Traveling with Pets

How you can keep your animals safe on the road.
By Alison Lakin
For most pet owners, car travel with an animal is a regular event. Whether it’s a long road trip or a visit to the vet, your car is usually the only way to easily transport pets to a destination. Along the journey, you can rest easy knowing that there are many safety features like airbags working to protect you in case of an accident. But that begs the question, what protects your animals?  

Honda Element dog-friendly pet bed
“Most pet owners probably let their pet simply hop into the car," says Adam Goldfarb, Director, Pets at Risk Program, Companion Animals, Humane Society of the United States. “And even though most pets’ car rides are perfectly safe events, this situation isn’t in anyone’s best interest." 

Accidents are what our minds first turn to when considering protection within a vehicle. We think of animals being a victim of a run red light or distracted, cell phone wielding driver. And when such events do occur, we want our pets to be protected.

However, if proper care isn’t taken, pets themselves can be the cause of an accident as well. Because of the distraction they may cause, “pets that are loose in the car can be a danger to themselves and to the driver," says Goldfarb. 

Restraints, or animal seatbelts, are widely recognized as the most important safety device for animals riding in cars, both to keep dogs and pet carriers secured during the drive and to keep them from disturbing the driver. The systems are inexpensive and can be found at most pet stores or online. Most restraints are also easily installed and removed if you’d rather have room for your human family members. 

Considering the number of restraint manufacturers, a relatively small percentage of owners actively restrain their animals during transport. Saying that, the pet safety issue has been gaining some traction, enough to inspire carmakers to take interest.

Honda recently announced their dog-friendly Element at the New York Auto Show, which contains a package providing dog owners with convenience and safety items built into the car. “The number one thing we wanted to focus on was safety, so we have two crates of varying sizes in the vehicle that are essentially plugged into the car itself," says James Jenkins, Product Planner for the Element, American Honda Motor Co. 

Comfort was taken into consideration as well, says Jenkins, and the Element’s dog-friendly package includes “a ramp that you could fold up so the dog can go in and out of the car, machine-washable seat covers, a fan that circulates air, a water bowl, cargo net and pet bed."

Honda isn’t the only car company taking up the cause. Toyota and others have accessories available for certain models that cater specifically toward animal travel. But Honda’s case remains unique in that they’re the first to create a package at the manufacturer level. 

Safety proves to be more of an issue if you have a pickup truck, says Goldfarb. Many states have made it illegal to transport your animal unsecured in the bed of the truck, but Goldfarb points out that “even when a dog is secured in the back of a pickup truck via multiple tethers or a tied down carrier, it’s still not great. They’re exposed to the weather, flying debris, and may be a distraction to other drivers."

Bringing your pet into the cab will protect it and make it more comfortable. It’s also important to take your pet’s comfort into consideration during long car trips. 

There may be instances when taking a pet on a long road trip isn’t advisable. “It’s really important for drivers to know their individual animals," says Goldfrab. “So, if an animal hates riding in the car, take that into consideration. If you’re moving, obviously there aren’t a lot of other options. But if you’re just going on vacation, you may be better off leaving your animal at home with a pet sitter or at a boarding facility."

Don’t forget to stop regularly to let dogs stretch their legs and provide plenty of water for all types of animals to avoid dehydration. 

With many safety products out there to choose from, there’s no reason your pet can’t be fully protected during a car ride. Though, Goldfarb does suggest resisting certain accessories. 

“I’m not a big fan of dog goggles. I don’t think it’s in a dog’s best interest to have his head out the window when the car is moving. Though I’m sure there are plenty of dogs out there who would disagree with that."

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