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Dog Car Anxiety


Now that cold winter memories have melting away and summer temperatures are rising, most of us are wanting to get outside more. Sometimes this means a simple walk with our own two feet, but often it involves using a form of transportation to get somewhere. When it comes down to the car, some pups are less interested in tagging along. We often get asked about dog car anxiety treatment, but first, let’s talk a bit about anxiety in general.

So, what exactly is dog anxiety anyways?

In dogs, anxiety is a response to fear, agitation, or apprehension when they anticipate a threat or fearful situation. The fear they experience is a normal response to a stimulus or situation that is threatening, or one that they see as threatening.

Some common car rides for dogs might involve a visit to the family vet, the dog park, a family vacation, or an appointment with their groomer. Let’s use one of these as an example to help explain how anxiety in a dog’s mind might become associated with the car:

Let’s say your pup twisted his or her ankle at the dog park so you booked them in with your vet. Their ankle is likely uncomfortable if they are limping, so they probably won’t particularly enjoy their vet appointment because their ankle hurts. Your dog could associate their discomfort with the car itself. When they see the car, they might anticipate another uncomfortable situation.

It is very important to realise that genetics have the hugest impact on which dogs are predisposed to varying types of anxiety. Environmental stressors earlier on in their lives, such as premature separation from their mother before 8 weeks of age, can also play a huge role.

Not sure if your dog gets anxious in the car? Here are some dog car anxiety symptoms to watch for:

  • Panting, yawning, drooling, and lip licking
  • Shaking or pacing
  • Whining or barking
  • Increased shedding
  • Refusing to take a treat
  • Have an accident in the car
  • Blinking rapidly and eyes are wide open
  • Ears pinned back against the head
  • They may try to hide or escape from the car
  • Become aggressive like snapping or growling

Here is the tricky part – you might have noticed that some of these signs are pretty similar to when they are really excited. Some differences you may notice are a relaxed face, happy smile, or even an excited pup who runs up and jumps right in. You know your dog best, so keep a lookout for their body language cues.


Dog Car Sickness

Another reason why your pup may not enjoy being in the car is because your dog gets car sick. Motion sickness and nausea can mimic some of the dog car anxiety symptoms listed above, like drooling, lip licking, panting, and even cause vomiting. To help rule out motion sickness, talk to your veterinarian about over-the-counter (OTC), or prescription medications that you can try. One dog-specific prescription medication called Cerenia is particularly great in preventing vomiting due to motion sickness.

Since we are on the topic, you might wonder:

‘What can I give my dog for car anxiety?’

  • Can I give my dog dramamine for car sickness?
  • Can I give my dog gravol?
  • Can I give my dog benadryl?
  • Can I give ginger dog treats for car sickness?

These are common questions frequently asked, and many include OTC human medications like Gravol (dimenhydrinate) and Benadryl (diphenhydramine). Both of these are antihistamines used to treat human motion sickness, allergic reactions, and can have a mild sedative effect.

Always ask your veterinarian first before using any human medications. If your vet recommends a human OTC medication, ask them to write down a prescription for you to take with you, and grab a human pharmacist to help pick out the right one. OTC products come in a variety of formulas like liquids, chewables or tablets and humans like to combine drugs for multiple effects, or add various flavour additives – so buyer beware. If unsure, triple check with your vet before giving to your dog.

It is important to note that any medication, including OTC products, can interact with other medications or supplements being taken by your dog. Some products may also not be advised, or actually contra-indicated if your dog has certain medical conditions. Your vet will be able to advise you on whether to use, proper dosing to use, and any possible side effects to watch for.


Expert tip: Fresh ginger is quite safe for dogs, so feel free to try some for your dog’s car sickness. Shave a little off of a fresh root and give directly to your dog to eat.

Other dog car anxiety treatments:

Once you have ruled out motion sickness or nausea, some other things to consider or try include:

  1. Safety first. Every dog, big or small, should be confined for their safety and yours. This doesn’t necessarily mean a kennel or crate though. Dividers can be used to confine dogs to the back of vehicle. Harnesses that attach to the seatbelt are also a great choice for dogs of all sizes. Did you know they even have car seats for smaller pups? Some dogs will actually feel safer when confined, and others may take some training to get used to the method you choose. If you need a recommendation, check out safety tested harness and crates approved by the Center for Pet Safety.
  2. Calming pheromones or aromatherapy. Adaptil is a calming pheromone product for dogs. Spray where your pooch will be staying in the vehicle and wait 10 minutes before packing them up. Similarly, some scents, such as lavender, chamomile, and sandalwood, may reduce anxiety during trips.
  3. Play some pup friendly music. Certain classical and reggae tunes can stimulate positive, relaxed behaviour from dogs. Check out our Waggle Mail Pawfect Playlist on Spotify to help relax your dog.
  4. Reduce visual stimuli. This can not only decrease motion sickness, but also prevent your pup from seeing anything that might increase the anxiety they are already experiencing. Window shades, thundercaps, quiet ears, or even a kennel with a blanket or towel strong over the top can decrease stimuli.
  5. Give an anxiety vest, like a Thundershirt, a try. They distribute even pressure around your dog’s body that mimics a hug, which releases endorphins. These are naturally produced ‘happy’ chemicals in the dog’s body that promote a feeling of well-being.
  6. Go for a run first. Exercise is a great way to decrease stress and lead to a calmer dog before a trip. Exercise has also been shown to release even more endorphins. Your dog will always be more comfortable in the car with an empty bladder as well.
  7. Determine what is triggering your dog’s anxiety. For some dogs, it is just approaching the vehicle. For others, it may be once you’ve taken that last right turn before dropping them off at the groomer for a nail trim. Once you know what it is, you can start training a positive association with that trigger. This involves time, patience, and lots of practice, but the goal is to have a smooth ride.
  8. Talk to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medications. Anxiety can reduce a dog’s ability to learn and retain information, so medications can sometimes help. Just like with humans, dogs will have a unique response to various anti-anxiety medications. It may take some trial-and-error to find something that works right for your pup. These medications should always be given alongside behavioural modification or training, and the ultimate goal is to not need medications at all. That being said, if you or your vet thinks they need to stay on a particular medication to improve their quality of life – that’s okay too!

How do you cure dog car anxiety?

Like just about everything, there isn’t just one way to approach curing your dog’s car anxiety. Often training plus trials of various medications or supplements can offer a long term solution. Be patient, communicate trials and errors with your vet team, and don’t give up. Every dog is different and what works for one, may not work for another. The good news is that there is a lot that you can try to help out your pup.

If you found this post on dog car anxiety helpful, send it to someone you know and subscribe to Waggle (e)Mail. We love sharing fun, easy, and effective ways to promote a healthy body, healthy mind, and healthy pet-parent bond with our pack members.

Signature of Dr. Christine Beck, DVM, BSc, Veterinarian; Founder and Operator of Waggle Mail

Dr. C. Beck
Registered Veterinarian, Founder & CEO

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