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Traveling With Pets: Driving Safely With Pets

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Tigger was a large cat who needed a large carrier.

Tigger was a large cat who needed a large carrier.

Fido and Fluffy Can Add Distractions

I have seen everything from dogs hanging out the windows to riding in the driver's lap! Neither of these practices is a good idea. In fact, they are very bad ideas for more reasons than one. Several are actually illegal.

It is not only dogs—cats can also cause major distractions to the driving process.

Beyond the assorted tips I gave in my article, Driving Safely, there are other considerations inside the car. The foremost problem after misbehaving children is poor choices made by pet owners.

Keep Your Pets Confined

For the safety of your pet, as well as everyone else in the car, be sure to restrain your animals in appropriate ways.

There are harnesses available for medium-to-large dogs that allow the animal to be buckled into the car's seat belts: in the back seat, always, please.

Small dogs should be placed inside a portable kennel/carrier. The carrier should be tied down with the seatbelt, as well. You never know when some other driver will cause you to slam on your brakes, or make a sudden swerve to avoid an accident.

Such sudden motions of the vehicle can send the carrier careening across the seat, possibly turning over in the process, and risking injury to your pet. Now, you have to deal not only with your own possible laundry problem, but an injured or freaked-out animal as well.

Cats Must Not Be Loose

With cats, a carrier is mandatory. Cats are much more easily spooked than most dogs, and it won't take much to send them into a freak-out-frenzy. If they are loose in the car, they can end up on top of your head, digging in for dear life with their sharp claws.

I once saw a fellow driving down the road with a cat riding draped around his shoulders. Cute, but not smart. If there were to be a problem, that cuteness could turn bloody in a heartbeat.

Put kitty in a cat carrier, and strap the carrier into the seatbelt to secure it. Yes, kitty may complain, but learn to tune it out. Cats can be notorious complainers, but they are just fine. They are merely vocalizing their opinion, which can safely be ignored.

Turning around to see if the cat is ok is inviting an accident because your eyes are off the road.

Be Sure to Use a Sturdy Cat Carrier

Cats may dislike being put in a carrier, but it's for their own safety, and yours!

Cats may dislike being put in a carrier, but it's for their own safety, and yours!

Dogs In Trucks

Some folks like to let their dogs ride in the backs of their pickup trucks. This is risky for the animal.

Many states now have laws that the dog must not be loose in the bed of the truck, and this makes perfect sense. Not only can a loose dog be tossed about or thrown from the bed in the event of an accident or sudden maneuver, but they can also leap out of their own accord to pursue whatever it is that catches the interest of their doggy minds.

This is dangerous in the extreme, especially if you are in traffic. Your dog can well be hit and killed or severely injured by oncoming cars, and that can also cause accidents for other drivers. You, yourself can also cause an accident because of this, if you happen to see the dog jump out, and stop or turn suddenly with nothing more on your mind than saving your dog.

Not only should a dog riding in the bed of a pickup truck be tethered, but double-tethered, so that he is unable to move to the sides of the truck. Best position for doggy is in the center, tied off to either side. Why is this? Because there have been numerous cases of dogs being tied into the truck bed, but loosely, so that if they saw something, or simply did not wish to be left behind when the owner stopped for an errand, jumped out, and were hung by their tether and strangled to death.

Such tragedies are easily avoided by use of common sense. Sadly, common sense has become rather uncommon; hence laws have been passed to force owners to double-tether dogs in the backs of trucks.

If you are tying your dog into the pickup bed, be sure he is wearing a harness. Do not tie off to his collar, because a determined or panicked dog can slip out of a collar.

Even if your truck has a full camper shell, the dog should still be restrained inside to prevent injury in the event of an accident or sudden maneuver.

Confinement is not cruelty.

Shame, Shame, Mr. President!

Franklin Roosevelt, a former President of the United States setting a bad example; and worse, in a convertible!

Franklin Roosevelt, a former President of the United States setting a bad example; and worse, in a convertible!

Dogs Hanging Out Windows

"But, my dog loves to hang out the window with her face in the breeze while we're riding!" Yes, many people believe that, and allow that. It is a bad idea on many levels. Dogs may be smart and very trainable, but they are not smart enough to recognize potential dangers while riding in a car.

First, there is the risk that the dog can fall or jump out that window, especially if it is a dog that likes to hang her paws over the top of the door and really be riding the wind. This is even truer in a convertible, as seen in the photo of President Roosevelt, above.

Second, there is that distraction factor, because your attention is going to be somewhat focused on the dog, especially if said dog is shifting between window-hanging and hanging over the back of the driver's seat.

Lastly, but equally important, there is a real risk of injury to your dog. We've all seen what happens to windshields when a stray small rock bounces off a gravel truck, or is thrown up by the wheels of the car in front. The damage ranges from a small chip to a spider-fracture of the glass.

That same piece of rock can just as easily hit your dog in the face, and I assure you, soft tissue is a lot less resistant to damage than the tempered safety glass used for car windows. Any such debris (including litter) can hit them in the face, lodge in their ears, or what have you. Dogs have been blinded and suffered other assorted injuries from road debris tossed up from the street.

If you love your dog, harness them in, and keep the windows closed, or open only a small space of an inch or so, too small for them to stick their heads through. That small inch or two of open window will let in enough air for them to stick their noses up to it, and this often will help prevent them from being car sick.

A Special Car Harness Keeps Your Pooch Safe

Use a harness to secure your dog using the car's seat belt.

Use a harness to secure your dog using the car's seat belt.

Carsickness a Problem?

If your dog has a tendency to get carsick, and that is why you want the window open for them, by all means, open a window near the dog's seating position, so he can have fresh air. Just be sure his seat belt is secure, and he cannot hang out the window.

If at all possible, withhold food for at least a couple of hours before hitting the road. It is possible also to give your dog Dramamine™ prior to a road trip. Discuss the dosage with your veterinarian, as it will vary with the size of the dog. Consult your vet for anti-nausea medications for cats.

For very short trips, such as to the vet, it is not wise to medicate, as it could mask what the vet may be checking for. In such cases, it is better to simply prepare by putting old towels in the cat's carrier, and have a spare set along for the return trip.

For dogs, there are protective moisture-resistant pads that can be used to cover the car's seat. The old "ounce of prevention" and "be prepared" mottos apply here.

Confinement Is Not Cruel

Some people seem to think that it is cruel to harness or cage a pet in the car. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is cruel to let them have free range inside the car, because it compromises their safety and yours. Confining your pets while you drive is actually an expression of your love for them.

If you love your dog or cat, please harness or cage them while you are driving.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2011 Liz Elias


Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on October 08, 2013:

Hello, Eileen Hughes,

Thanks so much for your comment. I'm glad you liked this article, and I appreciate your addition of veterinary advice that even the wind can cause damage to your dog's eyes.

Eileen Hughes from Northam Western Australia on October 08, 2013:

Well written hub full of good reasons not to have your dog or cat loose in a vehicle.

Another reason not to let your dog hang out of the window is (so a vet told me) it contributes to the dog losing its sight. The wind does effect their eyesight

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on August 15, 2012:

Hello, jose7polanco,

Yes, here in CA, you are allowed to travel with your pets. Keeping them under control is the point of the article. That is to say, you are allowed to travel with any LEGAL pets. In CA some kinds of pets are not legal to own, so before you take any exotic animals into your home or on the road, be sure to check which kinds of pets you are allowed to have.

Thanks for stopping by.

Jose Misael Polanco from Los Angeles on August 15, 2012:

Here in California you are allowed to travel with any pet or animal you want as long as you can keep control of the animal.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on July 17, 2012:

Hello, Philip DeBerard ,

Thanks for stopping by and adding your comment. You are so right that cell phones are not the only distraction while driving. Keeping your pets confined, and planning ahead are definitely important.

Philip DeBerard on July 17, 2012:

Good tips. It's easy to underestimate how difficult it can be traveling with a pet. It always pays to be prepared. Cell phones aren't the only form of distracted driving.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on December 30, 2011:

Hi, RealHousewife--

Thanks very much for the praise! You raise an excellent point about keeping birds in a carrier as well. I would hate to see a cat/bird/dog fight erupt in the back seat while driving down the freeway! ;-)

Thanks for adding to the discussion.

Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on December 29, 2011:

Hi DzyMsLizzy! Great safety tips....I have lots of pets so I was attracted to this hub naturally:). And so excited to see it has been hub of the day! So awesome!

I have several birds....I have carriers for them....some people think their parrots will never fly from their shoulder but they do if they get scared and they are not used to highway noise, usually.

I need to get car seats for my dogs:)

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on December 26, 2011:

Hello, natures47friend,

Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing. Well, we've all done things before there were laws and recommendations--heck--we grew up as kids standing up in the back seat or bouncing around before cars even had seat belts, much less strapping in pets.

So, now you know. Most vets around here require cats to be in carriers for visits, so as not to cause cat/dog incidents in the lobby. ;-)

Thanks much for the votes!

natures47friend from Sunny Art Deco Napier, New Zealand. on December 26, 2011:

Lovely hub. I was so naughty with my cat when i travelled. She had kitty litter in the back and often sat on my knee. At the vet she draped around my

Up and awesome.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on December 26, 2011:

Hello, Rachel Richmond--

Thank you so much for the compliment, and adding a comment to share. It's so true, that pets, just like kids, will try to push the envelope! Good for you on having a harness for her.

Rachel Richmond from California on December 26, 2011:

Excellent hub! I have to agree with you about pets being a distraction if they aren't secured. Our dog loves to "push her luck" and see if she can climb to the front every time we put her in the car ..haha.. but she never makes it. She is harnessed in. It's a comfort to know she is safer in the back.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on December 26, 2011:

Hi again, randomcreative! Thank you so very much!

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on December 26, 2011:

I just came back to say congrats on getting Hub of the Day!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on December 26, 2011:

Hello, baygirl33--I'm glad you found the article so useful. I do hope your daughter finds a harness for her pooch to avoid potential injury or heartbreak. Thanks very much for the vote!

victoria from Hamilton On. on December 26, 2011:

I'm hoping to send your hub to my daughter who always rides with her dog unleashed.It is an accident waiting to happen.Thank you for sharing.voted you up.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on December 26, 2011:

@ cabmgmnt--Hello, and thank you for adding that information. You can, indeed, be ticketed for having your dog untethered.

@ cclitgirl--Thanks much, and good for you! I hope your doggie adjusts well to the new seat belt harness. Introduce it gradually with short trips.

@ SanneL--Thanks so much for adding your comment, and brava for you on restraining your pooch! You are correct--our pets are no less members of our families, and should be treated with the same care and concern for their safety. Thanks much as well for the compliment and the kudos!

@ Mary615--Hello, and thank you very much for the congrats, and for adding that important tidbit. It is indeed very much easier if crate or harness training is begun when the animal is young. And yes, small dogs do as well in a travel crate as cats. I'm pleased that you liked the article and found it useful.

@ VictoriaLynn--Good for you--and even a special booster seat for doggie! How cool is that?! I know what you mean about it being crazy-making to see pets loose in a vehicle. Thanks very much for the praise, the kudos and the follow!

@ Pollyannalana--Thanks very much for adding your comment. You make an excellent point. I'm pleased you found the hub useful.

@ Sunshine625--LOL--I had a dog that didn't much like to ride in the car. Trouble was, we had a good-sized yard, so the only car rides he got were to the vet. He'd stary crying as soon as he saw the parking lot. I'm glad you enjoyed the Hub. Thanks very much for the praise, kudos and the vote!

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on December 26, 2011:

DzyMzLizzy...Congrats on Hub Of The Day!! It's fantastic!! My dog doesn't like the car so she doesn't travel well at all. Voted UP!!

Pollyannalana from US on December 26, 2011:

Glad you use common sense. Many spoil their pets just like their kids and don't think of safety first. Great advice. Very useful.

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on December 26, 2011:

Voted up, useful, interesting, awesome! It drives me crazy to see pets loose in a vehicle. I put my dog in a harness and then hook him up in his booster seat so that he can see where we're going. I put it in the back seat just where a child's seat would go. I am bad to move it to the front when we just make short trips around town. On long trips, I do move him to the back, but I know I should always do so. Great hub! I hope many people read it and listen! Congrats on hub of the day. I thought I was following you already, but I know I am now!

Mary Hyatt from Florida on December 26, 2011:

Congrats on the Hub of the Day! Very informative Hub. I keep my two little dogs in their carrier when they are in the car. You just have to start when they are very young. Now, they just hop right in.

SanneL from Sweden on December 26, 2011:

Great hub with great advice!

I do use seat-belt for my dog. He should be as protected when riding the car as the rest of my family.

Congratulations on this well-deserved hub of the day.

Thank you

Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on December 26, 2011:

Great advice. And...I should follow it. I am heading out to get a seat-belt for my dog. :)

Corey from Northfield, MA on December 26, 2011:

My mother received a traffic ticket for not having her dog tethered. This is good advice.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on December 26, 2011:

@ pstraubie48--Indeed--I know exactly what you mean. Here in California, they've actually made a law that dogs in pickup trucks must be double-tethered, yet many people still ignore that precaution. And kitty "songs" from their carriers, oh, how well I know them all! Each cat sings a different tune! Thanks so much for stopping by and adding to the discussion, and thanks for the votes!

@ gmwilliams--thank you very much. I'm glad you liked the article and the photo of my big cat.

@ Thelma Alberts--Thanks for the kudos--much appreciated, and I'm glad you found something useful here to keep your doggie safe.

@ Peggy W--Thank you very much for stopping by. I appreciate your input and the votes. I know what you mean about the 'cringe' factor!'

@ RTalloni--Thank you very much for the kudos! What a horrible thing to have happened to that dog! So glad to learn of a happy ending. And yes, criminal, and hopefully a lesson learned, indeed!

@ Happyboomernurse--Thank you very much! I'm glad you found the article useful--I do hope lives will be saved. (I can't think of a good outcome with the driver I once saw struggling with a cat on his head!) Thanks very much also, for the votes and the congrats.

@ leahlefler--Thank you very much! Wow, that must've been a long trip indeed! I trust neither of the cats were Siamese--you'd really have endured "operatic" protests--we have a kitten who is a Siamese mix, and on the way home from the vet after his neuter surgery, (only 5 miles, mind you), we endured an aria that sounded like nothing so much as a British ambulance or police siren; that diatonic, "OOO-waaaa, OOO-waaaa, OOO,waaaa." I'm pleased you liked the article, and glad to know a fellow kitty-lover.

@ labnol--thank you very much for the congrats, and I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

@ CASE1WORKER--Thank you very much! I am so happy that you liked this article.

You are oh, so correct that this advice applies equally, if not more so on boats! Years ago, (before the economic collapse), we had a boat. At that time, we had a dog and just a single cat. They both came with us, and yes, we had life jackets on them the entire time we were aboard, whether at dock or underway. If it got rough, I shut them down below in the cabin.

LOL at the similarity of our cats--your "Tiggy" and my "Tigger."

CASE1WORKER from UNITED KINGDOM on December 26, 2011:

A great hub with lots of really good advice which hopefully people will follow. We went on a boating holiday in the summer and the company provides life jackets for dogs, in case they fall in and you dont realise

The cat in the photo looks just like my Tiggy!!

labnol on December 26, 2011:

Good Hub. Voted up.

Congo for 'Hub of the Day' award.

Leah Lefler from Western New York on December 26, 2011:

Congratulations on your hub of the day! We once traveled from California to New York with two cats in the car. That was a LONG five days of travel! We found out that Holiday Inns typically accept pets, and we made good use of them on the road ways. Our cats were leash trained, though, so that did help at rest stops! Great advice!!

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on December 26, 2011:

Excellent hub with some potentially life saving advice (for humans as well as animals). Congrats on Hub of the Day. I hope that recognition will bring more readers to this hub as this hub is very well written and quite comprehensive.

Voted up, useful, awesome and interesting.

RTalloni on December 26, 2011:

Congrats on Hub of the Day for a helpful and important hub!

My friend and I saw a large black dog get tossed out of an open Jeep in a 5 lane intersection full of traffic as the driver turned a corner. It was heartbreaking, but amazing to see every car come to a full stop as we approached the area and allow the driver to ease to the side and pick the dog up. It was an accident and it was criminal at the same time. The young driver learned a hard lesson that day, I hope.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 26, 2011:

Well deserved hub of the day! This is excellent advice for people traveling with their pets. I cringe when I see a dog in the back of a truck. It is just so dangerous! Voted up and useful.

Thelma Alberts from Germany on December 26, 2011:

Very good and useful advice. Thanks for sharing these tips as I have a dog. Congratulation for the Hub of the Day.

Grace Marguerite Williams from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on December 26, 2011:

This is quite an informative hub. I especially loved the beautiful and cute little kitty!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on December 26, 2011:

So many of these things that you have cautioned about, I see happening on a daily basis. I always am so nervous when I see a dog in the back of a truck. The ...precious family dog back there waiting to hop out...or be thrown out by a rut in the road.

I have kitties, and, while I am not thrilled by the song she sings from her carrier when we travel, I know I must keep here there.

Thanks for sharing this info...voted up...and useful.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on December 13, 2011:

Hello, mathira--

Thanks so much for your comment--I'm pleased you liked this article.

mathira from chennai on December 13, 2011:

Good hub about how to travel with pets.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on November 02, 2011:

Hi, Simone--

Thanks very much. I know what you mean.. I see that, and wish I had a legal way to force them to pull over and give them 'what for!'

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on November 02, 2011:

More excellent advice!! I've seen so many cars with pets just running around inside- I get so nervous about them falling out! I hope as many people as possible read this guide- and change their ways!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on November 02, 2011:

Hello, arusho--

Thank you very much for stopping by. I'm pleased you liked the article. I know what you mean about trying to hold a cat still in a towel. I never tried it while driving, but we had a cat when my kids were young that needed to be wrapped up trying to trim his claws ... as you can imagine, that didn't work out very well, either. ;-)

arusho from University Place, Wa. on November 02, 2011:

DzyMsLizzy - great article, I remember when I was a kid we would take my cat to the vet. I would be desperately holding on to her as she was squirming about. Of course she would meow the whole way there. I don't know why we never used a crate, we just wrapped her in a towel. A lot of good the towel did!!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on November 01, 2011:

Hello, Om--I'm glad you found the tips useful, and I hope your mom does as well, to keep her pet safe.

Thanks much for your input.

Om Paramapoonya on October 31, 2011:

Thanks for these smart tips. I'll forward your hub to my mom. She often travels with her dog. And yeah, she needs to stop letting him hang out the window!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on October 29, 2011:

Hello, randomcreative--

Thanks very much. I know exactly what you mean. I'm glad you found the article informative.

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 29, 2011:

Great topic for a hub! I cringe every time I see a dog on a driver's lap or running around the car. It can be tough to keep pets contained, especially for longer trips, but it's in everyone's best interest to do so. Thanks for these detailed tips for traveling with dogs and cats.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on October 29, 2011:

Hello, MsDora,

Thank you very much for the vote! I'm pleased you found the article useful.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 29, 2011:

This is a very useful hub. So voted. I've always wondered about dogs driving loose in the pickup. Otherwise, most pets seems so handsomely n control of themselves when they're riding.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on October 29, 2011:

@ chamilj: Thank you very much. I'm glad you liked the article.

@ doodlebugs: Yes, indeed. Dogs goofing off in the backseat can indeed cause major distractions. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your experience.

@ JustAskSusan: I agree--cats in the back window--asking for trouble; dogs loose in pickup beds, I feel like pulling up next to them and saying, "Hey! Don't you love your dog?"

Thank you so much for the compliment.

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on October 29, 2011:

Great advise. I hate seeing dogs in the back of pick up trucks. The seat belts for dogs was a great invention. When I see cats on the back window ledge of a car it worries me, for the safety of the animal and for the passengers and driver.

Awesome Hub!

Nolen Hart from Southwest on October 29, 2011:

At first I laughed when my wife bought seat belt attachments for our dog, but they really make traveling easier. No more lunging at squirrels and bouncing around in the back seat.

chamilj from Sri Lanka on October 29, 2011:

Thanks for the tips and recommendations to travel with Pets safely.