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30 Jul 2020
Georgina Kent Georgina Kent

Keeping your pet safe in the car

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A dog in a red harness looking out of a car window

As summer takes full swing and lockdown eases, many are taking to the roads for a staycation with their pets.

Here’s what you need to know about keeping your pet safe in the car.

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Is it legal to travel without restraining your pet?


Driving with an unrestrained pet isn’t an offence. But if you drive carelessly and you have an unrestrained pet, that could be added to the offence.

The fixed penalty for this could be as little as £100 and three points on your licence. 

Rule 57 of The Highway Code states:

“When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly.

A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.”

Careless driving can carry an unlimited fine. You could also face being disqualified, and your points could increase to nine.


What are pet restraints?


A pet restraint is a special seat belt just for cats or dogs. You can use a carrier or cage too. Both are classed as ‘restraints’ to keep your pets safe while travelling in the car.

They help make sure your pets don’t get thrown around the car if you have an accident, and that they don’t get under your feet as a driver.


What’s the difference between a harness and a crate?


A harness is a special seat belt for pets. Cats and dogs usually. Whereas a crate is for dogs that are crate-trained.

If you opt for a crate, you need to bear in mind they’re very large, and you’ll need a large boot to accommodate one.

Harnesses are generally considered the safer option.

The harness goes around the pet's chest and neck, just make sure it’s not too tight. You should be able to comfortably get two fingers between the harness and your pet.

Very small dogs might need a doggy booster seat too.


What’s best for my pet's wellbeing?


While a harness is generally the safest option, you may find your pet is more distressed while harnessed. In this situation, it could be worth trying other options like a crate.

If there’s more than one person in the car, one of you could sit next to help them feel comfortable.


My pet is nervous in the car, what can I do to help them?


If your dog is nervous being in the car, they may well need to be car-trained. You could start with taking them on a short journey in the car.  Take them somewhere nice like the beach to make the journey positive. 

Then over the course of a few weeks or months, increase the length of the journey, keeping an eye on their wellbeing.

Eventually they should be able to go on a long journey without too much distress. You’ll struggle to do this with a cat though, as generally speaking they’re never very happy when travelling in a car.


What if my dog suffers from travel sickness?


Thankfully this is more typical with puppies and young dogs. Much like with humans, as travel sickness tends to be more common in children. 

You should keep your eyes peeled for the signs, such as:

  • Your dog finding it hard to settle

  • Excessive drooling

  • Panting a lot

  • Yawning

  • And, you guessed it, throwing up.

What’s more, if you know your pet suffers from travel sickness, talk to your vet ahead of the trip as they may be able to help.

READ MORE: How to stop travel sickness 


Do I need to stop regularly when taking my dog on a road trip?


If your dog isn’t used to travelling long distances in the car, you’ll need to stop a little more often so they can get used to it. Here are some tips for road tripping with a dog:

  • Plan ahead and schedule regular stops so your dog can run around. Give them a drink and an opportunity to go to the toilet. You can try to pick spots where there are woods or a field to run about in

  • Unless you can't avoid it, try not to feed your dog while you’re travelling. Aim for their last feed to be 3 hours before you set off

  • Keep the car cool by having your air conditioning on, this will help them to calm the effects of heat in the car.


How do I keep my dog cool in the heat of the car on a road trip?


There are a few ways you can help your pooch stay cool on a long drive in the sun:

  • Keep the air conditioning on in the car

  • Much like with children, you can also pop a sun shade on the window to block some of the sun coming in

  • Crack the window a little for some breeze. But not so much that your dog can put their head out of the window, as that’s quite dangerous

  • Let your dog drink lots of cool water on your scheduled stops

  • You can also buy cool pads for them to sit on, and collars that are cooled

  • And whatever you do, don’t leave your dog unattended in the car. Even if you crack the window temperatures can very quickly climb to unsafe levels.

READ MORE: Dogs in hot cars


Keeping them safe

One of the biggest safety tips to bear in mind is to keep an eye on them. If they’re in a harness, keep checking them to ensure they don’t choke. And keep an eye on the signs of travel sickness.

As we mentioned above, try not to let them hang their heads of the windows. They’re likely to get dry eyes and could hurt their head on a passing vehicle or debris.

And finally, don’t forget to stop regularly. They’ll need to stretch their legs and have a break from the driving motion. 

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