Most pet owners will take their pet for a trip in the car at some point, whether that be a quick visit to the vets, to the kennels or on a longer journey for a UK holiday.
Many dogs love to travel in the car, but some pets will find it stressful if it’s something they are not used to. By planning, you can ensure your pet is safe and comfortable during the journey.
Keeping your pet safe
Using a restraint of some sort will help to keep your pet safe during the journey and help to reduce any stress for you and your pet. Not only will a restraint such as a seatbelt or harness keep your pet safe during the car journey, but it is also a legal requirement.
Their safety – a pet seatbelt or carrier will help to prevent serious injuries to your pet if you are involved in a car accident.
Your safety – if your pet is loose in the car, they could seriously hurt you and your passengers in an accident. At just 30mph an unrestrained dog weighing 20kg would be hurled forward with a force equivalent to the weight of a small moose.
Prevent accidents – a loose driver could distract the driver from the road and cause an accident. They could even get in the way of the steering wheel or the brake pedal.
Legal requirement – the Highway Code says that drivers must make sure dogs and other animals are suitably restrained in your car. If you don’t follow The Highway Code, you could be seen as driving without due care and attention. If you are in an accident because you were distracted by your pet, this could be counted as dangerous driving.
Insurance – a lot of car insurance policies require you to restrain your pets properly. A loose pet in the car could break the terms of your insurance and leave you with a big bill to pay if you’re in an accident. It may invalidate your pet insurance if they are injured and need treatment.
There are several methods to restrain your pet safely in the car, which include:
Crates – these work well if your dog is already crate trained. It keeps them safe while giving them a sense of security while travelling. Make sure the crate is big enough for your dog to move around in.
Carriers – these can be used for smaller dogs and cats. They are lightweight and easy to manoeuvre and can be placed on the back seat.
Harness – effectively these are dog seat belts. Most are fitted to your dog and then clipped into existing seatbelts, protecting your dog from serious injury in the event of an accident.
Guards – these metal grills fit between the boot of your car and back passenger seats. They give your dog the freedom of the boot but keep them safely contained.
Tips for travelling in the car with your pet
Don’t let your dog stick their head out of the window. This can seem like fun and like they are getting some fresh air, but accidents can happen and impact at speed can have devastating consequences. If your dog has his head out of the window, this can also be a distraction for other drivers.
For long journeys, make sure your dog has a chance to stretch their legs and have a drink of water if it is a warm day. Break up your car journey with plenty of stops, include a trip to a park or a dog-friendly attraction. Remember a break is good for us too.
Keep them cool
Cars can warm up quickly, so it’s important to be aware of your pet’s temperature when you’re on the go and remember to pop on the air conditioning or open windows to keep them cool on particularly warm days.
In hot weather, never leave your dog in the car on their own, even if you’re only popping into the shop. A short period of time can be too long, and any delay could lead to devastating consequences.
If your pet gets car sick, try not to feed them right before the journey. Make sure they have had plenty of time to digest their meal or leave it until after the car journey to feed them. Speak to your vet as they may be able to offer medication to help with car sickness for your pet.
Make sure you have a bowl and some water for your dog on long journeys to prevent them getting dehydrated.
If your pet is particularly anxious about travelling in the car, ask your vet about a calming supplement, which could be given prior to the journey to help reduce stress for your pet. There are many products on the market, such as Pet Remedy, Nutracalm by Nutravet or Scullcap and Valerian by Dorwest Herbs. Your vet will be able to recommend the best product, depending on your pet’s anxiety.
Pets who are used to travelling in the car from a young age are much more likely to be relaxed and comfortable during car trips. Introduce them to the car as early as you can as part of their socialisation and training. You could start by getting them used to being in a parked car and then take small trips as they build up confidence. Make sure their experience in the car is positive and reward good behaviour with a treat or a fun walk.
Letting them out
When you arrive at your destination, only ever let your dog out of the car onto the pavement side and never a road. Training your dog to wait until you have told them they can exist is helpful. This gives you time to get them safely on their lead, assess traffic or other dangers and get them out safe and stress free.
If your pet is travelling in the front passenger seat, don’t forget to disable the airbags. However, letting them travel in the front of the car alongside you could be a distraction, so it would be better and safer for them to travel on the back seat.