up. She seemed miserable, but no barfing.

She even made it to within 1 mile of our home on the way back … before she threw up.

I thought we’d finally hit the jackpot in the ongoing canine car sickness drama. Alas, no.

The one and only car “trip” that Tori can manage without throwing up is the 2-mile drive (in our neighborhood) to a hiking trail. It’s 2 mostly straight roads (one with a roller-coaster-like hill) to the trail head. So, that’s something.

Here she is riding solo to the trail head last weekend. canine car sickness tori looking much happier in the car

The one and ONLY time Tori rode in the car without throwing up was the day Tom shocked us all and brought her home. 

Canine Car Sickness – Advice from Pal

After seeing the miraculous transformation that Leslie May from Johann The Dog and Raise a Green Dog made with her youngest dog Rach (who had VERY similar canine car sickness issues and who has to survive similar mountain roads where they live), we’ve recommitted ourselves to building Tori’s car confidence from the ground up.

Leslie and I spent about 90 minutes on the phone last week so that she could explain her strategy with Rach. It took her 3 full months of daily work.

The good news is that we didn’t need to backtrack as much as Leslie did. You see, Rach started getting upset when she turned on the shower. He had back-chained his worry all the way to her getting freshened up and dressed in the morning. Wow!

Canine Car Sickness – Our New Plan

The behavior modification plan starts with changing how Tori feels about the car — with food. Basically, I’m feeding all of her meals in the crate in my car. Each day, I add more reality to the scenario:

  • Locking doors
  • Putting on my seat belt
  • Playing the radio & yes, even singing (like I do when I drive)
  • Putting the windows up and down
  • And, so forth

Once I had her happily running to the car to eat, then I opened the garage door, then I backed out, then I made a loop in our parking area. We’re repeating all this with Tom’s truck as well.

We will start doing short drives again soon — every day.

Canine Car Sickness Solutions – One Size Does NOT Fit All

With Rach, Leslie figured out that if he could be in the center of the back seat, in a harness, where he could FACE FORWARD and SEE out the windshield … AND she kept feeding him along the way, then he did fine, but even now, if he lies down, he pops right back up because he starts to feel sick.

I’m pretty worried Tori having food as we’re driving because BARF CITY, but we’ll see.

I would guess that the right combination is different for every dog, but the ONE CONSTANT is that you first have to change how the dog feels about the car first. That’s the place to start.

Look for more updates on canine car sickness as news warrants. I’ll even try to get some video.

About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

  1. Thank you fo your effort to give the best solution to prevent car sickness. I think awareness is key and you are doing well this. These are the canine car sickness signs to watch out for when we travel with our dog. So we should make sure our furry companion is as comfortable as we are during travel.

  2. I am so glad I found your blog! I’m sure I will be spending a lot of time reading your posts. I lost my soul mate Atticus, a terrier mix, 7 months ago to cancer at the age of 4 years and a half. When he started to get sick I took him to a few different vets, and no one could figure out what was wrong with him. It was very frustrating and expensive. Then he seemed OK for about two weeks until one day he had trouble walking, and two days later was paralyzed in his back legs. I took him to the veterinary hospital in Fort Collins and they said they found what looked like cancer in his lungs, that must have spread from somewhere else. They couldn’t see cancer on his spine and said I would need to come back for that on Monday to do an MRI. It was Friday. By Monday Atticus was gone. I believe he had cancer on his spine.

    Atticus was a craiglist ad “can’t keep this dog any longer” dog, and my first dog. He had so many behavioral issues but I loved him unconditionally and he changed my life. I’m in Northern Colorado. Atticus loved hiking in the mountains. On the trail was the only place he seemed OK, and at peace with the world, not agitated or reactive, so we hiked a lot. Because Atticus had a severe separation anxiety, I adopted a second dog to keep him company. Unfortunately my second dog Amissa had terrible car anxiety, which for a year I was hoping she would outgrow as I tried many things to get her to tolerate car rides. I had hoped to hike with both dogs, but when Amissa’s anxiety continued I decided to stop forcing her to go with us. I had a dilema now. I wanted to hike with Atticus but not leave Amissa at home alone. Over the next two years I adopted two more dogs, dogs that would be Amissa’s buddies, that would not be going hiking. Just when my 4 dogs got good at dealing with each other, where I was OK leaving the three girls, Amissa, Abby and Aislinn, at home and taking Atticus hiking, Atticus got sick and was soon gone.

    Now I have three dogs that don’t deal well on car drives. Amissa has car anxiety, shakes and cries during car rides. Abby cries and wants to sit on my lap when I drive, so I have to tie her down in the back of my hatchback. Aislinn seems to enjoy car rides and only pukes on the twisty roads. This Spring I’ve decided that I miss hiking and don’t want to hike without dogs, and I have these three dogs, and how about I try to take them hiking and get them used to traveling in the car. I am getting read to start my own blog, to document our adventures and write what I have learned so far about keeping dogs healthy and happy.

    1. Hi, Anna — I’m so sorry about your loss of Atticus at SUCH a young age to cancer. That must be so hard. Yes, this car-sickness thing is a real issue. We’re still plugging away at short drives and remain hopeful. I wish you the best with things at home with the pups and with your new blog.

  3. What worked for my border collies was Bonnine, Works better than the Dramamine. Give 1hr before car ride.

  4. I’ve read the same thing as Kathryn said but specifically with regard to epileptic dogs. The flashing of light as you speed past tree shade is really hard on them.

    It sounds as if you’re doing the perfect thing, Rox. Building up a very positive CER (conditioned emotional response) to the car is the absolute key first step. If I were in your shoes, the hardest part would be to go slowly enough so that the good CER doesn’t get hurt by trying to do too much…

    Way to go!!!

    1. Thanks, KB. It’s definitely hard NOT to push to fast. I’m keeping hand-written notes and paying attention to any LITTLE sign that Tori is feeling worried. I suppose I should have done this as part of the positive reinforcement blog hop.

  5. Did you ever try using TTouch, especially the earwork, before and (if two people) during car rides? Sometimes TTouch helps them balance their systems which can make car rides more pleasant.

    1. Good question, Judi. We did not try that. Mostly because I would DRIVE and Tom would sit with her when we went actual places. And, I think that strategy would be more a me thing, than a him thing.

      1. If you’re more likely to do the TTouch, then I would suggest trying 5-10 minutes of earwork before getting in the car and trying a headwrap which could stay on in the car.

        1. Good idea. I doubt she would happily wear a headwrap, unless I taught that too, but I could try earwork. So many little pieces of this to unravel and try to fix.

  6. you have probably tried this, but it was the ONLY thing that worked for my Whippet — a blackout curtain over his crate — he was ‘light’ triggered — and the constant light/shadow of day time driving and street lights/car lights at night were the same – he would be come so frantic that he would become physically ill – vomiting and on one occasion, projectile diarrhea and we were seriously concerned about a possible seizure ( never happened ) but we tried meds of all sorts, herbals, ginger, etc., etc. until he was SOOO tranqued that he was virtually unconscious — Good luck! hope you find a resolution —

    1. Thanks for the idea, Kathryn. We did not try total blackout, but we did try limiting which directions she could see out (sides and back) … since in people at least, looking forward seems to help. I can totally see how the lights / shadows would bother sensitive dogs, though. I have a friend whose dog did fine as long as he COULD NOT see outside the car. She ended up getting a mini van with high sides and setting his crate low.

      1. along the same lines as the blackout curtain, I use a plastic crate that is one size down for my Border Collie and a camping fan directly in front of his crate. he does not get sick but barks non-stop in the car ( its the noise of the engine and RPMs changing). We have tried a multitude of things and the confinement into a smaller crate and the fan have worked wonders for him.

        1. Creative solution! Someone else (on our FB page) asked about covering her head too. It makes me wonder if she might do better at night. We’ve NEVER taken her anywhere in the car after dark. Might be worth experimenting.

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