Puppies, Car Sickness, and Safety

Your puppy’s first car ride with you is when you bring him home.

Unfortunately, this can be traumatic since you’re taking him away from his mother and littermates as well as his first human family. Although you may already be in love with this fuzzy little creature, he could be frightened. This fright can lead to a fear of cars, riding in the car, and ultimately car sickness. That’s not the best way to begin his new life. Thankfully, though, you can help your puppy.

When You Bring Your Puppy Home

When you go pick up your new puppy, ask the breeder or foster to give the puppy a small meal ahead of time. A full meal could lead to an upset stomach so a small meal (maybe one quarter of the normal meal) can tide your puppy over until you get home. Also, ask her to provide a small towel or rag that smells like the momma dog for his crate. It can be rubbed all over momma dog or perhaps spend the night in the bed with her. When placed in the puppy’s crate, it will provide some reassurance.

For his safety, the puppy should ride in a crate. Although most new puppy owners prefer to hold the puppy in their arms, it’s not safe. Not only can the puppy be endangered in sudden stops or in an accident, the puppy is more likely to be frightened at the scenery zipping by, but watching all these things could also lead to an upset tummy. Plus, should he panic and wiggle out of your arms, he could hurt himself or interfere with the driver. You can snuggle him later, but for his sake, on the ride home put him in a crate.

Place the crate in the back seat where it can be secured with a seat belt or tie down so it will ride without too much jostling. If possible, have the crate opening facing so an air vent will blow across the front. You don’t want the air conditioning to blow there on full/cold but the puppy will do better with some air flow.

Then once you have your puppy, drive straight home. Don’t go visit anyone, don’t go shopping, and don’t make any side trips. Just go home. Let the puppy settle in before he goes visiting anyone.

When Puppies Get Car Sick

Puppies are prone to car sickness because their ears are still developing and the motion of the car can upset those delicate structures. Most puppies don’t immediately vomit; they will give some signs they feel bad before they do. Yawning is common, as is whining, drooling, licking of the lips or smacking the lips. Vomiting can then follow.

There are a variety of remedies, both home remedies and medication, that can often help car sickness. Many puppy owners have had good luck with ginger, either ginger tea if your puppy will drink a tablespoon or so, or a ginger cookie or candy. (Make sure neither contains xylitol which is toxic to dogs.) Peppermint is also calming for the tummy and often a peppermint candy is all it takes. Lavender is calming and some puppy owners say a spritz of a lavender essential oil in the car before driving can help worried puppies.

If these remedies don’t help, talk to your veterinarian about medication. There are several antihistamines, anti-nausea drugs, or anti-vomiting drugs that can help. Do not use any medication without your veterinarian’s advice, however, as dosages for young puppies must be precise.



When Car Sickness is a Habit

Once a puppy has suffered from car sickness a couple of times, the puppy may become so stressed about getting in the car he will work himself up in anticipation of getting sick; so much so he will make himself sick. In other words, the car sickness becomes a habit even after his ears have matured and he has no other reason for it.

For these puppies (or dogs) home remedies rarely work to calm the anxiety, so talk to your veterinarian about medication that could be used while you reintroduce your puppy to the car. Although some puppy owners would prefer to skip medications, these usually help the puppy conquer his fear (or change his mind) about the car more quickly than he would without it.

Re-Introducing the Car

When re-introducing the car, it’s important to take your time. Don’t skip steps and don’t rush the process. Your puppy needs to be comfortable at one step before going on to the next.

Before starting this re-introduction program, give your puppy a break from the car for at least a week. Take him for walks but don’t drive him anywhere.

Then, begin offering him special treats in the car with the door wide open. Just sit next to him with the engine turned off. Give him a treat and praise him. If he’s anxious, stop right there and repeat this again later. If he looks like he’s having fun, do it two or three times then stop.

After three or four days of this, then offer him his meals in the car. Again, make sure the door is open, the engine is off, and you remain sitting with him. When he’s dashing eagerly to the car anticipating his meals, then offer them in the car, and while he’s eating turn the engine on. When he’s fine with this, then you’re ready to continue on to the next step. Now when he dashes to the car, let him get in, and drive down the block and back, then feed him his meal.

After a day or two of this, if he’s still calm, you can begin making short drives around the block, down the street, and to the park for a walk. Make sure each car ride results in something good; either a meal, treats, a walk, or a play session. Gradually increase the time and distance of each ride.

A Few More Ideas

Every puppy is an individual and each one may need some special help. When my now four year old English Shepherd, Bones, was a puppy he would get car sick when riding in the crate in the car. I found through experimentation, that if he was seat belted to a back seat near a window partially opened he would be fine. In a crate, he would get sick. So he’s seat belted in the car.

Some puppies ride better when their crate faces forward while others are fine looking to the side. Some puppies like to see out the window while this frightens others. It’s important to pay attention to when your puppy is anxious or sick, and then be willing to try other options. Keep in mind, if you can reduce the anxiety, most puppies grow out of this fairly quickly; usually the only puppies who continue getting sick are those who are anxious or frightened.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika, CDT, CABC

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer and Certified Animal Behavior Consultant as well as the founder and co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in northern San Diego county. Liz is also the founder of Love on a Leash therapy dogs; her dog, Bones, goes on visits on a regular basis. A prolific writer, Liz is also the author of more than 80 books. Many of her works have been nominated or won awards from a variety of organizations, including Dog Writers Association of America, San Diego Book Awards, the ASPCA, and others. Liz shares her home with three English Shepherds: Bones, Hero, and Seven, as well as one confident and bossy orange tabby cat, Kirk. To relax from work, or to take work on the road, Liz and her crew travel the West and PNW in their RV. If you see an RV on the road named "Travelin' Dogs", honk and say hi!

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