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Car Safety: Common Approaches to Keeping Dogs Safe on the Road

Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on May 13, 2018
Posted in Dog

Dog owners do not want their pet to suffer on a road trip. However, not taking adequate precautions can lead to motion sickness, nausea, choking and potential injury for a beloved companion pet. Dog owners can take steps to keep their dog happy and healthy on the road.

What are some of the security options and tips to support the needs of dogs on longer trips? Keep reading below to learn about a number of common approaches available to help keep your dog safe while traveling.

Securing a Dog

Whether it is a child or man’s best friend, unsecured members of the family can be seriously injured in a car accident. This makes it necessary to take precautions in securing a dog while on a road trip or a ride to the dog park. There are a range of options dog owners may take to secure their pet and keep them from harm, including:

  • A dog harness seat belt
  • A zipline harness
  • A dog crate
  • A carry box
  • A dog guard
  • A back-seat hammock
  • A back-seat barrier

These car safety options may not suit all dogs and some give more ability for a dog to move about than others. The temperament and size of a dog may make it necessary to choose one option over another. Nervous or anxious dogs may prefer the carry box or zipline harness. The carry box is only suitable with smaller breeds, while something like the back-seat barrier is for larger breeds. More relaxed and well-behaved dogs can be secured using a dog harness or dog crate. Make sure to install any harness or additional dog security product properly.

Managing Rover on the Road

Dog owners need to understand how to best schedule a longer car trip for a dog. Dogs that are not accustomed to lengthy travel in a vehicle need to start off with building up a tolerance during shorter trips.

Dogs, like humans, can experience motion sickness and it is good to be aware of this issue and be able to address it with a trusted veterinarian before taking off on a long trip. In addition, other ways to safeguard a pet’s health while on the road include:

  • Scheduling a number of stops while on a trip. Dogs can run around and do their business, then be more manageable in the vehicle.
  • Not feeding a dog while the car is in motion. Dogs should be fed a minimum of three hours before starting off on the trip. Treats are not recommended while driving as a dog could easily choke.
  • Keeping the AC on for a dog and the vehicle well-ventilated can help maintain a dog’s comfort.
  • Not allowing a dog to put their head out of the window. Dogs can risk dry eyes or injury when any body part remains outside of a moving vehicle.

Dog owners should be aware of a dog’s tolerances to taking a longer trip. Precautions should be taken in order to avoid potential illness or injury, in addition to a possible accident when an owner attempts to address the needs of a sick or choking pet while driving.

It is useful to speak with a trusted veterinarian to learn of measures you can take to make long rides easier on a dog and reduce any possible anxiety or discomfort, depending on the personality and needs of a specific dog.

Understanding Pet Safety in Cars

Not all cars are built the same. Some cars may be difficult for dogs to enter or leave by jumping, increasing the chances of injury in a pet. Know the vehicle’s ground clearance and how to potentially create a lower entrance point for older dogs or those with mobility issues. A ramp may be particularly useful for older dogs or large, heavy breeds. Owners with health issues or who may not be comfortable lifting pets will also benefit from such an arrangement.

When it comes to riding in a vehicle, the location of where a dog rides is important. Pets should never ride in the front seat. Not only can they serve as a distraction, they may be injured from hard dash board surfaces and airbags should an accident occur. Injuries can be severe or fatal to a dog. Owners of large dogs and who drive an SUV would do well to have their pet ride behind a protective screen in the cargo area.

Create a soft surface to lie upon and make sure that air circulation is sufficient. There should be plenty of space left around a dog crate. A dog should fit inside a crate with an estimated six inches of additional space in length. Crates then need to be secured with cargo area anchor straps that are strength-rated. Such straps are also needed if a dog is traveling in a covered pickup truck and the crate needs secure attachment to the pickup bed.

Knowing the Law in Your State

Dog owners should be aware that states, such as Maine, Connecticut and Illinois, are taking steps to ban drivers from riding with a dog in their lap. There may also be a law in New Jersey that would make it a requirement for pets to wear seatbelts. A dog that is not safely secured may incur multiple injuries, including severe trauma, ruptured lungs and broken bones.

Pet owners should be aware of the car restraint options available and to make sure that their pet is safely secured during any car trip. Ensure that any restraint chosen is the proper size for a dog by taking measurements of the animal’s neck and chest before ordering a product.

Responsible dog owners do their best to protect a pet from injury or trauma. New dog owners or those needing more information may want to discuss suitable precautions and additional tips with their veterinarian.

Read also: Spooked and Startled: How to Desensitize Your Dog to its Fears

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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