The first time I loaded my newly-adopted shelter dog into the car, I was in for quite a surprise. While my ancient Chihuahua would happily curl up in the back of the car for a snooze and my childhood beagle-mix would ride for hours with his head out the car window, my new pitbull mix was not a car lover. Within six blocks of the shelter, he made that abundantly clear to the backseat. Turns out that dog motion sickness is real—and it can make even short car rides stressful for dogs and humans alike.
Motion sickness in dogs is more common in younger pups, because, according to Dr. Tammy Hunter, writing at VCA Hospitals, “parts of the inner ear involved in balance are not fully developed.” The good news is that puppies will often “outgrow” motion sickness by the time they are about one year old, especially if they know that car rides can be fun.
If your older pet gets sick, it may be due to a nauseating combination of a lack of conditioning and what Hunter describes as “the overwhelming unusual stimuli associated with moving inside a vehicle.” If they aren’t used to watching the world zip by from the back seat of a car, it can be disorienting and lead to nausea.
There may be another issue at play: Stress. “If your dog has only ever ridden in the car to go to the vet, he may literally worry himself sick on the road,” according to the Pets section at WebMD.com.
As for why some dogs get car sick and others don’t, well that’s a bit of a mystery. “Genetics and physiological variations might account for the differences between dogs,” Dr. Jeremy Campfield, a veterinary technology instructor told PetMD.