Pet lovers know that most dogs love riding in cars and most cats do not. Whether a car trip is for fun, for travel or by necessity, however, safety for both furry and human passengers is a priority. Cars today are built with human safety in mind, from seat belt design to air bags. Unfortunately, these features are not the answer for our pets.

Pets riding unrestrained in a car can be seriously injured in an accident. Large dogs and pet carriers may also become dangerous projectiles to humans in the car. Even in accidents where there are no injuries, unrestrained pets may get scared and run away or become aggressive with emergency workers. For all these reasons, it is important for pet owners to understand their pets and find safety options that work best when it is time for car travel.

Place cats in carriers

Whether your cat enjoys a car ride or not, he or she should not be permitted to roam. Cats are likely to climb and explore, getting under seats, near the foot pedals or distracting your line of sight. Carriers or crates are a must for cats, even for short trips.
Traditional hard side carriers that allow enough room for your cat to stand and turn around are fine for short trips. For longer excursions, look for soft side carriers with a lot of ventilation and are large enough for a litter box. Models are available that can accommodate multiple cats and will expand to the width of your back seat. Include a blanket and some favorite toys to keep your cat comfortable, especially if he or she is anxious in a car.
Whatever carrier you choose, be sure you can stabilize it using your car’s seat belts. Most carriers today are equipped with straps that connect directly to the safety belt system in your car.

Keeping your dog safe

Safety decisions for dogs can be a little tougher, as many like to sit up front, hanging their heads out the window. This isn’t where you want your dog to be in the event of an accident, however.

The safest place for your dog to travel is in an appropriately sized crate in the cargo area of an SUV or the back seat of a sedan. Because cars today have passenger side airbags, your dog—even a small dog—should never travel in the front passenger seat.

Unfortunately, traveling in a crate takes all the fun out of a car ride for dogs, who we know enjoy the sights as much as their humans do. What other options exist for dog owners?

  • Seat belts for dogs – These include a harness that buckles directly into the safety belt system in your back seat, providing secure restraint that will keep your dog in place in an accident. Look for a design that supports across your dog’s chest and anchors just above the tail between the hips, as well as enough elasticity in the straps to provide deceleration without injury.
  • Booster safety seats for dogs – These are ideal for small dogs that need a boost to see out the window. Harness and strap design should be similar to dog seat belts so as to keep your dog safely in place in an accident.
  • Auto barriers – Barriers that separate the back seat from the front seat or the back seat from the cargo area of an SUV are ideal for keeping large dogs safe during car travel. Best practice still has the dog restrained in a belt harness or crate, but the barrier also provides a level of safety for both the dog and human passengers. For these to be effective in an accident, however, they must be strong and should be bolted to the frame of the car, so they are not always practical.

Car travel and your pet

No one knows your pet better than you. The safety method you choose should fit your pet’s personality and habits, as well as your travel plans. Not every method is practical for every situation, but your choice should keep the following in mind:

  • Prevent distractions for the driver
  • Limit injury to the pet in an accident
  • Keep your pet safe in the moments after an accident
  • Be comfortable for your pet

If you are using crates, carriers, booster seats or seat belt harnesses, be sure to check safety certifications and directions for proper use. Your pets are your children and their safety is always your priority.

If you have questions about safety steps you can take when traveling with your pet, contact the veterinary team at Lake Cable Animal Hospital.