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Dog car safety

The essentials

  • Dog car safety is critical — It’s unclear how many dogs die in car crashes each year. Still, AAA estimates that unrestrained pets that distract drivers result in thousands of accidents.
  • Look for CPS certification — The Center for Pet Safety uses rigorous, unbiased criteria to test and certify pet products.
  • Practice makes perfect — Condition your dogs for travel. By slowly increasing the trip length, you can reduce stress and make the actual car adventure more fun for everyone.

The importance of car safety for dogs

Nothing says Americana like a road trip. About three-quarters of adults consider their pets their fur babies, so it’s no surprise you may want to bring your pup along for the ride.

As you plan for your road trip, you’ll want to put dog car safety on your itinerary. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • Veterinarians treat hundreds of car injuries each yearOne survey reported that 71% of 141 Massachusetts veterinarians had treated a total of 592 pups in one year due to injuries from riding in a truck bed.
  • Unrestrained dogs are a form of distracted driving — One in five drivers admits to driving with an unrestrained pup. AAA believes this distraction may cause tens of thousands of car accidents every year. Even if they’re not the cause of an accident, your pet may be critically injured in a crash or an escape from one.
  • Heatstroke can be avoided — Every year, hundreds of pets die of heat exhaustion from being left inside parked vehicles. Temperatures rise quickly — even if the window is cracked .

You’ll want to brush up on car safety for dogs and put a few items on your packing list for all these reasons — and the fact that you simply love your dog.

👉 Keep in mind out-of-pocket costs for emergency vet care can get pricey. Pet insurance can help you pay for all or part of your pup’s care.

4 vet-approved accessories

Humans buckle up before hitting the roadthe same goes for pets. A restrained pup one limited from moving around the cabin — reduces distractions and the risk of injury or death if a car crash happens. Make your trip safer for your pet by investing in the right products.

1. Dog crates

When used in the house, crates are like dens to dogs, but they can be life-saving in the car. Position a dog crate in the back seat of your vehicle,  and secure it with a seatbelt. You can cover the front of the crate loosely with a light blanket to reduce the risk of motion sickness and ease your pup’s anxiety. You’ll want a sturdy rate that’s the right size for your pet.

Impact Stationary Dog Crate

Good for: Medium or larger pups. The sizes run from 34 to 48 inches long. Pet parents who have to carry the crate or load it into the car will love the lightweight construction and sturdy handles.

Why our vets love it: Impact’s stationary dog crate is sturdy and durable. Impact’s website is also loaded with human-friendly features, like the ability to see how the crate would look in your car and a sizing guide. The right-sized crate is essential in ensuring your pup remains safe and sound. Also, Impact’s lifetime warranty gives vets and pet parents additional confidence.

We love the Diggs Revol Dog Crate for smaller pups. It’s made of sturdy, high-grade aluminum. The crate is also collapsable, so it’s easy to stash in the car or hotel room when you’re not using it.

2. Harnesses & seatbelts

Dog car safety harnesses and seatbelts are good to have, regardless of other safety measures you’re taking. A dog seatbelt works like a human one, but it clips to the pup’s collar. A safety harness works with your car’s seatbelt system. It goes around the chest and body of the dog and restricts movement even more.

Sleepypod Clickit Sport

Good for: Any breeds that won’t be in a carrier or crate. The CPS five-star rating applies to dogs 18 to 90 pounds. It’s dynamic, too, because it doubles as a walking harness.

Why our vets love it: The CPS certification means the product received an objective, comprehensive review by safety experts. Pet parents can trust that this dog car safety harness will likely provide maximum protection. The harness restricts lateral and forward movement to keep your pet secure in case of a sudden stop or crash.

The Kurgo Tru-Fit Enhanced Strength Harness was crash-tested for dogs up to 75 pounds in a university setting using child car-seat standards. It comes with a seatbelt tether and lifetime warranty and is machine-washable.

3. Carry boxes

Carry boxes are great for small breeds. More than 30,000 people have given Henkelion’s dog carrier a 4.7-star rating on Amazon.

Henkelion dog carrier

Good for: Henkelion’s dog carrier is ideal for small dogs prone to anxiety. It keeps them in one safe space so they won’t pace. Place a loose blanket over the top of the carrier to reduce anxiety further, and they’ll be able to breathe thanks to the carrier’s mesh material.

Why our vets love it: Our vets like the high marks from previous buyers — they lend credibility to the product. The durable, lightweight mesh and polyester material ensure it’s breathable and comfy.

4. Backseat hammocks

Hammocks typically have belts and tabs that pet owners can secure to the vehicle’s backseat. A car safety dog harness or seat belt is still necessary when using these hammocks to keep dogs secure so that they cannot move around throughout the car or run away after a car accident.

Frisco Quilted Water Resistant Hammock Car Seat Cover

Good for: Large dogs because they may feel cramped in a crate. Frisco’s hammock gives them some breathing room. They’ll stay secure when used in combination with a seatbelt or harness. The three-step installation and compatibility with most car models make the Frisco hammock an option for pet parents with medium to large breeds. 

Why our vets love it: The hammock is easy to install and keeps dogs secure with a seatbelt or harness. The hammock also minimizes shedding to other areas of the car.

What to look for in dog car safety equipment

Vacations can get expensive, and you understandably want to save as much money for fun adventures with your pet. But it’s important not to sacrifice quality for a lower price when it comes to safety. Here’s how to navigate shopping for car safety products for dogs.

  • Look for CPS certification — The Center for Pet Safety (CPS) is a non-profit that evaluates pet products, travel conditions, testing practices, and policies to keep your animal safe and sound. CPS tests products in a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) lab, which helps make sure the evaluations are objective and not influenced by the manufacturers. The testing is rigorous, meaning CPS-certified products are likely to be safe.
  • Read reviews — Fellow pet parents who have used a product can provide valuable insights in reviews. Read them carefully and consider reasonable criticisms, particularly about dog car safety and your particular breed. For example, a dog car safety harness may not be the best fit for a barrel-chested boxer. Look for reviews from verified buyers who did not get the product for free as part of a promotion.
  • Ask your vet’s advice — Your vet can be a valuable resource on dog car safety. Consult with them to get recommendations for your specific dog. For example, a crate may be better than a dog car seat or harness if your pet has certain breathing conditions, arthritis, or escapes restraints easily.

Safety tips for driving with your dog

You may be a seasoned traveler. But if it’s your pet’s first long car ride, you’ll want to ease into it and add a few extra items to your itinerary. A little planning can go a long way in making sure everyone has a blast and stays safe en route to your final destination.

Work up to long trips

Dogs who aren’t used to car rides may not do well on longer trips. If your dog is rarely in the car,  you’ll need to introduce them to vehicle travel slowly. Start by just going down the driveway in your car. Then, increase the length of the trip slowly and incrementally. Having a fun destination like a park or hiking trail can teach your pup that car rides lead to fun times.

Keep the cabin comfortable with AC

Keep the AC on to prevent heat exhaustion, and avoid leaving your dog in the car.
One study showed that the temperature inside a car could rise by 19 degrees in 10 minutes. For example, a nice 70-degree day can make the inside of a car heat up to 90 degrees in around 10 minutes.

Avoid food during the car trip

Treats can help pets make positive connections between a desired command or action. However, avoid doing this during car trips. Food can cause an upset stomach. Ask your vet about giving the pup bottled water because it may keep tummy issues at bay. Collapsible bowls make traveling easier, but introduce them to your pet a week or two in advance so they can get used to it.

Make sure your dog is secured

Your dog may love to look out the window with their tongue out. It’s cute and fun for them but not safe for the dog, driver, and other cars. A secure dog is less likely to get injured in an accident. Your furry friend will get plenty of chances to explore sights and sounds when you get to your destination.

Schedule potty breaks and time to walk

Like people, dogs can get bored and cranky on a long car ride. They also may need to potty. Be sure to work bathroom breaks into your schedule. Even if they don’t need to relieve themselves, it’s a great chance for them to stretch their legs.

Visit the vet first

If your dog has car anxiety, talk with your local veterinarian before your next trip. Your vet can recommend calming products or may need to prescribe an anti-anxiety medication to help make car rides more enjoyable for your dog. The vet can also provide tips on first aid and other medical must-knows before you start your journey.

How to handle travel emergencies

No matter how well you plan, your trip may take a detour. When traveling with pets, it’s essential to expect — and prepare for — the unexpected.

Learning basic dog first aid can help you spot and treat common issues, like bleeding from a wound. Dogs can get motion sickness, just like their humans. Signs include excessive drooling and vomiting. If you take your pup to a pet-friendly restaurant and they eat something they shouldn’t, they may have GI troubles, food poisoning, or diarrhea. Be careful of wild animals when hiking — some, like snakes, can deliver fatal bites to a pup.

Regardless of how you travel your dog’s size, or what products you’re packing, you’ll want to remember to bring:

  • Medical records. Vaccination history, health certificates, and other essential documentation are important when crossing through states or for international travel. Your vet can help you know what information you’ll need.
  • Food, medication, and supplements. Your dog won’t be dining at a five-star restaurant with you, so they’ll need their regular food. Bring along any medication and supplements, too. This step is especially critical for pets with special health needs.
  • Identification paperwork and accessories. You want to ensure your pet makes it home with you safe and sound. Be sure to have identification on hand, such as dog ID tags, microchip information, and information on any GPS tracking devices, such as corresponding apps to prove the pet is yours in case you and your pet get separated.
  • Recent pictures of pet(s) – Having recent photos can help you, local authorities, and the surrounding community track down your pet if they get lost.

Frequently asked questions

What is the safest way for a dog to ride in a car?

A dog safety harness or seatbelt that has undergone rigorous and objective crash tests is the best option for keeping your four-legged family member safe. Be sure it works with your car’s seatbelt system. A crate secured with a seatbelt and covered by a blanket is another safe alternative.

Where should a dog sit in the car?

It’s tempting to put your dog next to you in the front seat. But the best way to keep your dog safe is to put them in the back seat and secure them with a crate or harness.

How do you secure pets in a car?

It’s essential to restrain your pup. Avoid letting them stick their heads out the window — even if it’s cute. Check local state laws. Some do not allow unrestrained dogs to move about the vehicle. Secure a pet with a harness, dog seatbelt, or crate. When using a crate, be sure to buckle the seatbelt around it and put a loose, lightweight blanket over it. Pet owners should put the crate in the backseat behind the driver or passenger.

What are some effective safety devices for dogs in cars?

Crash-tested car seats, harnesses, and seatbelts for dogs and crates are great layers of protection. Hammocks offer another option, but they should always be used with a harness. A CPS-certified product or one that has undergone a rigorous crash test is the best option.

Can I use normal seatbelts to keep my pet safe in the car?

No, we wouldn’t recommend using a human seatbelt on your dog because human seatbelts aren’t designed with a dog’s safety needs in mind. A dog seatbelt is designed for your dog’s body size. It attaches to their collar and can protect your pup if you crash or stop suddenly.