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How To Travel With Your Pet in a Car Safely

Blog Home Jul 19, 2021

Most pets will need to go for a car ride at some point – even if it’s just a quick trip to the vet. But every animal is different, and while some may love the experience (hey there, most dogs!), others loathe it (s’up, cats).

Here are a few tips to help make car journeys as safe and stress-free as possible.

How to travel with a dog or cat by car

You don’t want your pet skidding around the car or being all cute and distracting you while you drive, and you certainly don’t want to break the law – rule 57 of the Highway Code states:

“When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly.”

How to safely restrain dogs in cars

There are lots of car harnesses and dog crates on the market that keep pooches in place. Worryingly though, a lot of these dog seat belts and crates haven’t been crash-tested and even the ones that claim that they have been may have actually failed the tests! It’s very scary stuff.

When shopping for a safe car restraint for your dog, make sure that it either complies with EU ECE Regulation 16 (which is also the standard that child safety restraints are required to meet), or that it’s been approved by the Centre for Pet Safety (an independent non-profit organisation working to develop standards for pet products).

This might be common sense but you should also never attach your dog’s collar to a car seat belt or any other part of the car – this could be fatal in a crash.

Some dogs find seat-belt harnesses uncomfortable at first, so it’s important to make sure they’re introduced to them gradually and feel comfortable wearing them. Hint: this involves lots of treats.

Getting your dog used to the car

It’s a great idea to train your pet to see car journeys as a fun thing, rather than a traumatic experience. 

We asked in-house Itch vet, Zoe Costigan, how to make dogs more comfortable with car travel. Here’s what she said:

“Start by allowing your pet to become accustomed to being in a stationary vehicle. Sit in the car without the engine running, play with them, offer them treats and then get out again. 

The next stage is to sit with the engine running to get them used to the sounds and smell associated with travel.

For the next few days take short 1-minute journeys, ideally somewhere pleasant such as the local park which mentally turns an anxious experience for your dog into an exciting one. If any signs of anxiety or car sickness start, then stop the car and walk home making a fuss of your pet along the way. 

Each stage of the training should be performed for a minimum of a few days and you should not progress until your pet seems confident and content in the situation. 

Build the journey times up very gradually, returning to the previous stage if there are any signs of anxiety.”

Keep those heads inside!

Yes, they love the feel of their gums flapping in the wind and it looks hilarious, but they could be injured by particles of debris, so keep ‘em inside.

Transporting cats in carriers

Cats aren’t usually big fans of travelling in cars. 

To make car travel as stress-free as possible for your kitty, get a cat carrier that’s tall enough to allow them to sit, stand up, and move around in, and long enough to allow them to lie down comfortably in. 

Minimise the risk of scratches by keeping the carrier in a permanent spot in your home and make it as inviting as possible by adding cosy blankets. This will help your cat to develop positive associations with the carrier and will hopefully make journeys in it less difficult.

A sturdy, plastic carrier that opens at the front and the top gives you the option of lowering them through the roof or placing them through the door. Placing a blanket over the carrier once they’re in will make them feel more concealed and give them their privacy.

Make sure to move as smoothly as possible when carrying them and once you’re in the car wrap the seat belt around the carrier, threading it through the handle. 

If you have more than one moggie, always transport them in their own separate carriers – never put them in the same one.

Keep pets in the back seat

Your pet could be injured (even in a crate) if they’re sitting in the front seat and the airbag is deployed. If you have to have them in the front seat just make sure you’ve switched off the passenger-side airbag and move the seat back as far as possible.

Give your pet plenty of rest stops

If you’re going on a long car trip, take regular pit stops so your dog can stretch their legs, rehydrate and go to the toilet. Make sure that you’ve put their lead on before leaving the car.

Never leave your pet alone in a car

Even if the windows are left open or you’re parked in the shade, temperatures can soar in no time. According to the RSPCA when it is 22°C outside it can reach 47°C in a car within an hour! 

If you see a pet in distress in a hot car, dial 999. 

These tips should also make car travel more comfortable for your pet:

  • Bring along a favourite toy or blanket. Having something familiar will help them to relax more easily.
  • Ask a friend to join you on your journey. You and your pet will be less stressed out if they have a familiar friend to sit with them in the back seat. Plus this means that there’s always someone to keep an eye on your pet if you have to leave the car.
  • Give them access to plenty of water – hydration’s super-duper important for animals.
  • Avoid feeding your pet for a couple of hours before a journey. It won’t stop them from being sick but there will be less of a mess if they are.
  • Avoid winding roads in favour of straighter roads – just common sense really.
  • Keep the windows slightly open or the air conditioning on (but not blowing directly into them).
  • Give your furry mate a pet-friendly calming supplement. It’s best to reduce your pet’s anxiety or fear of car travel by gradually desensitising them to it, but this can lend a helping hand.

Do you have any top tips to share?

Any techniques, tips or tricks to share on how to keep your pet safe and happy in the car? We’d love to hear them. Let us know at hello@itchpet.com, call 020 3370 0905 or reach out on social media!