For most of us, cars journeys are an unavoidable part of modern life. Driving is a quick and safe way for us to get from A to B and allows us to take our canine companions along too. Whether exploring new walks in faraway locations, or making essential trips to the vet, safe car travel for dogs is something everyone should ensure they have planned out.
Rule 57 in the Highway Code states that:
“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. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars”.
Breaking the Highway Code could result in you being pulled over, with a maximum fine of up to £2,500 and nine penalty points on your license. An accident caused by an unrestrained pet may result in insurers refusing to pay out.
If you want to allow smaller dogs or puppies to travel in the back seats of the car, it is essential to use a seat belt harness. This will prevent them from wandering and causing a distraction, as well as protecting them in the event of sudden braking. Seat belt harnesses are an affordable and simple option, if fitted correctly. Some dogs may need to practice wearing the harness outside of the car to get used to it. We suggest that for the safety of you and your pet, they are not transported using the front seat but instead should use the back seats.
If your dog is travelling in the boot of larger vehicles, a dog guard may be more suitable. Although some cars may come with built-in luggage guards these may not be adequate to restrain your pet so it is recommended to use a pet-specific guard. These are slightly pricier than harnesses but may be more suitable for large dogs.
Finally, you may use a dog cage for transporting your dog in the boot of the car. Again these are very affordable and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and designs. Your dog may prefer to get used to using the cage in the house or garden before using it on car journeys.
The best way to ensure your pets are happy on car journeys is to introduce them early on in their life. Making these early experiences positive will help make travelling in future easy. Start out by getting used to the car without going on journeys to ease the transition. Practising sitting in the car, with your preferred method of restraint, without driving anywhere can help your dog to feel more comfortable in the car. Items with familiar smells, such as toys, bedding or blankets, may help to provide comfort. If you already use a cage as a bed in the house then it may be easy to use the same cage during car travels. This way your dog will already be familiar with, and happy to be in, the cage. When you start to introduce journeys, it is good to start small and build up the duration of journeys slowly. After the vaccination course is complete it may help to use car journeys for exciting trips, like visiting new walking spots, to help create positive memories of the experience.
If your dog is older it is still possible to teach them to be comfortable on car journeys, regardless of past experiences. Just like puppies, they should first begin to get used to being in the car without going anywhere. Then journeys can be added in and the duration slowly increased. If your dog is extremely opposed to getting in the car in the first place, then feeding them in the car a few times can help them associate the car with a more positive experience.
One reason dogs may become resentful of car journeys may be past experiences of travel sickness. Signs of car sickness include; listlessness, inactivity, excessive drooling, lip smacking and drooling. This can be a very unpleasant experience for your dog as well any other passengers in the car. Reducing the stress of car journeys and acclimatising dogs to being in the car can go a long way in reducing nausea when travelling. Driving carefully and at a sensible speed may also assist in easing car sickness in some pets. Additionally, avoiding feeding within 2 hours of travelling may also help. If car-sickness continues to be a problem for your pet then it may be worth coming in to have a chat with one of our vets about the medications that may be suitable to give, depending on the circumstances.
Restraint is not the only consideration to keep your dog safe during car travel. It is recommended that, although a little fresh air can aid nausea, dogs should not be allowed to travel with their heads stuck out of car windows, as they can easily be injured by flying grit etc.
Plenty of fresh water should be available for your dog during journeys. Special non-spill bowls can be an excellent way of providing water for dogs travelling in cages or the boot. If it is not possible to provide water throughout the journey then you should plan regular stops to offer water. Even if water is provided constantly, regular stops should be provided on long or hot journeys to allow your dog to go to the toilet, get some fresh air and stretch their legs.
Hot weather can be a huge safety hazard for your dog, especially when travelling or waiting in the car. When travelling on sunny days we recommend using sunscreens on the windows to protect your pets from the glaring sun. Although you should never leave your dog unattended in the car for prolonged periods this becomes even more important on hot days. Even with adequate water and sunscreens, cars can very rapidly become unbearably hot on warm days. Being stuck in a hot car can be extremely distressing and even fatal for your pet in as little as 20 minutes. Therefore, on hot days we suggest that you plan ahead and avoid the need to leave your dog in the car even for short periods.
We hope that this information can help you and your dog to enjoy many safe and happy journeys wherever you are travelling.