Safe car travel for pets

From time to time all of us need to transport our pets in the car, and it’s important to make these trips as safe as possible, both for the pets and for us people travelling in the car with them. One of our nurses, Jackie, recently alerted us to a problem with many harnesses as you will read below.

I have always just assumed that it was a requirement of South Australian law to restrain all dogs travelling in the car. In the process of writing this blog I was surprised to learn that this really isn’t the case. It is unlawful to drive with an animal on your lap, or to lead an animal while driving, but inside a car, provided the animal is not being recklessly put at risk, a formal restraint (i.e. harness) is not necessary. It is required under the Dog and Cat Management act of 1995 to restrain dogs travelling on the back of a utility vehicle, unless they are a guide dog, or a working dog in the process droving or tending of stock, or coming from or going to a place where they will be used in that manner.

If you travel a lot with your pets it’s important to check with your insurance company if they require your animal to be restrained. My insurance company, a leading company, advised that as long as my animals were travelling legally they would cover damage to my car, another car or injury to a human passenger caused by my animal in road accident. Also different states have different requirements for animal restraint within the car.

With that being said, what do I do with my dogs? They wear harnesses and are attached via a seat belt attachment to the hooks designed for child restraints using a carabiner. In the rare occasion they are on the back seat these seat belt attachments click into the seat belt. I do drive a hatchback and my husband a station wagon so the two large dogs are comfortable, in fact I recently had 3 dogs all over 30kg sitting snuggly in the back of my Festiva. We also made an effort to teach them from a young age to sit down while in the car. In a sedan style car, most dogs, including quite large ones will fit into the foot wells.

In my opinion a dog in the foot well is in a much safer place than being unrestrained on the passenger or back seat. Sure they can’t stick their head out the window, but in an accident they are less likely to be propelled forward into the windscreen. Dogs that stand in the car, even those who are restrained are at risk of injury if you break suddenly. The front foot well is a great place to pop the cat box. I like cat boxes made from strong plastic and wire. The old fashioned wicker boxes are great if you can get them. Put the passenger seat up against the back of the box and they are quite secure. Most rabbits will fit in a cat box and our smaller rats and mice can be transported in little plastic travel boxes easily sourced at pet shops. Birds should come in a small cage. Empty the water bowl while moving and top up again when you stop or arrive at your destination.

I use the Easy Walk harnesses and can’t say enough good things about them. However recently the topic has come up at work as to what is the safest brand of harness to use. I had harnesses and thought they were good enough, and that I was doing a good job as a pet owner. Like a lot of pet products, harnesses are not required to be road tested.

So, we did a little research. Luckily for us NRMA Insurance (the NSW equivalent of the RAA) tested 25 harnesses. Dog shaped, weighted dummies were put in a variety of harnesses and were tested at speeds up to 35km/hr. Not only did these tests confirm that an unrestrained animal on the back seat could hit the dashboard hard enough to cause injury at only 20km/hr but that only 2 harnesses passed their testing. These were the Purina Roadie harness and the more expensive Sleepypod Clickit Harness. They reported that the Purina Harness is more effective for dogs under 35kg. Jackie has taken a photo of her dog wearing a Purina Roadie Harness. We now stock the Purina Harnesses.

I am now planning on upgrading to a safer car harness and use my existing harnesses for walking. Car travel should be a normal part of most animals life, even if it is just for their once a year check ups and I think we all want that to be as safe as possible. It’s nice from time to time to think about these every day activities and improve them where we can. For other common threats, visit our page at Pet First Aid.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

Andrew

5 Replies to “Safe car travel for pets”

  1. If you travel a lot with your pets it’s important to check with your insurance company if they require your animal to be restrained.

  2. I am looking for a new car restraint harness for my miniature poodle. I am elderly and have arthritis in my hands. I can no longer push those plastic clips together.

    Does anyone make an alternative style that is also safe?
    Thank you

    1. Hi Jennifer- I don’t think that the Roadie harness has any clips- any harness with plastic clips isn’t just a problem for arthritic hands, they are also too weak to withstand the forces of a collision. By all means check before you buy, but I recall only the regular friction strap adjustments like on any safety harness.
      Another option for a toy breed, and possibly a miniature, is to secure a carrier box in the footwell and train your dog to go into it.

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