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 also keep you and your passengers safe, too.

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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 out there:

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

Shop on the PDSA Pet Store 

Many products aren't crash tested so might not offer your pet the best protection in an accident. You might want to choose a crash-tested product instead:

  • 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 a lot of other products available but might give you more peace of mind, especially if you often travel with your pet.


Why do pets need to be restrained in the car?

There are lots of really important reasons to keep your pet well secured while you’re driving:

  • Their safety. A pet seatbelt or carrier will help keep your pet safer from serious injuries 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 Border Collie would be hurled forward with a force equivalent to the weight of a polar bear.
  • 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 huge bill to pay if you’re in an accident. It may also invalidate your pet insurance if they are injured and need treatment.


Making car travel more comfortable for your pet

Some pets have no problem travelling in the car and others will hate it! Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to make the journey more relaxed and comfortable for your pet:

  • Start young. Pets who are used to travelling in the car from a young age are much more likely to be relaxed and happy during car trips. This is part of ‘socialisation’. Introduce them to the car as early as you can. Start out with introducing them to the parked car and getting them used to sitting in it with you, then start making short trips. Build up to longer journeys, but make sure they usually end in something fun like getting a treat or a walk. Make these experiences as positive as possible, with lots of treats and fun days out.
  • Give them time to digest. If your pet gets car sick it’s best not to feed them right before a trip in the car. Give them plenty of time to digest their meal or don’t feed them until after the car journey. You can also talk to the vet to see if they can have medication to settle their stomach if they get car sick even on an empty tummy.
  • Take a break. If you’re taking your pet on a longer journey, make sure they have a chance to stretch their legs and have a drink. A lot of service stations have dog walking areas or you could break up your journey with a trip to a park or dog-friendly attraction.
  • Keep them cool. Cars can warm up really quickly and our pets are wearing a warm fur coat all the time! Be aware of your pet’s temperature and pop the air conditioning on or open a window a little to keep them cool while you’re on the go.
  • Don’t leave pets in the car. Cats and dogs can’t cool themselves down in the same way humans can. They can overheat very quickly if they’re left in a car, and get into a critical condition. Winding the window down or parking the car in the shade is not enough to keep them cool.
  • Don’t let dogs stick their head out the window. They could knock their head on something, fall out of the window or distract other drivers.


Safe car travel in hot weather

Travelling in hot weather can be challenging for our pets- whether you’re taking them to visit family, road-tripping for a holiday or needing a trip to the vets, it’s important to be prepared for hot weather and think ahead about travelling safely and beating the heat.

Here are some top tips:

  • 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 your pet water regularly in the journey. You could try non-spill water bowls which mean your pet can have 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. If it’s getting warm, try to 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. Giving your pet a cool mat to lie on during the journey can help keep them cool.
  • Stop regularly and 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.
  • Keep the car cool. When you park, take your pet out of the car as soon as possible.
  • Never leave your pet alone in your car. Try to park your car in the shade and consider using towels or a sun shade over the windows to 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 or put on the air conditioning to keep you both cool.
  • 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. Or if you know there’s often a lot of traffic, try to leave at a different time so the car trip is as quick as possible. Small changes can make a big difference to your pet, especially as the temperature tends to rise if you’re stuck in a traffic jam in the sun!