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Canine Carsickness: Common But Treatable

Dr. Lee Pickett on

Q: We recently adopted Rufus, a young adult dog who becomes anxious every time he's in the car. He pants, whines, drools, licks his lips and sometimes even throws up. What can we do about this?

A: The most effective way to help Rufus feel calm in the car is behavior modification. Through a series of small steps, you'll teach him that car rides are nothing to fear but, instead, can be a source of fun.

Start by feeding him his meals in the car with the engine off. If he won't enter, put his food bowl on the ground next to the car. After a week of this, he should be willing to eat in the car.

When he's eaten enough times in the car to be relaxed there, he'll be ready for the next steps. Be sure to take them when Rufus has an empty stomach, so he doesn't get carsick.

Invite him into the car, and start the engine. If you're in the garage, back out and idle in the driveway for a few minutes. Then return to the garage, and turn off the car.

Praise Rufus when he's calm in the car but not when he gets out.


Repeat this step as many days or weeks as necessary until Rufus is relaxed and doesn't pant, drool or whine.

The next step is to drive around the block once and return home. Be sure Rufus has plenty of fresh air and can see out. Again, repeat this step as many times as necessary until Rufus is relaxed.

Next, drive a few minutes to a park or a friend's home so Rufus learns to associate the car with fun excursions. Repeat these short, enjoyable trips often before gradually lengthening his car rides.

If he ever seems anxious, return to the previous step until he's relaxed enough to proceed. Plan to desensitize Rufus to car rides over a period of weeks to months.


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