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(1) Why Does My Dog Pant And Shake When Riding In The Car?

Why Does My Dog Pant And Shake While Riding In The Car

When it comes to riding in the car…

Your pup pants and shakes.

And that’s hard to watch as a concerned dog parent.

But let me ease your worries with everything I know about those behaviors.

Continue reading to discover:

  • 3 quick steps to reduce your pup’s car anxiety. 
  • 7 alarming reasons your dog pants and shakes when riding in the car.
  • 9 effective things to do when Fido is panting and trembling during a car ride.
  • And much, much, more…

Why does my dog pant and shake when riding in the car? 7 reasons

#1: They’re dehydrated

This is mainly due to inadequate water intake.

As most dog parents think of not giving their pooch any water before a trip.

Because they’re avoiding the possibility of Fido peeing inside the car.

However, that strategy does more harm than good.

Warning: Dehydration can lead to vomiting and diarrhea. It causes heat stroke, fever, and even death in severe cases.

That said, catch the early signs of dehydration in the car.

According to AKC, apart from panting, those symptoms are:

  • Dry nose.
  • Thick saliva.
  • Sticky or dry gums.
  • Sunken-looking eyes.

If you can’t spot those indications…

It’ll be hard to tell whether your pooch is panting due to dehydration.

So, what you need to do is :

The skin elasticity test

Gently pinch the skin near Fido’s shoulder blades.

Raise and hold it, then let go.

If your pooch is well-hydrated, the skin must quickly spring back to its place.

However, if they’re dehydrated…

The skin will remain raised for a longer time.

For further reading: 21 Reasons Why Your Dog Suddenly Drools (& Acts Strange)

#2: They feel too hot

Dogs can’t regulate their body temperature the way humans do.

As they don’t sweat, they depend on methods like panting.

However, that isn’t as efficient as sweating.

So if the temperature inside the car is higher than their average body temperature…

Which is between 101.0°F (38.3°C) to 102.5°F (39.2°C)…

Your canine’s body will have trouble keeping up.

With that, they overheat, and their panting would be severe.

Aside from that, vets reveal other signs of overheating, which are:

  • Thick saliva.
  • Extreme drooling.
  • Bright red gums and inner cheeks.

Warning #1: Your dog could enter a dangerous “point of no return.” Which is when their body temperature exceeds 106°F (41°C). At this point, they could no longer cool themself.

Warning #2: Your dog can get heatstroke. Which could lead to shaking or tremors. Then, they’re also at risk for seizures and death.

Moreover, research says some dogs are more prone to overheating. Those are:

Brachycephalic dog breeds

They’re flat-faced canines with shortened facial bones.

According to AKC, examples of these dogs are:

  • Pugs.
  • Boxers.
  • Bulldogs.
  • Shih Tzus.
  • Lhasa Apsos.
  • Cane Corsos.
  • Chow Chows.
  • Boston Terriers.
  • Japanese Chins.

And because of their facial structure, they have narrower airways…

Then that leads to less efficient air movement in and out of the lungs.

Therefore, making it harder for them to breathe properly. As well as regulate their body temperature. 

#3: They have car anxiety

According to the Merck Vet Manual:

Your dog develops a fear of inanimate stimuli.

And an example of that is the car itself or the thought of being on it.

With that, car anxiety makes them pant and shake whenever they ride.

“How did they become car anxious?”

The same vet manual says it’s because of generalized anxiety.

That means your canine is easily frightened due to:

  • Early separation from their mother.
  • Lack of proper socialization during puppyhood.

And apart from panting and shaking…

They’ll also show these signs of general fear:

  • Barking.
  • Whining.
  • Yawning.
  • Salivation.
  • Lip licking.
  • Tucked tail.
  • Lowered ears.
  • Lowered body posture. 
  • Gazing away from you.

Continue reading: Dog Car Anxiety: 9 Symptoms & 7 Calming Tips

#4: Experiencing motion sickness

Your Dog Pants And Shakes When Riding In The Car Because They're Experiencing Motion Sickness

Your dog will pant due to motion sickness.

And in some rare cases, they’ll shake as well.

Because the feeling that this experience brings is uncomfortable.

It makes Fido dizzy and nauseous.

Fun fact: VCA Hospitals say puppies are more prone to severe motion sickness. By the time they turn 1 year old, they outgrow it. That’s because their ears are fully developed at that age.

“What do you mean? How are ears related to motion sickness?”

Research from The National Library of Medicine reports:

There’s more use to ears than hearing.

Because they’re also essential to maintaining balance.

Inside the ear lies the organ for balance called the vestibular system.

That organ sends information to the brain, which it processes.

Then, the brain transmits the message to other body parts like the:

  • Eyes.
  • Joints.
  • Muscles.

However, if there’s one contradiction in that exchange of messages…

The individual loses balance, which makes them feel:

  • Shaky.
  • Nauseous.
  • Lightheaded.

Usually, this phenomenon happens in airplanes, ships, or car rides.

That’s why this is more commonly known as motion sickness.

#5: Recalling their history of abandonment

If you adopted your pooch from the rescue shelter…

Then, they’re prone to getting scared of everything.

And when they’re panting and shaking when riding in the car…

That means they remember the most scarring time they were in it.

Which was when their previous parents abandoned them.

Their last human might’ve driven them to the rescue shelter…

Where that person left Fido feeling helpless and longing for a family.

You might also want to know: 13 Tips To Help A Rescue Dog That Is Scared Of Everything

#6: They have a traumatic experience in riding in the car

A study says dogs can have post-traumatic disorders (PTSD) too.

With that, they pant and shake in the car because of fear.

Which could be due to an accident… 

Or any experience that hurt them inside the car.

According to FETCH by WebMD, PTSD makes your dog develop anxiety….

As well as experience constant stress.

And those are overwhelming to deal with. 

That’s why your pooch will show these signs aside from panting and shaking:

Reading tip: 15 Reasons Why Dogs Whine In The Car + 9 Tips To Stop It

#7: Anticipating a stressful destination

Dogs mostly live in the present.

However, they can still feel fear of possible threats. 

With that, you might not have arrived at your destination yet…

But your pooch assumes you’re headed to a stressful place.

Which for most is the vet clinic…

If not that, it could be anywhere they got hurt.

So, they pant and shake while they wait for their fate.

What should I do when my dog pants and shakes when riding the car? 9 tips

#1: Densitize and counter condition

First we have desensitization

Which is gradually introducing your pup to their fearful stimulus.   

Then, there’s counterconditioning

Where you change Fido’s emotional response or attitude toward their trigger.

And together, they can reduce Fido’s car anxiety.

Thus, getting rid of their panting and shaking behaviors when riding in it. 

How to use desensitization and counterconditioning:

Step 1: Maintaining attention and closing distance
  1. Take the treat and hold it over your dog’s nose.
  2. Walk toward the car and let your dog follow you.
  3. Stop at the nearest distance your pooch allows. That’ll be your starting ground.
  4. Give your pup the treat.
  5. Tell them to stay or sit in that spot.
  6. Repeat sub-steps 1 and 2.
  7. If they stop in another spot, reward them.
  8. Repeat sub-steps 1 to 7 until your canine is beside the car.   
Step 2: Getting Fido used inside the car
  1. Open the car door and hop inside.
  2. Call your dog to hop in with you with an obvious treat in your hand.

Reward them even if they just tried to take a step.

As well as when they finally got inside.

When they do, you can’t proceed with step #3 just yet.

You must condition your pooch to think the vehicle is a fun zone.

With that, hold short play sessions inside from time to time.

When your pup begins to get excited when they see you open the car door…

That’s when you can proceed to…

Step 3: Traveling short distances

As Fido is willing to step inside the vehicle now…

It’s not yet time to call this training over.

Because you must start with driving short distances first.

Otherwise, you’ll overwhelm them. 

And the progress from the previous steps will be gone.

So, for example, drive around your block first. 

While you do, praise and reward them when they’re behaving.

Note: Ask someone to help you with this step. For your safety, you must not drive and train Fido at the same time.

#2: Maintain a cool temperature in the car

As I mentioned, your pooch has to maintain their normal body temperature.

But don’t set your car between 101.0°F (38.3°C) to 102.5°F (39.2°C).

It needs to be lower than that.

Ideally, not less than 70°F (21°C).

Read also: 13 Fast & Proven Ways To Calm A Dog In The Car (How-To)

#3: Exercise them before a car ride

An energized canine is more likely to have severe anxiety when riding in the car.

To avoid that, wear your doggo out before your trip.

PDSA says the exact exercise requirement for dogs depends on factors like:

  • Age.
  • Breed.
  • Lifestyle.
  • Health status.
  • Personality and preference.

But, generally, they need at least 30 to 45 minutes of exercise every day.

However, if Fido is a high-energy breed, provide at least 1 hour of daily exercise. 

#4: Make frequent stops

If you didn’t have the chance to do tip #3…

Your pup will be anxious and energized during the car ride…

So, pull over to the nearest place you can.

There, calm Fido down by shaking off their excess energy.

Do this frequently during the trip to lessen their panting and trembling.

#5: Play calming music

Renowned canine psychologist Dr. Stanley Coren revealed:

Dogs have musical preferences.

Because they have a sense of pitch.

That’s why sometimes, they howl along with the music.

Now, researchers tried to determine what type of songs dogs love.

Their findings show that classical music lulls kenneled dogs to sleep.

While heavy metal music made them tremble due to nervousness.

So, play classical music to stop your dog’s panting and shaking.

Or try this Spotify playlist, which is specifically made for anxious canines.

#6: Create a comfort zone inside the car

When you’re bringing them on a trip…

Ensure you pack their toys with you.

An ongoing study theorizes dogs have an emotional connection with their toys.

That’s because scientists say canines are as clever as 2-year-old humans.

So, the 2 are bound to have the same connection toward their belongings.

Moreover, bring some items with your scent on them.

Research guarantees doing so can calm your pup when riding in the car.

As your scent lights up Fido’s pleasure centers in their brain.

This means they’re happy whenever they detect your odor…

Therefore reducing their anxiety.

Put that all together in one spot inside your car…

And there’ll be a comfort zone for your canine.

#7: Don’t feed them a meal before the car ride

To avoid panting and shaking due to motion sickness…

Vets recommend you don’t feed them any meals before the trip.

For example, if you’re traveling in the morning…

Skip Fido’s breakfast.

“Isn’t it cruel to let them travel with an empty stomach?”

Many vets suggest this tip because it’s your best option…

It minimizes the risk of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

And don’t worry because you can make up for it.

Just pack your dog’s usual meal and feed them when you arrive at your destination.

After that, also ensure your canine poops out the meal they ate.

With that, you won’t have the problem you initially avoided on your way back home.

#8: Use calming aids

Here are some non-medicinal calming aids that I recommend:


This isn’t just useful during thunderstorms…

Because the gentle pressure from a ThunderShirt can calm a pooch anytime, anywhere.


This is a collar that soothes your pup through pheromones.

As it carries the smell of a mother dog.

Which is innately calming for all canines.

And it’s available in sizes small and medium/large.

#9: Consult the vet for anti-anxiety medications

In severe cases of car anxiety which makes Fido pant and shake…

They need the vet’s help.

So don’t hesitate to consult the doctor. 

And ask whether your pup can opt for anti-anxiety medications.

Which are available over-the-counter or through prescription.