Aaron DiManna
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A Few Tips to Keep Your Pet Safe in the Car

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An adorable dog sitting in the driver's seat.
A good boy, but he definitely doesn’t have a license
Photo: PublicDomainPictures via pixabay

Travelling can be a significant source of stress, even when you’re by yourself. For those of us with pets, that anxiety is compounded by the worry of spooking our beloved fur children or accidentally paying more attention to them than driving. But worry not, I’ve compiled a couple of common-sense tips to help keep you and your pets safe when driving.

Prep your pet for trips:

There are several ways to slowly acclimate your pet to car rides. Dogs have a reputation for enjoying cars as much as humans, but it’s important to remember that each pupper is an individual. The ASPCA recommends taking your pet on multiple short drives, increasing the duration each time. Try to emulate the conditions they’ll be in, e.g., crated or not, so that they’ll be as comfortable as possible when they embark on the real trip.


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For cats, things can be a bit more complicated. Most cats aren’t comfortable or used to car travel, so the process can put them under undue stress. If your cat is young, try to expose them to rides as early as possible. This can become doubly important once they start attending routine vet appointments, which is likely to stress them out on its own.

If your cat is already an adult, all hope is not lost. Vet Street recommends first teaching Dr. Snuffleboots (which, statistically, is probably the name of someone’s cat) to love spending time in their crate. Then introduce your crated feline to being in the crate, in the car.

An orange cat sitting on the wheel of a car.
A good example of how not to keep your cat safe in a car
Photo: Jorbasa Fotografie via Flikr

To crate or not to crate:

It can feel unpleasant to crate your pet, but the truth is that it’s probably the safest option for everyone involved, especially cats. To begin with, it means that you can devote all of your attention to the road without having to worry about your animal getting into the bag of grapes you brought to snack on while you’re looking where you should be. Similarly, it eliminates the possibility of Professor Happywag (statistically the name of someone’s puppy) getting anywhere near the gas or brake pedals; a situation that has no happy ending.

If your dog is a seasoned passenger and you don’t think they need to be crated, it’s important to remember that it is illegal to drive with a dog on your lap in both Hawaii and New Jersey, although most other states could still hit you with a distracted driving charge for the act. If at all possible, try to have another passenger in the car who can pay attention to your uncrated pet(s) while you pay attention to the road.

A dog with a red collar sitting behind the steering wheel
Adorable, but inadvisable
Photo: Junior Libby

Don’t forget about your pet’s needs and health:

There is never a circumstance under which it’s okay to leave your pet alone in a parked vehicle, even with the windows down. You love General Snaggletooth (statistically the name of either a cat or a dog) like a member of the family, and there’s no reason they should be one of the hundreds of pets who die every year in hot cars.

Also, keep in mind that your furry friend will need food, water, and bathroom breaks. Nobody likes driving hungry, and even fewer like discovering a smelly bathroom mistake on their car’s upholstery. If you’re traveling with a dog, make sure you’ve provided water and food (depending on the length of the trip), and periodically pull off at rest stops so they can potty somewhere other than your backseat.


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For long trips with cats, the best advice the ASPCA has is to line their crate with some form of absorbent bedding to catch any potential accidents.

Taking care of a pet is never completely black and white, so be sure to consider your animal’s unique quirks before the next time you hit the road. If you’re traveling by plane or if Commander Nibbles (there has to be at least one out there) has particularly bad travel anxiety, look into boarding options or consider hiring a pet sitter.

Limiting variables and distractions is the best way to keep both you and your pet as safe as possible in the car.


Sources: ASPCA, Vet Street, The Independent