Riding in cars with pets

June 26, 2019

Archer the Border Collie Lab mix

We think of pets as our best friends, part of the family, our 'fur babies.' At this time of year, many pet parents are making plans to bring their pet along on a road trip. Whether you're driving long distances, or just doing some quick errands around town, ICBC and the BC SPCA urge drivers to drive smart and consider the safety of their pets if they're bringing them along for the ride.

Fetch some safety gear 

ICBC and the BC SPCA recommend always using some form of safety restraint whenever travelling with a pet. Having your pet properly restrained can prevent them from escaping, flying forward in your vehicle, or being hurt in a crash.

Loose animals can also pose a safety risk for first responders, as a disoriented and injured animal may try to attack a responder or run into traffic. Pet harnesses/safety belts and hard-shell crates secured down are sound options.

BC SPCA sells harness car restraints – a great resource for pet parents.

Protect your pup

Harnesses come in various sizes to fit your dog. Make sure the harness fits properly and is easy to put on. A rule of thumb is to leave an allowance for two fingers to fit between the harness and your pup for a comfortable fit. Dogs should be able to stand, sit, or lay down comfortably, without having to brace themselves while you're turning, reversing or stopping.

If you're using a crate, it should be secured by a seatbelt, cargo hooks, or placed by the rear seat to secure it in place. If unsecured, the crate can bounce around and even become a projectile. When you're buying a crate for your dog, look for one that has been crash-tested.

Kit out your kitty

If you leave your cat loose in your vehicle, they could crawl around your feet, and potentially interfere with gas or brake pedals. In addition, your cat can easily escape from your vehicle if you open your windows.

The BC SPCA recommends "airline type" (not cardboard) cat travel carriers. A sturdier carrier will protect your cat from escaping and from injury in the event of a crash. Help your cat learn to love their carrier before your first trip by offering treats, food, and a familiar blanket inside and gradually encouraging them to hang out in the carrier.

Sophia the kitty

Loose pets in the backs of pick-ups are a major faux-paw

It is illegal and dangerous to travel with an unsecured pet in the exterior of a truck. Section 72 of the BC Motor Vehicle Act prohibits the transport of an unsecured pet in the back of a pickup truck. If you must transport your pet in the back of a truck, the safest method is in a secured crate in the centre of your truck box. See the BC SPCA website for more information.

(Fur) babies shouldn't ride up front

For the same reason ICBC discourages children under 12 from sitting in the front seat of vehicle, the same safety risks of a deployed air bag can have devastating consequences for animals as well.

To keep your furry family member safest, they should never sit in the front seat, but be secured in the back seat or cargo area of an SUV or van.

They can be lap dogs at home, not in the car

Your pup is super entertaining, but make sure you take steps to prevent them from becoming a distraction while you're driving. Drivers can be ticketed $368 for driving 'without due care and attention,' the fine comes with six penalty points which results in a $360 Driver Penalty Point Premium. So refrain from allowing your pet to sit on your lap, from reaching into the back seat to interact with them; and from feeding, playing, or taking a photo of them while you're driving. They'll be just as cute if you wait until you reach your destination to snap some pics.

Pack essentials in a doggie bag

Keep your four-legged pals happy by bringing food, water, dishes, bedding and toys. Get them set and comfy before you go so they're not diverting your attention away from the road.

If you're taking a long trip, plan for a pit stop every few hours – it's good for drivers and pets alike to stretch and get fresh air.

Tuco the Jack Russell Terrier

Don't get your nose out of joint – Stay inside the vehicle

A dog's sense of smell is 40x great than ours. It's no wonder they're so enamoured with hanging their heads out the window to get some sniffs. While it's tempting to let them do it, Dr. Kuan, an SPCA veterinarian, cautions against this, stating, "Dogs can contract corneal ulcers from flying debris – such as dust or sand – and can be hit by objects coming close to your vehicle."

You should keep your windows lowered for ventilation, but make sure you disable your power windows to prevent your doggo from accidentally opening a window, where it can then escape or cause the window to close on its neck.

Pups don't relish being hot dogs

Vehicles can quickly heat up in summer weather, and can endanger your pet's health. Even a car parked in the shade with the windows cracked open can get hot enough to cause heatstroke or death of an animal. "There have been situations where owners thought the air conditioning would be able to cool the back seat where their dog was," remarks Dr. Kuan, "only to find them unconscious when they got back." Don't let this be your puppy!

Avoid a ruff ride – Prepare a furst aid kit

With more trips and outdoor activities planned, pets are at an increased risk of developing sprains and strains, lacerations, bites, and of picking up internal or external parasites. It's best to stock your vehicle with a pet first-aid kit, as well as researching information about nearby veterinary practices in places you're traveling to or staying in.

It's great if your pet loves nothing more than to go for a ride, but if your dog or cat are prone to motion sickness or anxiety associated with travel, SPCA vet, Dr. Radnic, suggests that you "have the necessary medication or supplements to help with these symptoms."

Have a safe and fun road trip with your furry travel companions!

Visit the BC SPCA's website or ICBC's pet travel page for more safety tips.