Pet safety in cars is possible with advice

Your Ultimate Guide to Pet Safety While Driving


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Dogs. Cats. Rabbits. Birds. Even guinea pigs. For most pets, car travel isn’t part of their weekly routine, but sometimes travelling with your pet in the car is unavoidable. Let’s talk about pet safety while driving.

It can be fun! Especially if you’re taking them on holidays.

You might be surprised by just how many people take their fur child on road trips. Our latest research found 26% of NZ pet owners take their pet on holidays.

When asked which pet/s they take away with them, 88% said their dog and 18% said their cat… and 2% said their bird/s, 1% their fish and 1% a rodent. Seriously.

Unfortunately, when it comes to safety, lots of people unknowingly put their pet’s life, and theirs, at risk. After all, keeping them safe isn’t just good for them. By reducing driver distractions from an antsy, agitated or anxious pet, you might just save your life too.

So, if you’re planning a road trip with your furry, feathery (or scaly?) best friend, keep reading to learn the safest ways to travel together.

A Calm Pet is a Safe Pet

Your pet can easily get overwhelmed by all the stimulation in your car, including the sights, smells and new sounds. We know your fur baby is family, so we know how difficult it can be to deal with their distress without pulling your attention from the road.

The key to keeping them calm, your driver focused and get from A to B without incident, is *planning*. It is crucial to achieving pet safety while driving.

Get them used to their carrier or harness before your trip

Introducing their carrier or harness in a familiar and safe environment can help ease their nerves when it’s time to travel. Add a familiar blanket or toy and reward your pet for spending time in it.

Use a crate for pet safety in cars.

Introduce them to the car slowly

Start by familiarising your pet with the car while it’s quiet and calm. Dogs, cats and smaller animals should be invited into the car while it’s off, inside their carrier or while wearing their harness.

Sit with them and reward them for behaving. When they’re ready, attach their harness to the seatbelt and reward them for staying calm (and not chewing it). When they’re familiar with the car, start with short trips first.

Plan your route for greater pet safety while driving

Avoiding lots of noisy traffic and roadworks can help keep your pet’s anxiety to a minimum. And yours. Not only that, you’ll get to your destination via the fastest route possible, which is good for everyone’s mojo.

It takes little time to check Google Maps before you go.

Bring someone along with you

Sometimes no matter how well you prepare, your pet might still whimper, pant, drool and cry in the car (or worse). By having a passenger who can soothe your pet, you’ll feel more focused and in control on the road.

Managing stress and car sickness

Cats, dogs and other animals can get car-sick just like you. Not fun! Especially if it means cleaning up messes. The best way to avoid this is to:

  • Feed your pet 3-4 hours prior to traveling,
  • Provide good airflow and ventilation in the car,
  • Turn the music down (remember they have better hearing that you!), and
  • Stop every couple of hours for a drink, stretch and a small amount of food.

If your pet remains anxious or travel sick, ask your vet about safe medication that can help keep them well on your trip. Before you leave, check which vets are along your route and note them down. That way you’ll be prepared for potential health issues.

For further help in keeping your car and pet in tip top shape during a road trip, check our pet-proofing your car article for a handy list of pet care items to pack. You might also want to look into pet friendly destinations.

Camping and travelling with pets.

The Best and Safest Way to Travel with Dogs

Planning a driving holiday with your dog? Excited or nervous pups can pace, bark, drool, chew on and paw at your car while you’re on the road. They’ve even been known to jump from moving cars.

And, if you need to brake suddenly, they can become airborne and may get seriously injured or killed.

Follow these simple rules to keep your dogs safe on your road trip.

Pet safety while driving – small dogs

Tempted to travel with them on your lap? Don’t. You won’t be insured if you do, as a dog on your lap will stop you from staying in control of the car in an accident.

Some of our top tips:

  • Secure them in a carrier big enough for them to stand up and turn around in. Avoid cheap, flimsy carriers – the cheap plastic or mesh may crumple in a crash. This sturdy one is a fave.
  • Never put the carrier on the front seat. An exploding airbag can kill your pet. The safest place, according to research by German company, ACAD, is on the rear passenger side floor, facing inwards. If not possible then go with on top of the seat on that side, clipped in securely.
  • Want a crate they can grow into? Secure your pup in the boot with a crash-tested harness inside, to avoid them being thrown around in an impact.
  • Give your dog a chew toy or two to keep them occupied and happy.

Pet safety while driving – large dogs

Your bigger dog might enjoy watching the world go by from the back seat, which is good because that’s the best place for them.

Some of our top tips:

  • Use a good quality, crash-tested harness, and attach the seatbelt low at the dog’s back. This will keep your dog in an upright position and help avoid injury to their neck in a crash
  • Need to make a toilet stop? Avoid stopping on narrow lanes on the side of busy roads where your dog might wander out and get hit.
  • Stop seatbelt damage on long trips with this easy DIY bitter apple spray to deter them from chewing them.
  • If you decide to crack the window, keep it up most of the way so your dog isn’t in danger of getting anything in their eyes while you’re traveling.
you have to crate train a puppy if you want to fly with them. This border collie is relaxed in his crate waiting to travel

Pet safety while driving – dogs in utes

Unless a dog can be secured in a crate inside or on the deck of a ute, according to the safest way for it to travel on the deck is “if it is tethered to a central point behind the cab. The rope or tethering strap must be long enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down, but not so long as to let it lean out over the edge of the deck.”

Traveling in the tray of your ute is not fun for a pup on a hot day. They might be tempted to jump from the tray if their paws are burning.

Look after them by:

  • Installing a rubber mat to keep them comfortable.
  • Securing other items in the tray to avoid things moving around.

If there’s no crate, make sure your dog is tethered to the cab. The ideal length of the tether is long enough for them to stand and lie down – but not long enough for them to jump or fall off the edge.

Remember to:

  • Use swivels at each end of the harness to prevent the chain from tangling.
  • Stop regularly to give them water and keep them hydrated (especially when it’s hot).
  • When safe to do so, look back to check on their welfare.

Stress-free and Safe Car Travel with Cats

Regardless of how much you prepare your cat for travel, it probably won’t like being in the car. Even if you’ve introduced them to their carrier in a safe, unthreatening environment, once they realise that’s where they’re headed they’ll begin to fret.

Follow these straight-forward steps to keeping kitty calm and safe:

  1. Place a familiar blanket with your scent in their carrier. We recommend one similar to this crash-tested one that doubles as their normal bed.
  2. Or choose a sturdy carrier approx. 1.5 times their size. If it’s too big they’ll be thrown around if you brake suddenly or have an accident.
  3. Keep unusual sounds, smells and sights to a minimum by covering the carrier with a light blanket (but keep it as ventilated as possible).
  4. With your car turned off, buckle your cat’s carrier into the back seat or place on the floor behind the passenger seat.
  5. Travel with the radio off, or switch to classical music (apparently cats aren’t just easily irritated, they’re elitist too!) and ensure the air isn’t not too hot or cold.
  6. Ask your passenger to sit in the back and soothe your cat while you drive.

How Long Can a Bunny Be in a Car Safely?

Rabbits, like lots of other animals, are sensitive to car travel and the stress can be fatal. It’s best to check with your vet before taking them on any extended trips. The shorter the better is the usual rule.

Your nose-twitching buddy will be fearful in unfamiliar environments and won’t cope well with changes in temperature and their feed schedule. If you can’t leave them at home and you’re wondering how rabbits travel best for pet safety, you should:

  • Choose the right size carrier that’s big enough for them to turn around in and avoid one that has been used by another animal (cats and dogs are a rabbit’s predators).
  • Avoid open baskets, boxes and mesh carriers that your rabbit can jump out of and chew through.
  • Cool your car first. Your floppy-eared friend can’t handle temperatures over about 23 degrees (Celsius)
  • Cover the carrier with a damp towel and icepack – much better than letting the aircon blow directly into it.
  • Take some familiar food with you to maintain their feeding routine.
  • When taking your bunny out, let them stretch their legs in an enclosed space. A scared rabbit will bolt!
don't leave dogs in hot cars like this

Pet Safety While Driving 101: Never Leave Them Alone

No matter what type of pet you’re traveling with, you should never leave any animal alone in the car. It only takes a few short minutes for them to start overheating (even on a cloudy day) and that can quickly have dire consequences. Not convinced? Read our article about dogs in hot cars.

Also, before you leave, check your pet insurance is up to date so your fur kid is safeguarded financially in the event of injury or illness while on the road. Being away from home is extra complicated when you need to visit an unfamiliar vet; at least with pet insurance you know you can seek quality care quickly.

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