Keep Your Pets Safe in the Car

If you're a pet owner, you know that your pet is a part of the family. And many pet owners like to involve their pets in family activities, including family vacations. But before you just open the door to let Rover or Tabby climb into the car, you should understand that car trips can be stressful, and perhaps even unsafe, for many household pets. Happily, experts agree that they do not have to be if drivers take some simple precautions.

"There are more than 135 million household dogs and cats in the nation," said Ray Palermo, a spokesperson for Response Insurance, a national car insurer. "They're members of the family and when we take a driving vacation, they are often along for the ride. Unfortunately, too many drivers do not take the time to prepare them for long trips."

To protect your pet and family, there are ways to help ensure a safe driving experience:

  • If the pet is not used to car trips, try a few test runs to help acclimate them for the ride. Spending time in the car while parked and taking short drives to nearby destinations are an easy ways to help your pet get with the driving program.
  • While in your vehicle, cats should be kept in a carrier and dogs should be held in a restraining harness. This will help stabilize your pet if there is a sudden movement or crash.
  • Feed your pet a sufficient amount of food, but don't overdo it, since too much food can upset their stomachs on the road.
  • Don't forget to pack some toys and any other favorite items like bedding, so some of their surroundings will be familiar.
  • When traveling to places previously unvisited by your pet, it is particularly important to have a collar with an ID tag that includes both your permanent and vacation addresses and phone numbers. Bring a photo of your pet in the event you need to put up "Lost Pet" posters. Many veterinarians and animal welfare organizations also offer microchip identification implants.
  • Dogs like to stick their heads out of the car window, but this is very unsafe. Small stones and debris in the air become dangerous at highway speeds and can injure your pet.
  • Never leave your pet in a car in warm or hot weather. Even with windows open or parked in the shade, vehicle interior temperatures can quickly rise to lethal levels. Animals, because of their size, are more susceptible to heat than humans.
  • Pack a first aid kit with tweezers and alcohol for tick removal, in addition to cloth bandages and topical antiseptic.

One thing to remember about transporting pets in the car is that in a collision they can become harmful projectiles. The force of a crash can result in extremely rapid deceleration of the vehicle and the use of seatbelts helps occupants of the vehicle stay in place during such an episode, but an unrestrained pet can strike occupants of the car with surprising force. So, while it might seem pleasant to have your dog or cat roaming about the cabin, be advised that this could be unsafe.

Driving Today Contributing Editor Luigi Fraschini is a lover of animals. He often writes on vehicle safety issues from his Cleveland home.