Why Does My Dog Pant in the Car? — and How to Stop It

Traveling with your dog in the car can be a great experience, for your canine friend can experience new sights and smells. However, often, dogs pant during a ride. For some dogs, this panting is excessive and is accompanied by drooling and shaking. There are several reasons why dogs pant in a car. We cover them and also give advice on how to stop the panting so that your dog has a more enjoyable experience on your driving excursions.

Reasons why dogs pant, drool, and shake in a car

Yellow lab panting in car, highlighting why dogs pant, drool, and shake in car and how to stop it
Dog panting in car | Troy Spoelma via Unsplash

Every dog pants once in a while. Panting, or when dogs breathe with an open mouth, generally is a natural cooling mechanism. The breathing is faster, and sometimes the tongue hangs out of the mouth. However, panting could also have a different meaning. It could be a way of your dog telling you that they are anxious, afraid, or overstimulated by a car ride.

Here are the reasons why dogs pant, drool, and shake in a car:

  • High temperature
  • Car sickness
  • Anxiety
  • Overstimulation
  • Dehydration
  • Medical issue

High temperature

Groodle dog panting in car, highlighting why dogs pant, drool, and shake in car and how to stop it
Dog panting in car | Jay Wennington via Unsplash

Your dog might be excessively panting in a car due to the high temperature. The cabin in vehicles can heat up considerably compared to the outside air, especially on hot sunny days. By panting, a dog uses the “evaporation of moisture from their mouth to create a circulation of hot and cold air,” as detailed by Paw Leaks

Your car might be too uncomfortably hot for your dog. Crack a window or turn on the A/C to cool down the car, and never leave your dog unattended in the vehicle on a hot day. 

Dogs pant because of car sickness

Like people, dogs can experience car sickness when going for drives. Excessive panting from your dog could be due to car sickness. This is more often the case for puppies, which usually grow out of it. 

Car sickness is typically the result of motion sickness, which is caused by the brain receiving conflicting signals from different sensory systems within the body, including the eyes, inner ears, muscles, and joints.

To prevent your dog getting carsick, avoid feeding them for at least one hour before the car ride. Also, like humans, dogs will be more likely to experience car sickness if they can’t see out of the window. A way to remedy this is to get an elevated car seat. 

It’s also helpful to crack a window to let in some fresh air. Additionally, there are medications available that can alleviate car sickness. For more information, speak to your veterinarian. 

Travel anxiety during rides

Black dog panting in car, highlighting why dogs pant, drool, and shake in car and how to stop it
Dog panting in car | Erik Mclean via Unsplash

Panting can also result from travel anxiety for your dog, which is usually caused by the association of car sickness during rides. Panting, drooling, shaking, restlessness, and pacing are all signs that your dog is experiencing anxiety. Later, we give some tips for reducing anxiety during car rides.

If your dog was ever in a car accident, this could also be another source of travel anxiety. Also, if your dog is underexposed or was never properly introduced to a car ride, they can experience travel anxiety. This is especially the case if you only take your dog for rides when going to the veterinarian. As a result, they will associate the ride with this possibly uncomfortable visit. To counteract this, try taking your dogs to more enjoyable locations, such as a park.

Overstimulation 

RELATED: It’s Dangerous for Dogs to Stick Their Head out Car Window

A car ride can be an overstimulating experience for dogs, resulting in panting. Dogs have stronger senses compared to humans, especially for smell and hearing. During a ride, a dog experiences many new smells, which can overwhelm them. The sounds during a ride can also be intense, particularly the roar of the engine. Riding on bumpy roads and taking sharp turns adds to the overstimulation as well.

Dehydration

Another cause of panting could be dehydration. This is more common on hot days or after a dog exercises heavily, such as a long walk or playing a game of fetch. To avoid dehydration, make sure that your dog has enough water to drink. For car rides, bring along a portable water dispenser. 

Medical issues

Excessive panting, drooling, and shaking could also be a sign of an underlying medical issue. If these excessive behaviors occur outside of the car and persist for a long time, then take your dog to the veterinarian to address the issues. 

How to calm your dog’s anxiety during car rides and reduce panting, drooling, and shaking

RELATED: After Car Accident, 3-Legged Dog Walks Upright Like a Human

As detailed earlier, panting, drooling, and shaking during a car ride could be due to your travel anxiety for your dog. Here are some ways that you can calm your dog’s anxiety during car rides:

  • Encourage your dog to come in the car by giving them some treats. They will then associate the car with a positive experience. 
  • Instead of going on long trips right away, take things step-by-step. Before going on a journey, allow your dog to explore the car. Then, go on short trips around your neighborhood to desensitize and make a car ride a more familiar experience — and gradually build up from there. 
  • As previously mentioned, don’t limit your car rides to only a visit to the veterinarian. Create a more positive association for a car ride for your dog by driving to pleasant locations where they can roam and have fun. 
  • Along with treats, bring along familiar objects on the journey, such as toys, a cushion, or a blanket. 
  • Decrease the stress and adrenaline levels by exercising with your dog before the trip.
  • Spray dog pheromones in your vehicle. As detailed by the American Kennel Club, these pheromones mimic the odor of a nursing mother dog. They can even relax adult dogs. Along with sprays, the dog pheromones are available as diffusers and collars. 

It can be concerning to see a dog that excessively pants, drools, and shakes during a car ride. However, you can take various measures to stop this behavior. Also, talk to your veterinarian for further advice — and to check for any underlying medical issues. 

RELATED: Your Car Insurance May Provide Pet Injury Coverage for Dogs and Cats