Safety tips for traveling with pets

Dr. David Tayman advises pet owners to secure animals in crates, carriers or harnesses when traveling in the car.
Dr. David Tayman advises pet owners to secure animals in crates, carriers or harnesses when traveling in the car. (Photo courtesy of iStock)

Q: Now that our puppy and kitten are growing up, we’d like to take them with us on car trips and driving vacations. Any pet-travel safety tips?

A: The first simple rule, whether it’s a short trip to the vet or a long drive to the beach: Pets should not ride loose in any vehicle. Depending on the pet and the size of both the pet and the vehicle, our furry friends should be in an appropriate carrier or crate, or harnessed in place. Why? A few important reasons:

1. Loose pets are a major cause of driver distraction. They can cause you to take your eyes off the road, get underfoot, even bump a console shift lever out of gear. Any of these could cause an accident.

2. What happens if you make a short stop or have an accident? Thanks to physics, when your car stops, your unrestrained pet doesn’t. Barkbuckleup.com notes that an unrestrained 60-pound dog moving at 35 miles per hour becomes a 2,700-pound projectile capable of causing grave injury or death to itself and human passengers.

3. Unrestrained pets can escape out open doors or windows before you can stop them. When they do, they can run into traffic and get hurt or killed.

The Humane Society of the United States urges us to put pets in travel-type crates that can be secured in place with the vehicle’s shoulder belt or other straps or cords. As with children, pets are safest in the backseat, where they can’t be injured by dashboard air bags. Consumer Reports notes that many wagons, SUVs and minivans have cargo area tie-down hooks, which make it easier to secure a crate in the “way back,” as we used to call it.
If the dog’s crate is too big to fit in your car, get a sturdy harness designed to tether a dog to the car’s shoulder belt. This allows him to sit up or lie down, but it keeps him in the back where he belongs. A cautionary note: There are currently no performance standards for pet-restraint harnesses. The nonprofit Center for Pet Safety tested harnesses in 2013 with crash-test dog dummies, holding them to the same standards as child safety seats. None of the harnesses passed.  Still, a harness is better than nothing and reduces driver distraction by pets under normal driving conditions.
Cats absolutely belong in carriers, for their safety as well as yours. Secure the carrier by wrapping the seat belt around the front of it.
 Most cats aren’t thrilled with car travel in the first place. Prepare for trips by introducing the carrier at home in situations other than visits to the vet. Try feeding meals in the carrier and using special treats and toys as lures to get your cat to go in willingly. It is possible to condition cats to have relatively positive associations with carriers. If your cat is cooperative, she’s likely to be a happier travel companion.
If you’re taking a long trip, stop every couple of hours to let pets out for potty and leg-stretching breaks. But be careful: Securely leash dogs and cats before you open carriers and car doors. And make sure they have both ID microchips and collar tags.
A Humane Society reminder: Never leave pets alone in a car. Pets can get very upset and stressed on even a brief rest stop. And closed cars — even with windows slightly opened — heat up quickly. On a pleasant 72-degree day, the temperature inside a car can reach 116 degrees in an hour. On a summer day, a car interior can hit 100 degrees in 10 minutes. Even short exposure to such temperatures can mean organ damage or death for an animal. So don’t risk it.
If possible, travel with one or more human companions to help out. At rest stops, travel buddies can take turns going inside and watching over car and pets. Extra hands help keep pets safe and secure while you’re on the road.
If your pets are prone to car sickness or anxiety, your veterinarian can help you choose from a variety of options that may reduce or eliminate queasiness or anxiety. Consumer Reports suggests bringing paper towels and cleanup supplies in case your pet has an upset stomach or “accident” en route.  

For other helpful travel tips:

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