Puppy Travel Sickness: All you need to know 
You’ve brought a new puppy home and cannot wait to take him out to have fun and see the world with you – I know the feeling! However, puppy travel sickness is not so fun. Puppies are sensitive to travel sickness as they’re brand new in the world. The motions of being in a moving vehicle can be very unsettling for a puppy, which can cause their tummies to turn. It can make even the shortest trips stressful for both you and your puppy. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to prevent and treat your pup’s nausea.
In this article, we will talk about what causes puppy travel sickness, how to spot the signs of travel sickness, and how you can avoid and treat it.
What Causes Puppy Travel Sickness?
Travel sickness in puppies is very normal. Motion sickness in general is seen far more often in puppies and young dogs, than in older dogs for a couple reasons.
Firstly, the ear structures that are used for balance are not fully developed in puppies, which makes them more prone to feeling queasy from the motions of a moving vehicle.
Furthermore, of course a puppy would of travelled far less than an adult dog. With most puppies and dogs, increased exposure to traveling is likely to help them outgrow their travel sickness. However, it’s important to introduce your puppy to the car gradually. Particularly if he has already shown signs of puppy travel sickness or stress when traveling.
Another reason that puppies can experience travel sickness, is if they are highly stressed. If your puppy experiences stress whilst in your car, they are more likely to associate it with feeling sick and are more likely to experience travel sickness. For example, your puppy may associate a ride in your car to a stressful or scary trip to the vet. However, there are things you can do to help with this, which we will discuss in detail below.
Lastly, a puppy with a full stomach is more likely to suffer from travel sickness. The food churning around in their tummy may make them feel queasy when traveling.
Signs of Puppy Travel Sickness
It helps if you can spot the onset signs of puppy travel sickness, so you can prepare before he vomits all over your lovely car seats or causes a scene on the train.
The following are all signs of puppy travel sickness that you can look out for:
- Smacking or licking lips
- Inactivity or lethargy
- Excessive drooling
- Shaking as if they are wet
Preventing Puppy Travel Sickness
Getting your puppy used to car rides
The key to traveling with puppies in a car is to make them feel comfortable and confident. The more comfortable and confident they are, the less stressed they’ll be and in turn the less likely they are to experience travel sickness. As mentioned above, the sooner you travel with your puppy, the better. Ideally, you want your puppy to get used to cars as soon as you bring them home.
1. Introduce your puppy gradually to the car.
Start with them sitting in a stationary car. Give your puppy time to explore the area they will be traveling in. You want them to feel confident and calm in the car before you start the engine. Once your puppy seems content, move on to the next step.
2. Make sure they have a firm footing under their paws.
The foot well or boot is better for puppies to sit in than on your car seat. They’ll find the journey easier if they have somewhere comfortable to sit and lie down, particularly as you go around corners. In some countries, there are actually laws in place that require puppies and dogs to be restrained in moving vehicles, with the use of dog seat belts or dog car harnesses.
3. Take your puppy on a short, slow trip in the car.
Start of with short journeys – you can just drive to the end of the road and back. Make sure you use lots of praise and treats at the end of the journey for riding quietly in the car.
4. Slowly increase the length of your trips.
As your puppy gains more confidence and seems happy in the car, you can increase the length and frequency of your trips. Be patient, use lots of praise and treats, and you should see progress pretty quickly.
Remember to be patient and aim for gradual progress. It shouldn’t be long before your puppy is familiar with the car and knows what to expect when they jump in and hear the engine starting.
5. Encourage your puppy to face forwards.
Your puppy is likely to experience fewer nauseating visual cues if they face forward while you’re traveling, rather than looking out the side windows. One way to encourage this is by using a specially designed dog seat belt. Not only will it encourage your dog to face forward during the car ride, it’s far safer or you, your pup and everyone else on the road. A restrained puppy is less likely to be a distraction on the road.
Getting your puppy used to train rides
Similarly to getting your puppy used to the car, the key to traveling with puppies on trains is to make them feel comfortable and confident. There are a few ways to do this:
1. Start early.
It’s best to get your puppy used to train rides as soon as possible. Particularly if you have a very young puppy who is going through their socialisation period between 8 to 12 weeks. During the key socialisation period you will want to introduce your puppy to as many every day things as possible. This includes car rides, busy train stations and train journeys, buses, busy roads among many more environments and situations. If your puppy is introduced to these things early on in life, they are far more likely to be confident with them throughout their lifetimes.
2. Bring your puppy’s favourite blanket.
Your puppy’s favourite blanket will provide them with a sense of security and comfort. Dogs are not usually allowed to sit on train seats, so a blanket will make them feel more comfortable lying on the floor. You could also pop the blanket over the train seat and ask the train staff if they’re okay with it. I always do this for my pup and haven’t had any problems so far.
3. Bring your puppy’s favourite chew.
Not only will your puppies favourite chew provide them with a sense of familiarity and security, it will give them something to do. Chewing on their favourite toy will distract them from the busyness of the train.
4. Positive reinforcement with treats and affection.
Give your pup treats and affection when they are behaving well and calmly. Try not to give them too many treats as you don’t want them to get sick, but a few treats here and there shouldn’t do any harm!
5. If your puppy is showing signs of stress, do not smother them.
I know that the natural thing to do when your puppy is stressed, is to shower them with affection. However, this may actually do the opposite of what you want, and may reinforce the behaviour. By smothering a puppy that is scared, you are unintentionally making them feel like they actually do have something to fear. Instead, stay calm and talk to them softly. Tell them they have nothing to fear and reward and praise your pup when he or she is calm and collected.
Getting your puppy used to flights
Getting your puppy used to flights is a little trickier than getting him used to car or train rides. This is because it isn’t so easy getting on a flight with a puppy, you can’t ‘train’ for it. However, there are a few tips that we can share that should make the experience easier for you and your pup.
1. Get your puppy used to confined spaces
Once you select the crate or carrier your puppy will be traveling in, it’s important to spend lots of time working on ensuring he or she is comfortable in it.
It’s best to start this as early as possible, as it can take a while for puppies to acclimate to their new carriers. If your puppy is particularly anxious or nervous, you’ll want to allow yourself extra time.
The aim is to get your puppy used to spending time in it’s carrier for long periods of time, long before your planned trip.
You’ll want to use lots of treats, and your puppy’s favourite toys and blanket. This is so that your puppy associates the carrier with positive things.
When introducing your puppy to its new carrier, it’s important to let your puppy explore it on its own. Do not place your puppy in immediately, and do not close the door until they are comfortable sitting or lying down in it with the door open. Instead, place your puppy’s treats, toys and blankets inside and let them venture in by themselves. You want the carrier or crate to become a safe place.
It’s also a good idea to do some practice runs in your puppy’s carrier. When your puppy is comfortable chilling in the carrier, take him out for a walk around the block, or to the cafe, in it. The more practice runs you do, the less anxious your puppy should be when you set off on your real trip.
2. Get your puppy used to busy environments.
If it’s possible, take your puppy to a train station, or airport and sit with him or her in the public waiting area. This way, your puppy can get used to the sights, sounds and smells of an airport or station.
Another tip I found helpful is playing an audio of an airplane taking off or train passing, and airport/train station noise.
3. Try to limit access to food and water before your trip.
A puppy that needs to go to the toilet is more likely to be distressed and anxious when traveling.
If possible, try to limit your puppy’s access to food and water leading up to your trip, or time your puppy’s meals to suit your trip.
Not only will it reduce the chances of them needing the toilet while traveling, some puppies may experience motion sickness if they eat just before a trip.
This is particularly important if you are flying – Air Canada suggest feeding your dog four to six hours prior to departure, as a full stomach may cause discomfort during travel.
If you are flying in the cabin with your puppy, and it look like he needs to go to the bathroom when on the flight, ask the attendant for advice on what to do. Make sure you pack some wipes and poop bags in case of any accidents.
4. Get your puppy used to being on his/her own.
This is a particularly important one if your pup will be traveling in the pet cargo area of the plane. Some airlines, on specific routes, will allow pet owners to take small dogs in the cabin with them. This is usually only if they are small enough to fit in a carrier that will be placed under the seat in front of you. They must usually weigh less than 8kg (including the carrier).
However, if you are the owner of a large or heavy puppy, flying on specific routes that won’t allow pets in the cabin, your pup will need to fly in cargo. This of course means that he will be spending a fair amount of time without you there to comfort him.
Take some time to train your puppy to be happy on its own. This can be quite tricky to do as many puppies will bark and cry when left alone – understandably as they grew up used to having the company of their mother or their litter mates. The key is to gradually teach your puppy that they are safe on their own. Start off by leaving your puppy for short periods of time and work your way up as they get more comfortable with it. You can also use treats before you leave them, so they have a positive association with you leaving.
This will take some time so make sure you start training as early as possible.
Treating Puppy Travel Sickness
As mentioned earlier, the use of a crate or car seat belt will help prevent travel sickness in puppies, as it will encourage them to face forward.
- Taking a break from car trips for a week or two
- Using a different vehicle to avoid association with past unpleasant experiences
- Taking short car trips to places your puppy enjoys, like the park
- Gradually building your pup’s tolerance to car trips; start by getting your puppy used to approaching the car, then spend some time in the car with the engine off. When your puppy is ready, take short trips (around the block, for example) to build tolerance before progressing to longer car rides.
- Using treats to make the car a fun place for your puppy (but be careful you don’t give too many and make your dog nauseated)
- Buying special toys that your dog enjoys and only has access to in the car
Puppy Travel Sickness Medications
If you have tried all of the techniques listed above with your puppy and he is still showing signs of severe travel sickness, there are a variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications that may decrease dog motion sickness symptoms.
Over the counter and prescription medications for puppy travel sickness include:
- Anti-nausea drugs
- Antihistamines, which can lessen dog motion sickness, reduce drooling, and offer sedation
- Prescription drugs, which reduce vomiting and provide sedation
Always be sure to consult with your veterinarian before purchasing any over-the-counter treatment for travel sickness in puppies. You will need to check that they are suitable for puppies, and know the correct dose to give.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can I buy to help with my puppy's travel sickness?
There are many tips and techniques to help prevent and manage puppy travel sickness, as listed above. However if your puppy is still showing signs of motion sickness after trying these, you have the option of buying products to help. These include anti-anxiety medications - these include pheromone collars, calming supplements and compression coats. Speak to your vet if you’re not sure which products to use. Medications can also be used - there are licensed anti-sickness medicines that your vet can prescribe if your puppy has very severe car sickness. Often these are used short term while you’re taking other steps to help your dog’s car sickness. Never use non-prescription and human medications for car sickness as these are often not effective and can have side effects.
Can my puppy sit on my lap in the car?
Although it may seem like the safest place for a puppy, it isn't recommended. Firstly it is actually a legal requirement in many countries that dogs must be restrained when in a moving vehicle, either by a crate, dog seatbelt or travel harness. Furthermore, an unrestrained puppy is not only a danger to itself, as it could fly around the vehicle if the driver was to take a sharp turn or has to stop suddenly. They are also a potential distraction to the driver, and therefore a danger to other passengers and those on the road.
Where should my puppy sit in the car?
The safest place for your puppy to travel is secured with a dog seat belt or harness, or within a crate. These will help with puppy motion sickness as they encourage them to face forward, minimising the effect of nauseating visual cues. It is also the safest as you won't risk your puppy falling around the car as you turn sharp bends, or take emergency stops. In some countries it's actually a legal requirement to restrain dogs in cars.
Can my puppy fly in cabin with me?
This completely depends on which airline you are flying with, the route you are taking, and the size and weight of your puppy. Generally, puppies must be under 8kg (combined with carrier), to travel in the cabin, they must also fit in a small carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.
So, preventing and managing puppy motion sickness should be pretty straight forward, as most puppies grow out of this. However there are many techniques, listed above, that can help your puppy adjust to traveling to prevent travel sickness.
The key is to making your puppy as calm and collected as possible. A calm puppy is far less likely to experience travel sickness, than one who is stressed. This is why it’s important to take your time and gradually exposing your puppy to traveling, and to new environments, such as train stations, airports and cars. Gradual is key as you don’t want to overwhelm your puppy and make them feel like they have something to fear. You want to take baby steps, listed above, and provide your puppy with plenty of praise and treats when they behave calmly when traveling.
The use of a dog car seatbelt or a crate when traveling in the car is helpful, as well as cracking a window open to balance out the air pressure.
Hope this has been helpful!