In my article about travel anxiety in pets I review steps that can help prevent that as well as carsickness in dogs. So hopefully you are now more likely to take your hounds along on future road trips – and hopefully they are more likely to enjoy it, too. But if you’re going to take your dogs or cats along on long car trips (or even short ones around town), doing so safely is of paramount importance. So in this article, I’d like to highlight this vitally important aspect of pet travel – that of pet travel restraint.
Now I know this isn’t exactly a very ‘sexy’ topic, but then, neither was travel anxiety and carsickness, and a lot of you read and shared that article. My hope is that you’ll do both en mass for this one, too, and help keep many more pets safe. So please, regardless of your views about pet travel restraint at this point, just give this article a read. Because, as long-winded as it is – though I prefer to think of it as exhaustive and complete – I will be bringing up some points that you likely haven’t considered, or ever been exposed to before. And I’ll be highlighting and discussing some different means of pet travel restraint, too.
The Case For Restraint:
- Proper restraints are vital for ensuring safe car rides of any distance with pets.
- Unrestrained pets can cause and worsen accidents for themselves, you, and other drivers.
- Restraint can be simple, easy, and even stylish.
- It’s important not only for you to restrain your pets, but to encourage others to do so, too.
Please realize that the importance of pet travel restraint truly cannot be overstated – it affects absolutely everyone, including those without pets. In fact, for many people, once they’re aware of all the benefits of pet travel restraint, and how important and easy it is, they become fast and complete converts – often encouraging their pet-owning friends and family members to do so, too. I hope that you will become one of those people, if you aren’t already.
So what exactly are the benefits of pet travel restraint?
As I’ve already alluded to, pet travel restraint isn’t just about protecting your pets in the event of an accident or sudden stop. It protects them from a variety of other illnesses and injuries, as well. And just in case your pet’s safety isn’t a good enough reason for you to take these simple steps, then consider the fact that proper pet travel restraint also protects you, your passengers, and everybody else on the road as well.
Take a look at the list of benefits I’ve compiled below. See how many you were aware of. Let me know in the comments if you can think of any others.
Benefits of pet travel restraint for your pets
- Protection from being thrown into the windshield, back of a seat, or dashboard in the event of an accident or shortstop – preventing painful and debilitating injuries, some of which can be fatal
- Protection from being thrown out of the vehicle in the event of an accident or sudden stop – preventing injuries and death from hitting the road or another object, from getting struck by another vehicle, and keeping your pets from becoming lost
- Protection from being hit by a car, by preventing your pets from bolting out of your vehicle when you open your doors upon arriving at your destination
- Protection from a range of toxicities, by preventing your pets from eating the variety of pet poisons we often travel with in our car (incl. chocolate, xylitol and nicotine gums, medications, and many others)
- Protection from food bloat, by keeping your pets away from their bulk kibble supply when traveling with a large bag of food on a long trip
- Protection from being hit by a car or becoming lost, by preventing your pets from jumping out of an open car window or the back of a truck while at a stop sign or traffic light
- Decreased stress and anxiety -- many pets are less anxious during travel when they feel more secure, be it in a crate, harness, or other
Benefits of pet travel restraint for you & your passengers
- Protection from severe injuries and possible death, by preventing your pets from becoming high velocity and extremely forceful projectiles in the event of an accident or sudden stop
- Overall decreased risk of accidents, by preventing your pets from nudging your elbow, getting by your feet, or otherwise becoming a distraction while you drive
- Allowing for faster emergency medical attention in the event of a crash, as first responders don’t have to be distracted by an unrestrained and fearful pet who may view them as a threat to your safety and try to protect you from your rescuers
- Financial savings for you –there are laws and statutes on the books in some states and municipalities that require pet travel restraints, or at least restrict where in a vehicle a pet can travel
Benefits for everybody else on the road
- General protection from accidents by preventing your pets from nudging your elbow, getting by your feet, or otherwise becoming a distraction while you’re driving
- General protection from accidents by preventing your pets from jumping out of an open car window or the back of a truck while at a stop sign or traffic light
- Protection from being secondarily caught up in an accident, by preventing your pets from being thrown out of your vehicle in the event of an accident or shortstop
- Protection for emergency medical personnel and other first responders, by preventing your injured, fearful, or confused pet from biting them in a misplaced effort to protect you as these people attempt to administer (potentially life-saving) medical care to you and anybody else involved in the accident
* Realize that you and your loved ones are “everybody elses” when it comes to whether or not other people decide to practice safe pet travel. So it’s not only in your best interest to properly restrain your pets during travel, it’s also in your best interest (and those whom you love) to encourage and educate everybody else to do so, too. So again, please share this post and encourage your veterinarian, groomer, local animal rescue groups and local pet store to share it, too. The more people who know about the importance and ease of pet travel restraint, the better it is for everybody.
Okay, so what does ‘proper pet travel restraint’ entail anyway?
I’m glad you asked - this is the fun part! Hopefully I now have you convinced of the importance of pet travel restraint, now I get to share with you the ease (and, in some cases, the style) of it, too.
There are lots of great products out there on the market today that can help you properly and safely restrain your pets during travel. But it’s important to point out that there are sadly plenty of products out there that aren’t likely to stand up to a real life test. And this is why I keep highlighting proper pet travel restraint. After all, if you’re going to make the effort to restrain your pets, it’d be nice to know that you’re doing it right. Right?
Now I’ve already shown you that pet travel restraint is about more than just preventing your pets from becoming dangerous projectiles in the event of a crash or sudden stop. So even a cheap harness that doesn’t actually keep your pet from flying through the car as you slam on the breaks will confer some safety benefits for your pet. As will a carrier or crate that isn’t strapped in. But none of those are going to provide as many of the aforementioned safety benefits – and they may even decrease safety for you, your passengers, and the rest of the people on the road, too.
This is why it’s always important to look for harnesses, booster seats, carriers, and crates that have actually been crash or strength tested. This is also why it’s always important to belt in or strap down all carriers and crates, and ensure that all cargo barriers are securely fastened to your vehicle.
Okay, I’m a convert. What are my options for proper pet travel restraint?
- Travel-specific harnesses:
- These are harnesses for dogs that are designed specifically with reliable auto restraint in mind.
- Some are also effective and comfortable for short walks when at your destination or while en route, but they should not be ‘general purpose’ harnesses designed for long walks or other uses.
- You should always look for one that has either been crash tested or one that has otherwise been subjected to the forces that it claims to withstand.
- Booster seats
- These are open seats that either rest on your vehicle’s existing seats or are suspended some distance above your vehicle’s existing seats by straps that attach to the existing seatback.
- Most people use these to elevate their smaller dogs (and possibly cats) so that their pets can see more easily out the windows.
- Many of these booster seats include straps that can be attached to your pet’s collar or harness to prevent possible jumping out However, , if attached to your pet’s collar, these could also function to hang your pet in the event he did try to jump out of the booster, or if he were thrown in the event of a crash or shortstop. Always attach these straps to your pet’s harness, not the collar.
- It is vitally important to recognize the danger in using these booster seats in the front passenger area – an airbag deployment is likely to injure or kill your pet. So, unless your vehicle lacks a front passenger airbag, or you can temporarily disable it, it’s best to use such seats in the back of the vehicle (if at all).
- My personal opinion is that booster seats are semi-useless as far as pet safety is concerned. The safer option for smaller dogs (and for all cats) is to use a carrier.
- Be they soft-sided or hard, carriers can be an excellent and safe way to transport cats and smaller dogs during travel – as long as the carriers themselves are belted in, strapped down, or otherwise secured in the back seat or cargo area.
- Many carriers have a built in way to either pass the car’s seatbelt through or attach LATCH clips to. Either will help to secure the carrier to the vehicle allowing for you to derive the greatest safety benefit from utilizing them.
- There are many excellent carriers out there on the market for you to choose from. A few of particular note are the Sleepypod and the Air carriers by Sleepypod, and the Comfort Carrier by Bergan. The Sleepypod has even been crash tested – safe, easy to use AND stylish… bonus!
- Like the carriers above, crates for dogs can be either hard or soft-sided. There will, of course, be benefits and drawbacks to both types with the ultimate decision of which type is better being dependent on personal choice and a few important factors (desired strength, portability, air flow, and certain others criteria).
- Also in similarity to the carriers, it is important that the crate you choose be easily and effectively tethered to the seat or cargo area when transporting your dogs. You can use kayak straps or other tie-downs, but your safest bet is to use Bergan tethers (or another safety rated strap). And while bungee cords are certainly better than nothing, they are not even remotely your best option.
- Crates can be a great option for larger dogs who do not tolerate being in a safety harness, and they are an excellent option for dogs riding in open beds of pick up trucks (so long as the crate itself is secured to the truck bed and immobilized to prevent it from tumbling or being thrown from the truck).
- Cargo area barriers
- These barriers can improve safety by keeping your dogs out of the front seats and by preventing them from getting into toxins and other hazards in the front of the car.
- The two big weaknesses I see in using this type of confinement exclusively are (1) barriers that aren’t actually attached to the roof and floor of the car are liable to pop off in the event of a crash, allowing your dog and the barrier to come flying into the front seats, and (2) these barriers do nothing to prevent your dog’s escape from the vehicle in the event of an accident, or when you just open the back gate of the vehicle.
- If your dog is used to traveling behind such a barrier, consider securing your dog in the cargo area through the additional use of a travel harness. Many vehicles these days have the top LATCH anchor points on the back of the back seats, a carabineer tether (such as that on the Bergan) or one of the LATCH specific tethers can be used to attach to it. For those cars without the LATCH anchors, you can secure the tether to a sturdy metal cargo area tie-down.
- Pick up truck options – a special circumstance…
- This is a hugely important area of pet travel safety! How many of you have seen the big dog riding unrestrained in the open bed of a pick up truck? And now how many of you have seen such dogs jump or be thrown from these trucks? Truck travel restraint is so very important, and yet it is so infrequently done (or done properly).
- There are really only two safe and effective means of restraint for dogs riding in the open bed of a pick up truck – (1) in an immobilized crate or (2) with a proper tethering system attached to a harness. I emphasize harness because attachment to a collar is certainly not safe, and it’s often ineffective, too. Many dogs have been hung when they jump or are thrown from the back of the truck when restraint has been attempted through the use of a leash and collar.
I think it’s time to bring this article to a close. I’ve provided you with 15 reasons why I believe proper pet travel restraint to be important, as well as some easy means and products for achieving proper pet travel restraint. Can you think of any other reasons or products? Do you disagree? Would you like to share some reasons not to restrain pets during travel? Do you have any pet travel experiences – good or bad – that you’d like to share?
Please share your views (one way or the other), stories, and ideas via the contact form on our website.
Happy (and safe) travels everybody! Please consider taking the Paws To Click ‘pledge’ to travel safely with your pets, and please also check out the results of a the joint survey conducted by Kurgo and AAA for statistics on pet travel safety.
And don’t forget to share this and spread the word, many lives depend on it. Don’t forget, the accident that almost killed Steven King involved a driver who was distracted by his dog.