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Traveling With Pets: Driving Safely With Pets

Liz loves animals. Seeing them ill, hurt, or killed breaks her heart. She advocates for "adopt, don't shop" and TNR programs for feral cats.

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.

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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.