Not all dogs are prone to motion sickness during car rides. Younger dogs are actually more likely to suffer from the condition than older ones. Young or old, dogs experience motion sickness in moving vehicles for two reasons: equilibrium problems and conditioning.
Like yours, your dog’s ears help him maintain balance. The structures inside the dog’s ears that control equilibrium do not fully develop until canines are nearing adulthood. Without these structures operating at full capacity, a dog's balance is more easily thrown off. A puppy watching the world zip by at 60 mph is in a state of heightened stimulation. Throw in a rocking motion and motion sickness is inevitable in a puppy whose balance isn't fully developed. Such a motion sickness problem should diminish as the dog matures and as the dog becomes used to riding in a moving vehicle.
Dogs are capable of learning, and they can learn that being in the car makes them sick. For example, a young dog who suffered from equilibrium problems amd felt nauseous during previous car rides can become conditioned to associate car rides with nausea -- even after the equilibrium problem has been resolved. In other words, the dog can make himself sick at the thought of riding, or the motion of the car can trigger nausea psychosomatically. Similarly, dogs who associate car rides with anxiety and negative outcomes, such as visits to the veterinarian or extended kennel vacations, may become so upset by a trip that they experience nausea and vomiting, too.
Solutions for Equilibrium Problems
If your dog is young and suffers from motion sickness because of under-developed ear structures, you can still take her for car rides. In fact, doing so and making the experiences positive can prevent her from becoming conditioned to always vomit in the car. To do this, consider purchasing a dog restraint belt that keeps your dog facing forward at all times. This position will help her maintain her equilibrium. Also, limit her intake of food and water for a few hours before the car trip. By keeping her stomach empty, you can prevent her from vomiting during the ride.
Solutions for Conditioning Problems
If your dog is older and still suffers from motion sicknesses, you need to recondition her. To do this, you’ll want to use the front-facing dog restraint and keep her stomach as empty as possible until after the car trip. You also want to increase the number of car rides she takes -- but make sure each one is a positive experience. For example, drive her to a park where you can go for a pleasant walk, or drive to a nearby dog park. After the successful car ride, praise her and provide her with treats or a favorite toy to associate the experience with good feelings instead of anxiety and stress. Avoid inadvertently reinforcing her motion sickness conditioning by not giving her excessive attention in the car if she shows signs of nervousness, anxiety, or nausea. By doing so, you actually send her the message that her response to the car ride is a desirable one.