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How to Deal with Car Anxiety for Dogs

By Molly Weinfurter


Updated on

If you’ve ever wondered, “why does my dog shake in the car?” you might want to research car anxiety for dogs. Many dogs experience anxiety or motion sickness whenever they’re in the car, and the two sometimes go hand-in-hand. This may not be an issue if your dog stays at home most of the time, but there will always be a point where dogs need to hop in the car.

So, even if you’re not traveling the world with your dog, you should still get their car anxiety under control if possible. It will make trips to the vet, groomer, and trainer much more manageable.

Can Dogs Get Car Anxiety?

Car Anxiety for Dogs

Yes, dog with car anxiety is a real thing. Dogs can get overly nervous in vehicles just like humans can. If your dog displays unusual behaviors in the car, they may be more stressed than you think. Any breed can get car anxiety, even the best family dogs.

Car anxiety is described as any time a dog shows signs of distress in a moving vehicle. Most dogs love car rides because they lead to new adventures, but not every dog associates cars with a happy place. Some dogs quietly tremble in cars while others are very vocal. It’s unpleasant for your pup and can be distracting for the driver, which is why it shouldn’t be ignored.

Signs of Car Anxiety in Dogs

Not every dog experiences car anxiety the same way, but here are some common signs to look out for:

  • Refusing to enter a vehicle
  • Panting heavily
  • Drooling
  • Whining or barking
  • Excessive licking
  • Yawning repeatedly
  • Trembling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Urination

If your dog exhibits the above symptoms when in the car, they may be suffering from anxiety. Some dog anxiety in car symptoms are more severe than others, but all are uncomfortable for your furry friend.

Preventing Motion Sickness in Dogs

Motion sickness refers to a dog feeling ill, dizzy, or uneasy when in a moving vehicle. It often leads to vomiting. While motion sickness doesn’t equal car anxiety, the two are often linked. Dogs who get motion sickness are more likely to have car anxiety because they associate car rides with not feeling well.

Car anxiety is a behavior issue while motion sickness is a medical one. If your dog gets nauseous in the car, you should make their setup as comfortable as possible. If they’re unable to see out the windows, it could help. Limiting food before car trips can reduce the risk of vomiting. Dogs with motion sickness aren’t good candidates for dog friendly vacations with road trips or RV camping with dogs.

However, if your dog gets nauseous every time they’re in the car, the best solution is to talk to a veterinarian. Your vet may be able to prescribe an anti-nausea medication to reduce your dog’s motion sickness while on the road. Once you find a medication that works for your dog, car rides should be more comfortable for them, but car anxiety could still be present.

How to Prevent Car Anxiety in Dogs

If your dog still has car anxiety even without motion sickness, then there are a few ways to handle it. Below are some tips for helping a dog riding in a car overcome nervousness.

Reward Your Dog

Most dogs are scared of the car because it’s unfamiliar or associated with something scary. So, associating good things with the car is a great way to change your pup’s perspective. Start by walking your dog near the car and giving them treats when they approach the vehicle. Do this several times before moving forward.

Then, give your dog treats while sitting in the car. Encourage them to sniff around the parked car on their own, and reward them as they do so. Once they’ve become more comfortable with that, you can try sitting in the car with your dog when the car door is closed. Start with only closing the door for a few seconds, and then work your way up to longer periods. Between each time, allow your dog to exit the car if they wish.

Patience and repetition are the key for these steps. If your dog still seems nervous before the car even starts, it’s a good idea to keep revisiting these methods and rewarding your dog along the way.

Secure Your Dog in the Car

Once your dog is ready to try riding in the car, you should make sure they’re secured. You can do so by keeping them in a crate or by using a dog seat belt to buckle them in. Many cities require dogs to be secured in a car by law because it’s safer for both the dog and the driver. When driving with your dog, keep them in the back seat because the airbag in the front seat could be dangerous or even deadly for them.

Start off Slow

The first dog car drive you take after working with your dog should be short. Drive around the block and then reward your dog before they exit the car. Keep increasing the distance of your drives as your dog calms down. Taking your dog for too long of a drive too soon could hurt their progress, so don’t be afraid to take it slow and be patient.

Avoid Big Meals Before Long Car Rides

As mentioned earlier, don’t give your dog a big meal before they hop in the car. Even if dogs don’t normally experience motion sickness, they may throw up their food out of nervousness. You should wait at least a few hours after a meal before bringing your nervous pup in the car.

Consider Medications

If your dog continues to be overly anxious after lots of patience and rewards, it may be time to talk to your vet for help. There are lots of dog anxiety medications you can buy from pet supply stores, but your vet can give you the best recommendation and potentially prescribe a specific one based on your dog’s behaviors and medical history. Serve the medication as directed for full effect.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some questions related to car anxiety in dogs.

What is a Dog Seat Belt?

A dog seat belt is any product that can secure your dog in the car. Many of them are a leash that clips into the seat belt buckle. When using a dog seat belt, clip it to your pup’s harness instead of a collar to prevent your dog from choking.

Can CBD Be Used for Dog Car Ride Anxiety?

Yes, dog CBD treats or oil can help dogs feel calm in the car. However, a long car ride shouldn’t be the first time you use CBD. Give your dog a small dose at some point to see how it affects them. If they seem more relaxed, then it may be a good option to try in the car. When in doubt, talk to your vet about CBD products.

Are Road Trips Stressful for Dogs?

They can be, but it depends on the dog. Any dog can get stressed if they’re in the car for too long, so make regular stops throughout the trip so your dog can do their business and stretch their legs.

Traveling with an Anxious Dog

Traveling together can be a fun experience for you and your dog, but not if your dog is anxious. Dogs and cars don’t always go well together, so if your dog has car anxiety, you may want to avoid keeping them in a moving vehicle for too long.

If you want to take your dog places without stressing them out too much, you can start by visiting local places. Dog friendly stores and dog friendly restaurants are great places to take your dog to help them get used to travel. If they do well in those environments, you may be able to bring them on longer trips too.

About Molly Weinfurter

Molly Weinfurter is a freelance writer and editor that specializes in family, travel, and animal-related topics.

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