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Dogs and Automobiles – Part 2: Aversion and Motion Sickness

A Dog May Suddenly Refuse to Get in the Car for Several Reasons


The vehicle may have become a predictor of something unpleasant such as a trip to the veterinarian. Or perhaps the dog was  in the car during a traumatic event such as a crash or a thunderstorm. If the dog was injured getting in or out of a vehicle, they might also become anxious about the car. Nausea due to motion sickness is one of the biggest reasons dogs learn to dislike traveling. This may be due to unfamiliarity with traveling inside a vehicle or a medical condition such as an inner-ear problem. However, anything that causes physical or emotional pain or discomfort will be remembered and is unlikely to resolve on its own.

Two of my nine dogs went through periods of being uncomfortable in the car. When Tikken was a puppy, I started taking her on frequent short trips to acclimate her to travel. She was transported in a crate to keep her safe. These included a weekly trip to her vet for what I called a “happy visit,” where we walked in, I gave her a few treats, and then we left. One day I took her out of the crate, and I noticed she had drooled so much that her chest was soaked. The next time I tried to get her in the car, she sat down 20 feet away and refused to get any closer. The excessive drooling was a sign of nausea, and Tikken made it clear she did not want to feel nauseous again. I helped Tikken learn that the car was safe by stopping all travel until I successfully desensitized and counterconditioned her to like the car. A couple of months later, we took a 10-hour trip without incident.

view of car driving down the road
Photo by Caleb Whiting on Unsplash

My second dog to have issues in the car is my current dog, Muppy. The day we drove home with her, for three-plus hours, was without incident. However, soon after, she would occasionally vomit in the car. Muppy never became hesitant about getting in the vehicle, but the enormous amounts of vomit motivated me to get her feeling comfortable. I was able to do so with some anti-nausea products, but due to the unpredictability of her getting sick, it took a couple of years.

If your dog is experiencing excessive drooling, vomiting, or diarrhea, specific to being in a moving vehicle, make an appointment with your veterinarian so that they can rule out any medical causes and prescribe any necessary medications.



How to Tell if Your Dog is Uncomfortable in the Car

  • Your dog is exhibiting signs of stress and discomfort in or around the vehicle.
  • Your dog refuses to get in the car. Making them do so will only make them more fearful of the car and you. It is not a solution.
  • Your dog is smacking or licking her lips or drooling excessively.
  • Your dog is vomiting or has diarrhea when in the car.




Things That May Help Alleviate Nausea and Anxiety

  • Limit trips to only those that are necessary until the issue is resolved.
  • Withhold food and treats at least 12 hours before necessary travel.
  • Treat the nausea and anxiety.
    • Over the counter treatments (no prescription required):
      • Ginger helps relieve nausea. The easiest way to see if it helps your dog is to get some gingersnap cookies. Just make sure they contain real ginger and do not contain xylitol.
      • CBD can relieve both anxiety and, in some cases, nausea. It is one of the things I use with Muppy. Just be careful as there is a wide range of CBD products, and not all of them are good.
      • Adaptil – This is a pheromone that can help alleviate anxiety. It is available as a spray and a collar.
      • Lavender Essential Oil – Lavender can have a calmative effect, but just as with CBD, there are many Lavender products, and they are not all of the same grade and quality.
      • Bach Rescue Remedy – Rescue Remedy® is a combination flower remedy formula explicitly created for addressing stress in emergency or crisis situations. I have used it for over 20 years in a wide variety of applications.
    • Homeopathic Remedies – While many homeopathic medications do not require a prescription, I recommend that you work with a homeopathic veterinarian if you are not knowledgeable in this area. Some remedies can be beneficial in treating nausea and motion sickness. One was very helpful with Muppy. Dr. Herman, who also writes a column for Down East Dogs News, is very knowledgeable in this area.
    • Prescription medications – (Must be prescribed by a veterinarian). Treating nausea only may be enough, but symptoms of nausea may predict anxiety, so an antianxiety medication may also be in order:
      • for nausea – Cerenia®, Antivert®, and Bonine®
      • for anxiety – Alprazolam (Xanax®), trazodone (Desyrel®)
    • Behavior Modification – A desensitization and counterconditioning protocol may be helpful or even necessary to get the dog to tolerate or enjoy the car after a bad experience. A credentialed dog behavior consultant or veterinary behaviorist can help.




About the Author

Don Hanson and Muppy

Don Hanson lives in Bangor, Maine, where he is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop and the founder of, an online educational resource for people with dogs and cats. He is a Professional Canine Behavior Consultant (PCBC-A) accredited by the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB) and a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), serving on the Board of Directors and Steering Committee and chairing the Advocacy Committee. He is also a founding director of Pet Advocacy International (PIAI). In addition, Don produces and co-hosts The Woof Meow Show podcast.

The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.


©21-Jun-22, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
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