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Why Does My Dog Pant and Shake When Riding in the Car?

If you’ve noticed that your dog starts to pant and shake when riding in the car, you may be wondering what could be causing this behavior. It’s not uncommon for dogs to experience anxiety or discomfort during car rides, leading to these physical symptoms. In this article, we’ll explore some of the common reasons behind why dogs pant and shake in the car and what you can do to help them feel more relaxed and comfortable.

Why does my dog pant and shake when riding in the car?

Anxiety and Fear.

Dogs are creatures of habit and often prefer familiar environments. The unfamiliarity and unpredictability of car rides can trigger anxiety and fear in some dogs. They may associate car rides with negative experiences, such as visits to the veterinarian or previous motion sickness. This anxiety can manifest as panting and shaking, as well as other signs of stress like restlessness, whining, drooling, and pacing.

Motion Sickness.

Just like humans, dogs can experience motion sickness while traveling in a moving vehicle. The combination of motion, unfamiliar surroundings, and the inability to anticipate movements can lead to an upset stomach. Dogs with motion sickness may exhibit panting, drooling, shaking, vomiting, and other signs of discomfort.

Heat and Stress.

Car rides can sometimes be stressful for dogs due to the heat and lack of proper ventilation. If the car is hot and poorly ventilated, dogs can quickly become overheated, leading to excessive panting and shaking as their bodies try to cool down.

Noise and Vibrations.

Cars can produce various sounds and vibrations that are not present in the dog’s usual environment. Loud engine noises, road bumps, or even the sound of wind rushing past the windows can startle and unsettle some dogs, leading to panting and shaking.

Lack of Familiarity and Control.

Dogs are creatures of routine and often feel more comfortable when they have a sense of control over their surroundings. Being confined in a moving vehicle where they have limited control and cannot predict what will happen next can cause anxiety and stress.


A dog that will pant and shake when riding in the car isn’t necessarily stressed. Some dogs love car rides, and the anticipation of going on an adventure. Many dogs get excited about car trips when they associate it with a positive experience like going to the park or lots of treats. The increased heart rate due to over-excitement causes rapid and shallow dog panting. 

How to help when a dog starts to pant and shake when riding in the car?

Gradual Desensitization

If your dog’s anxiety stems from the unfamiliarity of car rides, you can gradually desensitize them to the experience. Start by simply letting your dog explore and get familiar with the car while it’s stationary. Reward positive behavior and gradually progress to short car trips, gradually increasing the duration as your dog becomes more comfortable.

Create a Comfortable Environment.

Make the car a comfortable and safe space for your dog. Use a secure and appropriately sized crate or a comfortable dog harness to keep them secure during the ride. Bring their favorite blanket, toy, or familiar scent to help them feel more relaxed and secure.

Reduce Motion Sickness.

If your dog experiences motion sickness, consider feeding them a light meal a few hours before the trip to prevent an upset stomach. You can also speak to your veterinarian about potential remedies such as medication or natural supplements that may help alleviate motion sickness symptoms. Pet MD suggests using ginger, Adaptil, lavender and CBD supplements to help sooth dog’s motion sickness. 

Related post: CBD Oil for Dogs Traveling: Benefits, Dosage & Guidance

Ensure Proper Ventilation.

To prevent overheating, ensure there is proper ventilation in your car. Use air conditioning or open windows slightly to maintain a comfortable temperature.

Never leave your dog unattended in a hot car. Dogs succumb to heatstroke quickly in hot weather. They cannot sweat in the same way that people can and cannot keep cool as easily as we can. Our cars will get very hot in warm weather and leaving your dog unsupervised can be extremely dangerous.

Gradual Exposure to Sounds and Vibrations.

Help your dog become accustomed to car sounds and vibrations by gradually exposing them to these stimuli. Start with short car trips and gradually increase the duration while providing positive reinforcement and rewards for calm behavior. 

Use Car Safety Restraints.

As well as for your dog’s safety, it is always a good idea to use a dog car seat, a dog harness with the seat belt, or a travel crate. Such products will help minimize sudden movements or a change in position that may trigger nausea, anxiety and stress. 

Seek Professional Help.

If your dog’s anxiety or discomfort during car rides persists or worsens despite your efforts, it may be beneficial to seek guidance from a professional dog trainer or a veterinarian specializing in behavioral issues. They can provide tailored advice and develop a training plan specific to your dog’s needs.

Will sedatives help when my dog starts to pant and shake when riding in the car?

Sedatives can be an option to consider if your dog experiences severe anxiety or distress during car rides. However, it’s important to note that sedatives should only be used under the guidance and supervision of a veterinarian. Here are some key points to consider:

  1. Consult with Your Veterinarian: Before considering any sedative or anti-anxiety medication for your dog, it’s crucial to consult with a veterinarian. They will be able to evaluate your dog’s specific needs, overall health, and recommend appropriate medications, if necessary. Your veterinarian will consider factors such as the severity of anxiety, the duration of the car ride, and the potential side effects of the medication.
  2. Medication Options: Veterinarians may prescribe different types of medications to help calm your dog during car rides. These may include mild sedatives, anti-anxiety medications, or natural supplements. The choice of medication will depend on your dog’s specific situation and the veterinarian’s assessment.
  3. Dosage and Administration: It’s important to strictly follow the veterinarian’s instructions regarding the dosage and administration of any prescribed medication. The dosage will be tailored to your dog’s size, weight, and individual needs. Never give your dog any medication without proper veterinary guidance.
  4. Trial Period: It’s advisable to conduct a trial period with the sedative or anti-anxiety medication before the actual car ride. This will allow you to observe your dog’s response to the medication and any potential side effects. It’s essential to ensure that the sedative or medication does not cause excessive drowsiness or impair your dog’s ability to breathe properly.
  5. Combined Approach: Medication alone may not always be sufficient to alleviate your dog’s anxiety. It can be beneficial to combine medication with behavior modification techniques, such as desensitization and counter-conditioning, to help your dog gradually become more comfortable with car rides over time.
  6. Regular Reassessment: Work closely with your veterinarian to monitor your dog’s response to the medication and evaluate its effectiveness. Dosage adjustments or alternative medications may be required based on your dog’s progress and any changes in their anxiety levels.

Related post: Dog Sedatives for Travel Anxiety: Should I use them?

Are certain dog breeds more prone to pant and shake when riding in the car?

Some dog breeds have a harder time regulating their breathing than others. Brachycephalic, short-nosed breeds, like pugs, will pant a lot more in car rides because their short muzzle doesn’t allow the air enough time to cool in their airways before it reaches their bodies. Dogs with thick double coats, such as huskies, are also prone to overheating and panting. 

Bottom Line

As you now know there are many reasons why your dog will pant and shake when riding in the car. Remember, every dog is unique, and it may take time and patience to address their anxiety and discomfort during car rides. By understanding the underlying causes and implementing strategies to help your dog feel more at ease, you can make car rides a more positive experience for both you and your furry companion.

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