Safety Guide FOR


in Your Car

Taking a trip on the road – of whatever length – with your pet can be a great bonding experience. Having a pet that’s comfortable with travel will make your life easier, and will open up a range of adventures for you and your family.

However, it’s not simply the case that you can load up the car and have your dog, cat, parrot, or iguana just jump in. Like driving with a child in the car, you need to make sure your pet is safe and secure for their own sake, and for the safety of others in the vehicle.

There are really two parts to keeping your pet safe in the car; making them safe during the journey and preparing the indirect details to keep them safe, healthy, and happy when you travel.

In both cases, a little preparation is necessary but will make the actual journey itself far smoother.

Crate or carrier

The Humane Society recommends that pets always be transported in a carrier when traveling by car. While it may be tempting to just let your pet roam free while you’re driving, it can be unsafe for both pet and humans to do so. In the event of a crash, even a small dog can become a major projectile, which can cause major injury to other passengers.

The Humane Society recommends that a pet carrier should Have:

    • Durable structure
    • Smooth edges
    • Opaque sides
    • A grille door
    • Several ventilation holes on each side
  • You should also choose one with a secure door and door latch.

  • If any part of the carrier breaks or stops working, you should immediately purchase a new one.

Dog seat belts may seem like a good solution, and they certainly work for preventing your dog from roaming around the vehicle when in transit, but there is little or no evidence to suggest that they keep dogs safer in crashes.

While dogs may be relatively used to traveling in a car, the same is not true of cats; a panicked cat may cause a major distraction for the driver, so cats should always be placed in a crate, even for short journeys.

Make sure that the crate is securely fastened down using the seat belt. A crate that jumps around will be extremely dangerous for the animal inside.

Mental preparation

If you’re planning on taking a long trip, and your pet is not used to being in the car for an extended period of time, then you should take a few ‘warm up’ drives in advance of the main event. If you’re well-prepared, you can do this over the months leading up to your trip. The first step is to get your pet used to its carrier.

  • Keep the crate in the house and let your pet play in it.
  • Place the food bowl inside on a couple of occasions, closing the door for brief periods
    so your pet is used to being inside.
  • If your pet is unwilling to get into the carrier (this is common with cats), don’t push them in against their will; instead, you should put your pet’s favorite blanket inside, as well as a toy.
  • Place treats near the entrance to the carrier, gradually getting your pet closer and closer to going in.
  • Once your pet is in, close the door for short periods and then give a treat. The goal is to make your pet comfortable with the carrier.

Once your pet is used to being inside the carrier, you can take them on short trips with you to get them used to the motion and noise of car travel. If your pet is familiar with car trips, it will be better behaved and may even enjoy your long trip. By preparing in advance of your trip, you will be able to anticipate your pet’s behaviors and can prepare for common eventualities.

During your trip, you should aim to take regular short breaks. This will give your pet a chance to go to the bathroom as well as let off a little steam. Even if the temptation is to get to the destination as quickly as possible, you should really aim for at least one break every hour.

Prep your car

Having your car ready will take a lot of the stress out of driving with your pet. Although your pet will be safely secured in his or her crate, you should aim to have key items at an arm’s length in case you need to access it quickly.

A toiletry bag opened up can over the back of the passenger seat and will make an excellent way of storing the key items you’ll need during the trip.

  • Buying rubberized floor liners and waterproof seat covers will also help to keep your car clean, especially if you’ve been camping or anywhere outdoors with your dog.

  • A healthy supply of wipes in the glovebox of the car is an absolute necessity.

You should adjust the speakers in your car so that the sound in the back is minimized, if not eliminated. Most modern cars allow you to shift the balance of the sound to the front.

This will help protect your pet’s hearing and help keep them calm, without the need for you to sacrifice your own listening habits.

Food + Water

You should aim to bring enough food for the duration of your trip along with a decent reserve supply in case of emergencies.

However, on your trip, you should not feed your pet while driving. Instead, you should make regular stops when it’s feeding time. Feeding a pet while driving could lead to choking, and while you’re driving, you’ll be unable to intervene.

Before your trip, give your pet a light meal three to four hours before you drive. You can have treats for the ride, but it’s better to avoid eating a large meal in advance of traveling.

You should also make sure to have more than enough water. If you’re traveling to a different part of the country (or even outside of the country) there is the chance that bacteria in the water could cause your pet to have a stomach upset.

Given that, bottled water gives you the best means of preventing any dangers caused by the change of scenery. If you can’t bring yourself to give your pet a bottled water-only diet, then filling up water bottles from your tap at home will have the same effect.

If your animal suffers from motion sickness, then you can bring ice cubes to give it instead of water. This will compel your pet to drink more slowly, which will help to settle their stomach and prevent the need for any messy clean up on your part.

Travel Kit

Regardless of the length of your journey, it’s worth always having a ‘travel kit’ ready for your pet. You can put the items required in a sturdy bag located near the entrance to your home, or even in your car.

The AVMA recommends the following items:

    • Collar, leash, harness
    • Bed, Blankets, Pillows
    • Grooming Supplies
    • Toys
    • Prescribed medication (this should be enough for the duration of the trip, plus a couple of day’s additional medication, in case of emergency)
    • Plastic bags

If you know that there are additional items that your pet needs for traveling (such as a favorite toy), it is sometimes worth buying duplicates to have in the car.

Don’t leave your pet alone

One of the best known and most-ignored aspects of having a pet inside a vehicle is that it is unsafe to leave your pet alone in the car on a hot day. Temperatures within cars can rapidly exceed the safe level for a pet, even on days that don’t seem particularly hot. This is the case even when your car is not parked within direct sunlight.

  • According to the American Veterinary Society, the interior temperature of vehicles parked in outside temperatures between 72° F and 96° F rise steadily until they well exceed the external air temperature.

  • It is not the case that cars simply heat up to the outside temperature. They trap heat and very quickly become warmer than the air outside the car.

A car parked outside in 70° F heat will reach an interior temperature of 104° F within 30 minutes, and after an hour will be around 115° F.

In external temperatures of 95° F, a car will reach 129° F after 30 minutes and 140° F after an hour. This same study found that opening a window had a minimal effect on preventing the temperature rise.

Simply put, it is not safe to leave your pet alone in a car. Parking in the shade or cracking the window has little overall effect on the temperature rise within a car, and it can very quickly become unsafe and even deadly.


If you’re planning a road trip with your pet, and are crossing state lines, then you may need to bring your pets vaccination records. This is rarely enforced, but some states require evidence of a rabies vaccination.

As well as this, you can put together a packet of useful documents to carry in your car. Taking the time before your trip to put togetherthe following documents will keep you covered for most eventualities.

According to the AVMA, the items to include are:

  • The contact information (name, address, phone number) of your current veterinarian.

  • A list of veterinarians and 24-hour emergency hospitals along the way, and close to your ultimate destination.

  • Contact information for National Animal Poison Control.

Identification documents, including

  • A current (color) photograph of your pet.

  • Certificate of veterinary inspection.

  • List of medical history.

  • An ID tag with the owner’s name, current address and an up-to-date phone number.

  • Proof of vaccinations (as stated above, rabies is required, but it is also best to have evidence of all vaccinations).

  • A travel ID tag with the owner’s destination address and contact number, contact information for the accommodation (hotel, campground etc).

If you are planning to cross an international border in your car, there will be a requirement for some additional documentation. You should check this well in advance (also, don’t forget to check the requirements for re-entry – for example, if you’re planning to drive from the U.S. to a trip to Canada, you should determine what is required for entry into Canada, but also for entry into the U.S.).


If you’re planning on taking a long trip with your pet, then having it implanted with a microchip is a potential way to avoid heartbreak. If your pet gets loose in an unfamiliar area, or one a long way from home, it can be extremely difficult to find it again; it is also unlikely that your pet will be able to find its way home.

Speak to your vet about your microchip options. These are small chips placed under the pet’s skin. The microchip is registered with your contact information, including your address and cell phone number.

You should make sure that all your information on the chip is up to date. Most microchips also come with tags so that if your animal is found, it does not require a veterinarian to return the pet to you.

Ultimately, being able to take road trips with your pet is a great opportunity to enjoy your life, to make memories, and to share wonderful experiences with your pet. Failing that, it can simply make life easier when it’s time to run errands.

Either way, knowing how to keep your pet safe is critical – not just for ensuring their safety, but for yours too. A hyper, boisterous animal will be a major distraction on the road.

An improperly secured pet may also cause themselves and you major injury in the event of a crash. Keeping your pet safe and happy will mean that your road trip gets off to the best possible start.

Sources and Further Reading


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