Motion and car sickness can be present in puppies for a whole manner of reasons. It could be developmental, physiological or even psychological. In the same way some humans are more prone to motion sickness than others, the experience and treatment of car sickness in puppies is different for each individual dog.
When do puppies outgrow car sickness? Most puppies will typically outgrow car sickness by around 5 to 6 months of age. If, however, they experience motion sickness for any other reason, the issue will likely not solve itself in time, meaning that you will have to intervene in order to stop your puppy from suffering with motion sickness.
Do puppies outgrow car sickness?
If motion sickness in your puppy is due to underdevelopment, then most puppies will outgrow car sickness as they get older. However, this does have some caveats and won’t always be the case.
For example, my neighbour has two puppies from the same litter, and whilst one of them really enjoys going out for a ride in the car, the other finds it an incredibly stressful experience and will often vomit due to car sickness.
I found it interesting how two puppies from the same litter could react to car rides in such different ways.
This inspired me to research a little into some of the causes, reasons and possible treatments of car sickness in puppies. No two dogs are the same, and when it comes to treating motion sickness, you cannot just rely on a one-size-fits-all approach.
This article will detail everything you need to know about motion sickness in puppies, so you can learn not only about them outgrowing it, but also alternative reasons for it and treatment approaches.
Why does my puppy get carsick?
For humans, motion sickness occurs when one has a certain sensitivity to balance, with their brain being unable to process motion properly. It commonly occurs in cars or when travelling.
Although this explanation can, in part, be applied to dogs, it is actually a lot more complicated… and here’s why.
1. Car sickness due to vestibular issues
Different breeds and, indeed, different puppies develop in different rates. Although most puppies vestibular (inner-ear) system is fully developed by 5 to 6 months, other breeds, such as Great Danes, take up to two years to fully develop.
Therefore, with the ear canal and brain processes not yet fully developed. It is likely that your puppy cannot process motion in the right way, which then leads him experience associated motion sickness.
Specifically, an under-developed vestibular system could translate into your puppy’s ear canals or semi-circular canals being too small to handle the rapid changes of speed or direction in a car, which is what then leads to symptoms like nausea.
Some vets have also pointed to those formative first-eight-weeks having lasting and adverse effects on your puppy’s still-developing vestibular system.
Experts have suggested that exposure to certain behaviours – like being handled upside down or being allowed to roll with his littermates can both have a lasting impact on the still-developing inner-ear system, which would make them more prone to it later in life.
Equally, like humans, some dogs might simply have a stronger inner-ear system and the ability to handle motion than others.
2. Car sickness due to anxiety
Puppies can get car sick due to anxiety. Dogs, especially in their younger years, are sensitive creatures. They might have perfectly developed inner-ear systems but still seem to be unable to outgrow their motion sickness.
Except, it might not even be motion sickness at all. It might be sickness associated with anxiety. There are several reasons your dog might find car journeys stressful, which I will list below:
- They aren’t used to the car: it is full of unfamiliar stimuli that can be overwhelming, and they are completely out of their comfort zone.
- Your dog might associate the car with an unpleasant location: for example, going to the vets or the kennels. Furthermore, that fear of an unknown destination may well be enough to cause them anxiety-related sickness.
- They may have had a bad experience in the past whilst on a car journey: this can lead to a repeated aversion to cars.
3. Car sickness due to both reasons being combined
In most cases, car sickness can be a bit of a vicious cycle for your poor pup. They may well have motion sickness for the first couple of car journeys due to vernacular issues, but then this unpleasant sensation of vomiting and nausea stays with them and becomes a trigger.
So, every time they go into the car, regardless of how developed their vernacular system is, they will associate this with the time they got sick, get anxious about being sick and then be sick again as a result of that anxiety.
As you can see, it is a perpetuating cycle where sickness causes anxiety and anxiety causes sickness. Both are unpleasant experiences for your dog that effectively feed off each other.
How do I know if my dog is car sick?
You can reduce the chances of your puppy being car sick (and growing out of it) by understanding what the signs are. Here’s how you know if you dog is car sick…
Signs of motion-sickness in puppies
It can sometimes be difficult to tell when your puppy is about to throw up during a car journey, especially if your eyes are on the road. There are, however, some indicative factors below which can point to motion sickness:
- Inactivity or lethargy.
- Listlessness (indifference – showing a lack of interest of things they’d usually show interest in, like a favourite toy).
- Near-constant yawning.
- Excessive drooling.
- A sense of uneasiness.
- Seemingly-incessant whining.
- Smacking or licking lips.
If you suspect your puppy is going to throw up, it is good to stop the car at your earliest convenience and take them out for some fresh air to calm them down and give them a change of scenery.
What do I do if my puppy throws up in the car?
Although it might be annoying, stressful or worrying to see your dog vomit or defecate over your brand-new car, it is important to stay calm. You need to remember that they didn’t do this in purpose and are most likely in a lot of physical and mental discomfort right now, so you will do them no favours by panicking or getting mad.
You also risk them associating all car rides with you getting upset with them vomiting which, as discussed above, can lead to repeat vomit attacks. And with that, your puppy will not outgrow car sickness – not a cycle you want to get trapped in!
It is best to stay calm, clean up the mess and, above all, comfort and reassure your puppy. If they are under six months, you can probably safely assume that they threw up due to a vernacular issue, and no further action needs to be taken apart from maybe giving them a break from future car rides for a few weeks.
If they’re a little older, or you just want to be on the safe side, it might be a good idea to get in touch for your vet to check them over.
If you get the all-clear from the vet, the next step might be to seek a specialist or a trainer who can help to examine and treat the issue if it is more psychological.
What can you do for a dog that gets car sick?
Generally, there are three routes you can go down if your puppy has not outgrown car sickness and is showing no signs of getting better with each car journey.
- You could go to your vet and get them to prescribe medication to stop nausea and anxiety.
- Seek out herbal remedies to ease physical and psychological symptoms or work to help them reassociation the car as a fun and relaxing environment.
- You could bring some of their favourite toys, open the window so they get fresh air or get a passenger to give them dedicated attention.
Other practical measures include ensuring your puppy doesn’t eat prior to a car journey or positioning them so they are facing the direction of travel in order to ease any vernacular strain.
It can be extremely stressful to manage your puppy experiencing car sickness, especially if you are unable to work out the cause.
Be assured, however, that your puppy will likely grow out of this behaviour by the age of 5 to 6 months, and even if they don’t, there are plenty of methods to help treat it and ensure yourself and your puppy have a positive journey together.