What to do if your dog has motion sickness

Just like humans, dogs can suffer from motion sickness as well.

Usually in the form of car sickness, since that’s the way most of our dogs travel when not on foot.

If you’ve ever experienced this yourself then you know that this feeling of nausea is extremely unpleasant. Especially when it leads to actual vomiting.

And unlike you or your children, dog’s aren’t going to communicate their intention to vomit in the car as a result of motion sickness.

It’ll just be done, all over those nice clean seats and floor. Or maybe on you!

So why do some dogs feel sick in the car?

For the same reasons some humans do, actually.

It’s caused by a mismatch between the signals that the dog’s inner ear sends to the brain about movement, and the signals that the eyes and other senses send.

This can lead to nausea, vomiting, and other symptoms.

And just like people, not all dogs will feel or get sick when travelling. Some are perfectly fine even on the longest journeys.

There are some factors that can contribute to motion sickness in some dogs more so in others…

Puppies are more likely to get motion sickness than adult dogs, because their inner ears are not fully developed yet.

Larger dogs are more likely to get motion sickness than smaller dogs, because they have a higher center of gravity.

Some larger breeds like German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers are more prone to motion sickness than others.

Dogs with certain health conditions, such as inner ear infections or vestibular disease, or those with high anxiety, can be more likely to get motion or car sickness.

If you’re worried about sickness in the car while you’re driving around with your dog(s), you can go a long way to preventing problems by planning your pre-trip and during-travel activities.

1. Avoid feeding your dog before a car ride. An empty stomach will help to reduce nausea. But take water along for the ride.

2. Keep your dog calm and relaxed during the car ride. Talk to your dog in a soothing voice. You might be suprised at how well this works.

3. Stop the car frequently to let your dog get out and stretch and offer some water to drink. This can help to prevent motion sickness from getting worse if it’s already started brewing.

4. Use a motion sickness medication or supplement (after speaking to your vet preferably, especially if there are or might be any health issues).

As I said above, there are a few factors that seem to heighten the risk of a dog getting sick while travelling.

One of these is the breed, and more specifically that larger dogs can be more likely to experience motion sickness.

Why would a bigger dog have more issues with getting sick in the car or other types of motion compared to small dogs?

One of the main reasons that larger dogs are more likely to get motion sickness is due to their inner ear structure. The inner ear is responsible for maintaining balance and equilibrium, and larger dogs have a larger and more complex inner ear system. This can make them more susceptible to motion sickness when traveling in a car or other moving vehicle.

Now you’re wondering why would a bigger dog have a more complex structure of the inner ear, compared to smaller breeds? Wouldn’t they just be the same, and different sizes? While they are very similar, there are some differences which make a big dog more sensitive to movement.

But it’s true: bigger dogs have a more complex inner ear structure than small dogs.

The inner ear is responsible for balance and hearing and it’s made up of three semicircular canals, the cochlea, and the vestibule.

The semicircular canals are filled with fluid and hair cells, and they help to detect changes in head position.

The cochlea is a spiral-shaped organ that contains the organ of Corti, which is responsible for your dog’s hearing ability.

The vestibule is a small chamber that contains the utricle and saccule, which help to detect gravity and linear acceleration.

In larger dogs the semicircular canals are bigger and the hair cells are more numerous. This gives bigger dogs a better sense of balance than small dogs. The cochlea is also larger in bigger dogs, which gives them a better sense of hearing.

The reason for this difference in inner ear structure is not fully understood.

These slightly differing inner ear structures can have some implications for their health –

Larger dogs are more likely to develop inner ear infections than small dogs because the larger semicircular canals and hair cells are more susceptible to damage from bacteria.

Large breeds are also more likely to develop vestibular disease, which is a condition that affects balance (and that brings us back to motion sickness).


Larger dogs have a slightly higher center of gravity, which can make them more prone to feeling the effects of motion! Just ask Albert Einstein.

Big dogs can have a harder time finding a comfortable position in a moving vehicle, which can exacerbate feelings of nausea and discomfort.

Regardless of your dog’s size or breed: comfort is so important during a car ride. So is safety. Dog car seats like this one are so easy to just put in and get going, to the point where it’s the only way I travel with my dogs in the car now rather than allowing free movement on the back seat.

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