Going for a car ride for most fur kids can be both exciting and scary. As fur parents, there are certain things to be mindful of to ensure this activity is as safe and as stress free as possible for them.
As with embarking on any activity with your fur kid, curb the excitement and not make a big deal of it. A calm fur kid responds much better to direction and copes more effectively with new experiences than an excited one. Maintain the role of leader of the pack and guide your fur kid. Start by insisting on exiting the home in the proper order of human first, and fur kid upon request. Enter the vehicle in the same calm orderly fashion.
Where should fur kids be in a vehicle? The answer is where they will be safe and comfortable, and where you as the driver will not be distracted. If your fur kid prefers the natural reassurance of being in a den-like environment, put a carrier/crate or bed in the vehicle. Ensure it is secured in place so as to not move around or topple over. A fur kid can be hurt and/or traumatized from being caught in a skittering or rolling carrier. If your fur kid is not going to be inside a carrier or segregated to one area of the vehicle with a by a gate barrier, use a seatbelt harness to confine them to their seat. Whether it is a carrier crate, barrier gate, or seatbelt harness that is being used, the critical thing to remember is to get the one appropriate for your fur kid’s size and strength for effectiveness, comfort, and safety. Keep tethers on the short side- just long enough to allow your fur kid to stand up, turn around, and lie down. Any longer not only defeats the purpose of restraint, but can be dangerous if it gets wrapped around your fur kid’s legs and/or neck or caught around other parts of the vehicle.
Next, just as your home should be scrutinized for potential pet hazards before your fur kid is left unattended, the same should be done for the insides of the vehicle before embarking on a car trip. Are there food items, containers, and wrappers within reach; how about potential choking hazards like children’s toys, pen caps, loose change and other small objects; how about poisons like windshield washer fluid, batteries, medications, creams or air fresheners? Is the immediate area where your fur kid will be sitting in good repair? Does the carrier or gate barrier have loose bolts and/or broken edges; is the bedding ripped or torn; are your fur kid’s tags, collar, and leash all in good shape? And while a toy or chew snack may seem like a good distraction for your fur kid during the trip, they can also be choke hazards, especially with the motion of the vehicle and sudden stops. Finally, utilize the child safety features available in most vehicles these days. Engage the driver control for door locks and rear windows. Most fur kids sitting in the backseat have either accidentally or through trial and error, figured out how to put their paw on these controls to open their window or pop the door locks. Always carry a spare key and use the emergency brake whenever your fur kid is in the vehicle alone- even for just the loading and unloading process.
The premise of all these precautions is that during the drive, you will not be able to supervise your fur kid and you may not be able to safely and immediately stop to assist them if they end up in distress. While all this may sound like worse case scenario, we all know accidents happen when least expected and in the blink of an eye. Now some fur parents will say that their fur kid is super well behaved and do not need all this. I would have agreed that there are exceptions, until a few random incidents with my own well behaved fur kid convinced me otherwise.
For four years, my fur kid always sat with a fully opened window during drives in the summer without even so much as a nose out the window. Then one hot summer day, after just loading him into the vehicle after walks, there was a noise as I was hopping into the vehicle. I turned to see my well behaved fur kid hanging half out of the window about to fall on his head. A rabbit had raced by the vehicle and he was intent on following. Fortunately we were not moving yet and I was able to pull him back in by his tail after clipping his head by rolling up the window. This was a fur kid accustomed to being in the vehicle every single day and one who never moved from his seat.
Another time, this same well behaved fur kid was in the front passenger seat- something that is not normally done, but due to circumstances, happened. He was curled up in the seat resting and as he fell asleep, his head lolled and fell against the gear shift putting the vehicle into neutral as we were driving down a major thoroughfare. These things do happen.
Fur kids may look super happy hanging out the car window or sitting in the front seat, but consider this. Think of the bugs that get splattered on the front of your vehicle and the gravel pieces that fly up to chip the windshield. These are the same airborne debris traveling outside the vehicle that your fur kid’s head and eyes are exposed to when they are hanging out the window. While the wind in their fur may be exhilarating, it really is not a safe practice. The laws of physics say that with speed and acceleration, even a particle of sand packs a punch. This danger is in addition to the potential danger of your fur kid falling out of the vehicle altogether.
Why is the front seat not a good idea for fur kids? The first reason would be distracted driving. We all love our fur kids and want to pet them and pay attention to them. Having them next to us makes this convenient but it takes us away from the task at hand, which is driving. Having them on our lap is just plain foolishness. The second reason would be personal safety. Smaller dogs, just like young human children should not be in the front seat because the deployment of the front seat airbag will cause great harm to them. An additional reason for no to any fur kid in the front seat is that should something catch their attention and/or scare them, they may either hit something on the dashboard/console that affects the operation of the vehicle or they physically get in the way of you being able to drive.
The final preparation step before taking your fur kid(s) out for a car ride is to get them to go potty. The excitement of the adventure combined with the jostling of the actual drive can get things moving and a shaking. Along the same lines, try not embark on a car ride immediately after feeding your fur kid(s)- have at least an hour lag time in between. Lastly, if the car ride is long, be sure to take the time to stop for more potty breaks along the way as well as to stretch the legs and have a bit of water. Car rides with your fur kid(s) can be pawsome memorable experiences when time is taken for thoughtful preparation.