Car Safety: travelling with pets

Most pets will need to take a trip in the car at some point – even if it’s just a quick trip to the vets! But how can we make sure they’re safe on the journey?

We're used to strapping ourselves in to stay safe and it's important to do the same for our pets. Keeping your pet properly restrained will keep you and your passengers safe, too.

How to keep everyone safe

A pet seatbelt or carrier can stop your dog or cat from moving around in the car and distracting you whilst you drive. There are lots of different products to consider:

  • Pet seat belts
  • Harnesses
  • Crates and carriers
  • Boot/luggage guards (be aware that these protect your passengers in an accident but won't protect your pet)

Unlike human safety devices, there is no legal requirement for these products to be crash tested, so it can be difficult to know how much protection they would actually provide to your pet in the event of an accident. Some products that do provide crash testing include:

  • SleepyPod Clickit Support Harness
  • SleepyPod Carrier
  • Gunner Kennel GI Intermediate

These three products have all been tested and certified by the Centre for Pet Safety. They’re more expensive than other products available but they would provide peace of mind, especially if you travel frequently with your pet!


Why do pets need to be restrained in the car?

There are lots of important reasons to keep your pet well secured while you’re driving, some of which are listed below. Not only does restraint keep your pet safe in the car, it’s also a legal requirement:

  • Their safety: A pet seatbelt or carrier will help prevent serious injuries to your pet if you’re 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!
  • Preventing accidents: A loose pet 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.
  • The law: 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 considered to be driving without due care and attention. If you’re in an accident because you were distracted by your pet, this could be counted as dangerous driving.
  • Your 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 also invalidate your pet insurance if they are injured and need treatment.


Take a look at some of our travel harnesses

Black and white crossbreed secured in car seat with an appropriate harness

How to make car travel more comfortable for your pet

When it comes to travelling in the car, all pets will be different – some will have no problem travelling, and others will hate it! Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to make the journey more relaxed and comfortable for your four-legged friend. Here’s our tips:

  • Start young: 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. Start out by introducing them to the parked car and get them used to sitting in it with you, and then begin making short trips. You can then build up to longer journeys, while making sure their experiences are as positive as possible by ending the journey with something fun such as a treat, a walk or an exciting day out.
  • Give them time to digest: If your pet gets car sick, try not to feed them right before a car ride. Make sure they have plenty of time to digest their meal, or leave it until after the car journey. If they get car sick even on an empty stomach, which some pets may, talk to your vet to see if they can have medication to help settle their tummy.
  • Take a break: If you’re taking your pet on a longer journey, make sure they get a chance to stretch their legs and have a drink. Break up your journey with a trip to a park or dog-friendly attraction, or stop at a service station that has a dog walking area – a break is good for us, too!
  • Keep them cool: Cars can warm up really quickly, so it’s important to be aware of your pet’s temperature when you’re on the go, and remember to pop the air conditioning on or open a window to keep them cool.
  • Don’t let dogs stick their head out the window: Letting your dog stick their head out of the window can be dangerous – they could knock their head on something, fall out of the window, be injured by stones kicked up by the tyres, or distract other drivers.


Safe car travel in hot weather

Warm weather offers the tempting opportunity to get out and about with your four-legged friend, but don’t forget that a warm day for us is even hotter in a fur coat! Whether you’re taking them to visit family, road-tripping for a holiday, or visiting the vets, it’s important to be prepared for hot weather and think ahead about travelling safely and beating the heat.

Here are our top tips when travelling with your pet during the warmer months:

  • Travel in the early morning or late evening: These tend to be the coolest times of day so will make the journey easier on your pet.
  • Take plenty of water: Make sure you offer water to your pet regularly throughout your journey. You could try a non-spill water bowl, so your pet has access to water for the whole trip.
  • Check the temperature in the back of the car: Although most cars have great air conditioning for the front seats, the back seat or boot can heat up very quickly and become dangerously warm for your pet, especially if they are in a carrier with less airflow. If it’s getting warm, open the windows, adjust the fans so that they are facing into the back seat and make sure you remove the parcel shelf – use a pet carrier or boot guard to keep your pet secure instead.
  • Use cooling aids: Providing your pet with a cooling mat to lie on during the journey, can help keep them nice and cool.
  • Stop regularly to check your pet: If they’re starting to breathe heavily or look warm, stop for a while and let them cool and calm down. If you’re travelling with your dog, try to plan a few stops for short walks out of the sun or visit a dog friendly café for lunch along the way, to keep the journey fun.
  • Try to minimize the time in the car: If you’re going to an appointment, try to arrive at the right time so you won’t be waiting in the car too long. If you know there’s often a lot of traffic, try to leave at a different time and avoid busy roads so the journey is as quick as possible. Small changes can make a big difference to your pet, especially as the temperature in the car tends to rise if you’re stuck in a traffic jam in the sun!
  • Keep the car cool: When you park, take your pet out of the car as soon as possible, and try to leave your car in the shade. Consider using towels or a sun shade to cover the windows and block direct sunlight, keeping the car cooler for you and your pet when you get back in. If you’re waiting in the car with your pet, open the windows on the shady side and put on the air conditioning to keep you both cool. Never leave your pet alone in the car – remember, not long is too long.


Dogs die in hot cars

Many people believe it’ll never happen to them, yet every year people gamble with their beloved dog’s life and every summer dogs die in hot cars.

Even parked in the shade with the windows open, a car can quickly become an oven. When it’s 22°C outside, within an hour the temperature in a car can reach an unbearable and deadly 47°C. If your dog’s internal body temperature exceeds 41°C, it can be fatal.

If you’re out and about in the summer, don’t take your pooch with you if it’s likely you’ll have to leave them in the car. Look for dog friendly days out, or find alternative care for your dog. Even if you're popping to the shop for a minute or two, a delay or an unexpected occurrence could lead to tragic consequences for your dog – it’s not worth the risk.

What to do if you see a dog in a hot car

If you see a dog in a hot car, it’s important to ask yourself whether they are showing any of the following signs of heatstroke:

  • Is the dog panting heavily?
  • Is the dog drooling excessively?
  • Does the dog appear lethargic, drowsy, or uncoordinated?
  • Is the dog collapsed or vomiting?

If you see a dog in a hot car showing any of these signs, dial 999 immediately.

Many people's instinct in this situation would be to call the RSPCA, or other welfare organisations. In an emergency, RSPCA inspectors may not be able to attend quickly enough, and because they have no powers of entry, they would still need police assistance. Don't ever be afraid to dial 999 – the police deal with hundreds of such incidents each year.

If the situation becomes critical for the dog, and the police are too far away or unable to attend, many people's instinct will be to break into the car to free the dog. If you decide to do this, please be aware that, without proper justification, it could be classed as criminal damage and you may need to be prepared to defend your actions in court.

Make sure you tell the police what you intend to do and why, and take images and/or footage of the dog and the names and numbers of witnesses to the incident. The law states that you have a lawful excuse to commit damage if you believe that the owner of the property that you damage would consent to the damage if they knew the circumstances (section 5(2)(a) Criminal Damage Act 1971). If you need legal advice, please speak to a lawyer.

What to do if the dog is not showing signs of heatstroke

If the dog is not yet showing signs of heatstroke, here's some steps to follow:

  • Look out for the owner of the vehicle. If you’re at a shop, supermarket or event, ask the staff to make an announcement to let the owner know about their dog’s condition.
  • Look for indications of how long the car has been there for – a parking or pay and display ticket could help.
  • Take note of the car’s registration number. If you’re worried about the dog’s welfare, you may wish to report the incident to the police.
  • While you’re seeking help, try and get someone to stay and monitor the dog’s condition. If they show signs of heatstroke, dial 999 immediately.

You can call the RSPCA’s cruelty line for help and advice. But if the dog is in danger, dial 999 immediately.