Wed. Sep 27th, 2023

“People underestimate how stressful travel can be for their pets.”

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Do you travel with a pet in the car? If a recent Allstate Insurance survey of pet owners is correct, you might be putting the life of your closest furry friend at risk. Car manufacturers are busy ensuring your ride is incredibly safe for its occupants, and the makers of car seats are on it where your human children are concerned. But your wee (and large) furry beasts could be in danger if you don’t secure them.

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While in the vehicle, 47 per cent of Canadians admit to letting Fido or Trixie Belle roam free. Nearly 60 per cent of you will be heading out on a road trip this summer and bringing along your pets; 25 per cent of you take those pets out in a vehicle once a week or more.

Summer weather

As we enter into record-breaking temperatures, pets in cars present a two-fold cause for concern: cars that are parked and those that are moving. No animal should be left in a parked car — unless it is equipped with something like Tesla’s Dog Mode, in which case the owner should leave a note letting concerned witnesses know. You can go online and find articles from ‘experts’ who tell you safe ways to leave your dog in a car, and find many of their commenters expressing their anger at the Karens of the world who confront them when they do. There are all kinds of vehicles and there are all kinds of weather, but if you truly believe you should leave any living creature in a vehicle with the windows cracked during the hottest temperatures we’ve ever experienced, you’re wrong. I’ve put myself in that situation. It was not enjoyable.

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Securing your pet in a moving vehicle

Anyway. Back to moving cars. You wouldn’t let any of your passengers crawl around your moving car, and the same holds true for your pets. Cats have always been easier to transport in their cages (cats love to be given options if only to demonstrate that they can’t be told what to do), but dogs of all sizes need to be secured, too. From crates to tethers, what actually constitutes safety for your pet?

Forget perusing the displays at your local pet store. Unlike car and car seat testing that is carried out to rigid specifications and ever-higher standards, it might surprise you to learn that there is little done to ensure that any of those commercially available options actually make your pet any safer. There is only one place — the Center for Pet Safety — that performs ‘crash testing’ on products sold to keep your dog safe.

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“It is important for the test dog to stay on the seat for the duration of the test. We want to ensure the hardware, webbing, connection point and excursion thresholds are met — and help pet owners understand that extension tethers and zipline-style products increase the risk of injury.” If you own a dog, please go to their site and view the crash test videos. One manufacturer — Subaru — sponsors the CPS in their work. Spoiler alert: there is one product that passed the test, the SleepPod ClickIt. One. Proper systems should work similarly to child safety seats, and be anchored to the car and snuggly secure the animal. Cages or kennels should be secured according to the manufacturer’s directions with seatbelts or anchor points.

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Dog Safety Harness
Pets should be restrained with a wide-strip harness or in a pet carrier that’s secured to the seat or cargo compartment. Photo by Bark Buckle Up

Gene Myles, an agency manager with Allstate, reiterates a few current facts — 67 per cent of Canadians have a pet, many acquired during the pandemic and 47 per cent of those pets travel unrestrained. “You have to acclimate a pet for travel. If you take one road trip a year (as 58 per cent of respondents plan to do this year), that animal might not be used to that situation.” If you’re a once-a-year long hauler, be sure to get your pup used to the ride by exposing them to more frequent, shorter ones. “People underestimate how stressful travel can be for their pets,” says Myles. He adds you should never take a sick animal on holiday, and also recommends having your pet’s vaccine docs with you depending on where you are planning to travel.

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What happens if my pet isn’t secured in the vehicle?

Can’t be bothered with restraining them? Consider the following:

  • A small dog sitting on your lap may look cute, but one airbag detonation and Fluffers is paste. It’s also illegal in many places, and can net you a careless driving ticket.
  • Roaming pets can be a huge distraction to a driver.
  • Startled pets can cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
  • In the event of a crash, that pet could be thrown into an emotional tailspin, as well as becoming a deadly projectile. First responders will be tending to humans, and if a stressed dog tries to stop them, they will contend with that dog.
  • Scared dogs will bolt. Secure them to a lead before leaving the car at a rest stop.
  • In the event of a crash, a loose dog could run across live lanes of traffic.

One of the worst stories I heard was from a vet. A client was in a crash and their large dog took off, terrified. He wasn’t located until three days later, and with a broken leg. Don’t put your beloved animals in this predicament.

According to the survey, a quarter of pet owners take them along in the car once a week. While this indicates those pets are used to car travel, please consider that longer journeys are not the same thing, and your loved pet should be properly secured.

Lorraine Sommerfeld picture

Lorraine Sommerfeld

Sommerfeld has been polishing her skills as an advocate for over 16 years, helping decipher a complicated industry for consumers who just need good information. A two-time AJAC Journalist of the Year, ask her anything – except to do a car review.


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