21 Tips for Pet Car Safety

Last Updated: March 23, 2021 |
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It’s fun and often convenient to take your pet in the car with you, whether you’re just headed to the dog park to taking a long road trip. But before you hit the road, it’s important that you take safety precautions so that you and your pet will always be safe in the car. Using proper restraints, never leaving pets alone in a car, and making sure you have the right supplies can make your pet’s next car ride safer and more enjoyable. Follow these tips to learn how you can keep your pet safe any time you’re on the road with them.

  1. Give your pet space: No one likes to be cramped in a car, pets included. Make sure you’re using a vehicle that has enough room for your pet. They should be able to stand up and stretch their legs. Most often, hatchbacks or SUVs are the best choice for people with medium to large-sized pets.
  2. Harness your pet: Animals might enjoy being able to move freely throughout your vehicle, but it’s safest for them — and for you — if they are properly restrained. Even a small animal can become a deadly projectile, hurting you, your family, and of course, the animal. With a harness, your pet will be safely restrained. Choose one that allows them to sit, stand, or lie down, but still remain restrained. A good safety harness should minimize rotation and how far a pet’s head moves on impact. Many vehicles come equipped with tie-downs that you can use to attach the harness to your vehicle.
  3. Use a pet barrier: If you’re not using a harness, or even if you are, consider installing a pet barrier. This product can be used in wagons, hatchbacks, SUVs, and minivans to keep your pet confined to a specific area of the vehicle. They will not be able to fly into the passenger area in an accident and they will be separated from the upholstery.
  4. Use a crate: Even if you don’t use a harness or a pet barrier, you can keep your pet secured in a crate. Position your pet’s crate as close to the center of the car as you can to give them crumple safety zones. You should also secure the crate so that it does not become a projectile. Look for a crate that has been safety-certified and crash tested.
  5. Never put a pet in the front seat: Pets should not be placed in the front seat, as they can be injured by airbags in an accident. Just like children, pets are safest in the back seat.
  6. Microchip and identify your pet: No one wants to think about losing their pet, but it can happen, especially if you’re on the go. Play it safe and get your pet microchipped so that you can be contacted if they are lost and found. Make sure they have a collar as well, and always keep a photo of your pet handy.
  7. Don’t let pets put their face or limbs outside of the vehicle: It’s fun for dogs to ride with the wind in their face, but it is also dangerous. They can accidentally hit an object, get debris in their eyes or mouth, or even get curious and jump out. Instead, open your window just a few inches so they can feel the breeze.
  8. Bring a water bowl: Make sure you always have water available to offer to your pet. Collapsible bowls or water bottles make it easy to keep water handy to offer to your animal any time you stop.
  9. Don’t feed your pet in a moving vehicle: It’s unsafe to feed your pet in a moving vehicle, as they can choke and you might not even notice. Wait until you’re parked or simply feed them at your destination.
  10. Bring toys from home: Make your pet comfortable with familiar toys from home. Also, consider bringing a new toy or two on a long car ride so they’ll be excited by the novelty of it.
  11. Use a cargo mat or liner: Make cleanup easier and protect your car’s carpet with a cargo area mat or liner. Models with a lip around the edge are especially helpful for keeping messes contained.
  12. Use a travel mat or bed: Make your vehicle comfortable with a travel mat or bed. You can bring your pet bed from home or designate one just for your car.
  13. Give your pet breaks: Just as you need occasional breaks in the car, so does your pet. Be sure to take them out of the car any time you stop to let them stretch their legs and get a bathroom break.
  14. Turn off power windows and engage child locks: Don’t let animals accidentally open a window or even a door. Turn off power windows while they are in the car, and make sure to turn on child locks in the back door so they can’t accidentally pop the door open.
  15. Make accommodations for tough travelers: Some animals just don’t do well in cars. They may get nervous and throw up, whine, or have accidents. Give them lots of treats, reassurance, and medications if necessary. Consider not feeding your pet in the morning if they will be in the car later. Go on practice runs, putting them in the car, and driving just around the block, then slowly increase the amount of time you spend in the car.
  16. Exercise dogs before a trip: Wear your dog down before a big trip with lots of exercise. They’ll be less nervous and more likely to sleep through the ride.
  17. Set up a litter box for cats: If you’re going on a long trip with cats, they should have a litter box. You can use a small box and quickly clean up waste to avoid messes.
  18. Keep a pet travel kit in your car: Keep traveling papers, IDs, vaccination record copies, food, a bowl, leash, plastic bags, medications, and more available in your vehicle for your pet.
  19. Never leave your pet alone in a car: In a hot or cold car, things can quickly turn deadly for your pet. Heatstroke can kill and it happens faster than you might think, with temperatures heating up inside vehicles within minutes. Cold cars are just as dangerous. Pets can freeze to death quickly if left in a cold vehicle. Even if you leave the window cracked, or even leave the car running, it can still be dangerous. You should also be careful not to leave your pet vulnerable to theft. Thieves can quickly take a pet out of your vehicle. Be safe and always take your pet with you any time you exit your vehicle. Plan ahead and make sure to only visit locations where your pet will be allowed to come with you.
  20. Don’t get distracted by pets: Pets can become a dangerous distraction while driving, leading to mistakes and accidents on the road. If your pet is becoming disruptive, pull over and attend to them rather than trying to deal with them while you’re driving. Remember to always give driving your full attention for your safety and that of your pet.
  21. Know how to get to a vet: If you’re taking a long trip, plan ahead and find a vet you can visit if you need help. You can ask your vet for a recommendation or find a qualified vet online.