Riding in Cars with Pets
by Colleen Paige
There are many simple and inexpensive ways of keeping you and your pets safe in the car. Regardless of how well you drive and the fact that many pets love riding in the car, they're still not safe from other irresponsible drivers….and neither are you! Generally cats are at less risk because usually, they're crated and if they aren't...they should be. But with any unsecured pet, at just 10 M.P.H. if you must stop quickly due to an animal or hazard in the road, or swerve to avoid someone who crosses the line into your lane (which, sadly I experience on a daily basis) your dog faces the risk of flying into the dashboard, windshield or the back of your seat and at the very least, suffering emotional distress, cuts and bruises and broken bones from blunt force trauma. If you allow them to ride in your lap, or worse, allowing them to rest in your lap, on the edge of the driver's window, they can be crushed between you and the steering wheel in a sudden stop or accident, as well as being ejected from the vehicle into oncoming traffic. To this day, every time I see a dog riding in the lap of a driver and hanging paws out of the window, my heart stops.
One thing to remember is, even if you secure your dog and allow them to stick their head out of the window, they’re still at risk of eye and head injury from road debris. Ever get a chip or crack in your windshield from something like a rock flying at your car as fast as a bullet leaves a gun? Imagine that or something bigger, hitting your dog in the face, eye or head. Did your heart just sink? How many times has a bush or tree branch sideswiped the side of your vehicle? Have you ever been passed closely by a truck with majorly protruding side mirrors that looks like they’ll hit you? And what about the motorcycle drivers that speed down the spaces between lanes that startle you because they’re so close to your car? Imagine your dog's face sticking out and being hit by any one of these things? I guarantee you there are a hundred more things just like that which can injure your dog. Things you don’t expect.
There are many good safety harnesses and crates available today which prevent this kind of injury to your pets. Even metal separators are not enough to keep your pet safe. All that really does is prevent them from jumping into the front seat and hitting the dashboard in a sudden stop or accident but they still will suffer great injury if your vehicle rolls or is impacted and if the window is open in their space, they can still be ejected. If you can’t afford a safety harness, you can always loop a strong, thick leash through the seatbelt to confine your dog from moving around and while it may not be 100% affective at keeping them from being ejected, it lessens the risk significantly. Not only do I use a protective back-seat hammock so my dog can't fall off the seat onto the floor if I need to stop suddenly, it keeps my seat free from dirt, fur and toenail damage and then a proper harness system, keeps her secure in case of a sudden stop or an accident. The harness gives her enough room to stand up, turn around, move a bit from side to side and lay down when she wants to and I can still open the windows to allow her feel the breeze and sniff the air without putting her in harm’s way. If you can't afford to purchase a safety hammock, make sure to put down a towel or sheet especially if your dog is prone to car sickness, so that if you hear them vomiting, it'll be no big deal and you can just ignore it until you get home.
Many accidents occur when the driver turns around to deal with pets or children while the vehicle is in motion. Always remember that when you turn your head, you're often likely to turn your wheel in the opposite direction. Another thing that is helpful is to NOT have a car full of screaming children with a nervous dog. This can make a dog very carsick and behave in a way that they normally wouldn’t, putting children at possible risk of bite injury. For the ride home with a newly adopted pet who is already traumatized and may not like car travel, the best approach for the drive home is to have another adult or an older child with you to hold and comfort the animal if they’re not in a secured crate like a cat or a small puppy would be.
For all travel with pets, make sure you have at least a couple jugs of water, three days’ worth of both food and any medication your pet vitally needs, travel bowls, a warm blanket, treats, towels, extra collar and leash, a pet first-aid kit and toys in case you get stuck on the road due to weather, natural disasters, traffic incidents or if your vehicle breaks down. It’s also vital to have a windshield shade and shades to pull down in the back seat to keep yourself and your pets from heat exhaustion if you have the unfortunate breakdown in high heat.
If the weather is hot, make sure to offer your pet some water every 30 minutes. A newly adopted pet will be stressed and nervous and at risk of dehydration more than a calm pet, especially if the weather is warm. Include a squeaky toy or something with catnip if you have a cat travelling with you, as these things might be a refreshing and distracting sight to a nervous animal. This will help to take your pet’s mind off of their anxiety and redirect their attention on something else until you get home safely. Weather permitting, rolling down a window closest to your dog will also assist with limiting any nausea, as they'll also be distracted with smelling the air around them. This only applies if the weather isn’t too cold or too hot. Cats generally prefer a warmer, calmer environment with limited air blowing on them.
And finally, to lessen car sickness or nervousness, make sure to bring a treat your pet really loves and only use it ONLY for car rides. This way they have a chance to make a positive association with car travel. While cats have a rougher time of it because generally they don’t go in the car except to visit the vet or groomer (unless they’re the rare cat that loves car travel or their groomer), a special toy with catnip might help them to enjoy time in the car a little better. For nervous dogs, exercise prior to car travel will help them to feel calmer and some dogs actually prefer the “den-feel” of a covered crate. Many people who crate their pets but still deal with car sickness and nervousness, might want to try to cover the crate with a dark blanket, as that can actually limit the motion the animal sees through the openings in the crate and make them feel much more safe and secure.
Most people are in denial that their animals are at risk, because they’ve never had an accident - but most people will, at some point in their lives, have at least one or more fender-benders or have an animal run out in front of them. Like I said, even stopping quickly at 10 M.P.H. your pet is at risk of injury. It's actually happened....way too many times and not to mention, dogs being allowed to roam around unsecured in the back of a truck. The devastation I have seen in that regard haunts me to this day. Please, if you have a truck, secure a crate to the bed of your truck and keep your dog inside of it. The risks posed to dogs that are allowed to run around loose inside the back of a truck are 100 times greater than dogs loose inside of a vehicle.
I'm hoping this article makes a great impact on you to do something to save the life of your pets.
Driving around town with your dog (or cat) can be a fun experience for both of you but it can also be a stressful and dangerous one too. My dog lives for the times when I ask her if she wants to go for a ride. However, not all pets like the car. Thus, there are many things you need to keep in mind and prepare for before you get on the road, especially with a newly adopted pet, as you may find it very difficult to concentrate on driving, especially if your fur child becomes carsick or nervous, jumping back and forth. As a former EMT-Medic in busy Southern California, I responded to many an accident caused by driver distraction due to pets in the vehicle. It’s very sad when a dog or cat doesn't make it home because they didn’t survive the accident. What’s obviously worse, is if the driver or a passenger loses their life as well and all of this tragedy could have been prevented with a single dog harness or secured crate.