Over 35% of households in the United States own companion animals like dogs and cats (2012 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook). And if you consider your pet to be a family member like six out of ten pet owners in the US, pet car safety should be a top priority.

Even if you don’t bring your pet in the car regularly, you’ll probably need to coax them into your vehicle every once in a while. On average, households owning pets visit the vet 2.6 times per year: that’s justification enough to read up on getting there safely.

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How to Stay Safe With a Pet in the Car

Safely transporting your pets in the car isn’t as simple as letting them hop in the front seat. Before you get on the road, prepare for the journey so that you and your pet passengers stay out of harm’s way.

cat in car, carrier
Photo by Parker Morse

Believe it or not, your pet should be buckled in, too, with the help of a carrier. Not only could a spooked or rambunctious pet on the loose lead to distracted driving, but an animal roaming freely in the car is in danger (and dangerous to other passengers) in the event of a crash.

Pet stores sell a variety of carriers available for dogs and cats, which you can then harness during drives. There are a few best practices for choosing the right one and using it correctly:

  • Purchase a carrier that your pet can sit, stand, and turn around in.
  • Don’t just set the carrier on the seat. Make sure that you buckle the carrier using a seatbelt, or that you secure the carrier via other means.
  • The Humane Society advises putting your pet in the back seat, since a deployed airbag in the front seat could harm your pet.

Once your pet has the right in-car setup, make sure that you leave extra time to travel every time they come along. Rides can be unpredictable with pet passengers, so eliminate stress by heading out earlier than usual.

Keeping Your Pet Content on the Drive

Car rides are easier if everyone involved is happy, and pets are no exception! Take special care to keep your pets content when you make a car journey.

Plan to Stay Hydrated

Yes, it’s important for you to drink plenty of water, too. But for your pet, remember to always keep a travel container in the car that you can fill up.

Don’t Drive a Pet on an Empty (or Full) Stomachdog in back seat

Even dogs can get a little carsick sometime. It helps if your pets have eaten a solid meal a few hours before any journey you’re going to make in the car. Don’t forget to bring emergency snacks for your pet in case you’re out for longer than you intended.

Make Sure Your Pet Has Proper ID

Not all pets like being in the car. If your loyal friend has ever bolted from the vehicle the moment the door opened, you know you’ll want them to have proper identification (and a leash!). Take extra precaution when bringing your pets on the road by ensuring that they are wearing all collars, tags, and other relevant identification info.

Keep a Leash and Toys in the Car

If your dog gets too antsy, pull over for playtime. A rowdy pet is a dangerous driving distraction, so it’s better to tire them out than to put yourself and other passengers at risk. In fact, going for a long walk or playing a game of fetch before a drive could make for a less anxious journey.

car backseatNever Leave a Pet in the Car!

Leaving a pet in the car for even a short period of time is dangerous. The Humane Society website states that “when it's 72 degrees Fahrenheit outside, the temperature inside your car can heat up to 116 degrees Fahrenheit within an hour,” a temperature that poses serious health threats to your pet. Never plan to leave your companion in your vehicle, no matter how short the errand may seem.

Road Trips: The Additional Considerations

In addition to the previous tips, there are a few special considerations for longer road trips:

  • If your pet isn’t used to regular trips in the car, make sure you acclimate them before planning a long road trip. Get them adjusted to spending hours in the car by taking them on shorter rides first.
  • If you’re planning to cross state lines, bring your pet’s vaccination records. You may be asked for them.
  • Finding a friend (a fellow homo sapien, that is) can make road trips easier, especially if a pet is involved. They can rein in chaos in the car and help you keep an eye on your pet at rest stops.

You’ll enjoy a better drive when your pet is a happy passenger.

Photo credit (top image): Caitlin Downing