How do you travel with your dog? According to our research, more than a quarter of owners fail to adequately secure their pets before setting off on a car journey.
We also spoke to a number of vets, and 22% revealed that travelling without proper restraint was the main cause of injury or death to dogs inside cars involved in a crash.
They also recalled some shocking restraints being used, including chains around the neck.
Driving with dogs requires careful planning. So if you’re unsure of the best ways to keep them safe when travelling, here’s a guide to cover the basics...
The law and driving with dogs in cars
If you’re not familiar with Rule 57 of the Highway Code, now’s the time to brush up. It states that drivers are responsible for making sure dogs (or other animals) are suitably restrained in a vehicle so they can’t distract or injure you - or themselves - during an emergency stop.
There’s a good reason for this. A 32kg dog, such as a Labrador, will be thrown forward in a 30mph crash with such sheer force that it would weigh the equivalent of 100kg – a phenomenon safety experts call ‘canine cannonball’.
What’s a suitable restraint for dogs in cars?
Unfortunately, vets have witnessed a number of dangerous restraints being used by some owners, including passengers simply holding the animal on their lap, putting them in a cardboard box and even putting a chain or rope around its neck.
And vets agree with the Highway Code, which states a seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are the appropriate ways of restraining animals in cars.
Often, dog owners will allow smaller pups to travel in the cabin area of their car. In this case, it’s essential to use a harness. These fit around the dog’s chest and then attach to a seatbelt.
This prevents dogs wandering around dangerously and it keeps them secure under heavy braking or in a crash. Prices for reputable brands start from less than £10.
Certain cars, such as estates and SUVs (4x4s) may have built-in luggage guards. However, these aren’t always robust enough to contain an animal in the event of an accident. The vehicle manufacturer or any number of aftermarket specialists will be able to supply steel animal guards, which divide the boot area from the cabin. Prices start from about £30 for universal products.
Another option is to make your pets comfortable in a cage. These come in a wide range of sizes, fold away when not in use, and cost from £10.
Don’t let dogs hang their head out of the window
Parents wouldn’t let their children hang their heads out of a car window for the simple reason that accidents happen. So, why let a dog do it? It’s a danger to them, you, and is a distraction to other drivers.
Consider fitting sunshades
Even when you’re driving with the windows open, or the air conditioning is blowing cool air, pets are typically in the boot of the car (away from the air source) and often under the full glare of the sun. It gets hot back there, so consider investing in sunshades.
Keep pets hydrated
It goes without saying that your dog will get thirsty on a long car journey. Pack a large bottle of water and a bowl, and take regular breaks from driving to give them a drink and a comfort break. Just remember to bring some bags for any waste they deposit at the roadside.
Dangers to pets in parked cars
It’s not just about keeping your pets safe while on the go. It can also be dangerous to leave them unattended in a parked car, even for a few minutes.
Some owners believe it’s okay to leave a dog in a car if counter-measures are taken, such as parking under a tree or leaving a window open. But partially lowering any windows has no significant effect on the temperature inside a parked car. Dogs Trust stresses that less than 20 minutes in a hot car can prove fatal to a dog should its body temperature exceed 41°C.
What to do if you see an animal in distress
If you see a distressed animal inside a car and you’re concerned about its welfare, try to alert the owner first. If this isn’t possible, contact the police or the RSPCA via their 24-hour helpline: 0300 1234 999.