Does your dog have accidents in the car?

preventing your dog from having accidents in the car

Most canines love car rides, but accidents and messes are sometimes inevitable, and getting rid of odors, stains and hair can be challenging. Check out these solutions.

Everyone loves summer road trips, especially the family dog. While your furry pal can make your vacation more fun, hours spent in a cramped car can be a recipe for accidents. Wet, muddy feet, shed hair and long claws can wreak havoc with the upholstery, and if your dog suffers from motion sickness, you may also find yourself dealing with vomit from time to time.

And even the best canine travelers can emit a “doggy” smell that lingers long after you’ve returned home. In short, if you have dogs, your vehicle may harbor many unpleasant odors and unsightly stains and marks.

Start with prevention

One way to protect your car’s interior is to take steps to prevent messes in the first place.

• If your dog has a strong smell, schedule a visit to your veterinarian. He or she will look for any medical reasons your dog may exude a foul odor. Veterinarian Dr. Jeffrey Levy says there are many reasons a dog may produce a bad smell, including dental problems, infections or wounds on the skin, coat conditions, or yeast in the ears.

• Bathe your dog regularly, or take him to a groomer. Dirt and feces can get trapped in many dogs’ coats, especially if the hair is long. Bathing your dog before a road trip will ensure he won’t bring any outside odors into your vehicle. Just make sure he’s well dried before he jumps in the back seat.

• If you’re bringing your dog’s bedding along for the ride, clean it before you put in the car. “You can put a deodorizing material between the bed and its cover, as long as you make sure your dog can’t eat it,” says Dr. Levy. Lavender oil or sachets are good ways to keep your pup’s bedding smelling clean and fresh.

• Put a car seat cover over your upholstery. Designed especially for dogs, many are waterproof and help protect fabrics from accidents as well as hair and dirt. You can find a wide selection of car seat covers at sites such as You could also use towels to help protect your car’s upholstery from dirt, hair and stains; they’re easy to remove and can be tossed in the washing machine.

• Maintain proper aeration in the vehicle. Ensuring continuous airflow will not only help disperse odors but will make your dog more comfortable, reducing nausea or anxiety-induced vomiting. Turn on the ventilation system or air conditioning, or crack open the windows – but not far enough for your pooch to stick his head out.

• To further help prevent motion sickness, avoid giving your dog a meal prior to going out in the car.

• If you’re traveling a long distance, reduce the likelihood of accidents by stopping for frequent washroom breaks.

In case of accidents

Despite your best efforts, accidents aren’t always avoidable. The key is to deal with them promptly to reduce the risk of staining, and use the right products to get rid of odor.

Clean up messes immediately, using a non-toxic upholstery or leather cleaner. This will help prevent stains from damaging your car’s interior. “The sooner a urine spot is treated, the less chance there is for it to bleach out the affected area, and the easier it is to remove the stain associated with the accident,” says Jotham Hatch at Chem-Dry, a carpet and upholstery cleaning service. Start by soaking up a urine or vomit stain with a cloth, paper towel or newspaper, then use a non-toxic odor eliminating product (see next section).

Avoid air fresheners. These may temporarily mask odor, but they aren’t a long-term solution. As well, your dog (and human passengers) may find the fragrance overwhelming and irritating. “Most products will disguise the smell for several hours or even days, but the fragrance typically weakens before the urine smell does,” says Jotham.

This is because air fresheners don’t actually eliminate the source of the smell. “What your nose identifies as odor is actually a very small gas molecule,” says John Davidson of BioFog, a company that develops odor elimination products. “The odor molecule is produced by bacteria that are eating a residue [such as urine or vomit].”

Odor eliminators

Many products only attack the odor molecules but don’t treat the source of the problem – the residue (urine or vomit) that the odor-causing bacteria feed from. They may work temporarily, but over time, the bacteria multiply and produce more odor molecules, meaning you will have to frequently re-apply the product to keep the smell at bay. To permanently eliminate odors, you need to look for products that actually attack the source of the odor.

For example, SCOE 10X from BioFog is a bacteria-based product that eats at the source of the odor (urine, vomit, etc.). This removes the food source from odor-causing bacteria to permanently eliminate the smell.

Nok Out from OdorTECH of Canada is a hypoallergenic and non-toxic odor eliminator that also gets rid of odor at the source, leaving no scent behind. It eliminates odors by oxidizing the bacteria that cause odors at the source.

By taking a few preventative steps and arming yourself with the right products for odor elimination, cleanup and upholstery protection, you and your dog can enjoy carefree car rides this summer!


Lisa Evans is a freelance health, beauty, fitness, lifestyle and travel writer. Her work has appeared in Alive, Canadian Living, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star and other publications.