Han Solo knew what was up when he made Chewbacca his wingman, because from a companionship standpoint, there’s nothing like hitting the highway with your favorite furry copilot on board. But not everyone has access to a Wookie who knows how to handle jumps through hyperspace, so us earthlings are stuck working with what we’ve got. 

Since most of Earth’s pets don’t have opposable thumbs, or the cognitive ability to toggle switches in a sequential manner, we are stuck caring for them and their safety, both on and off the interstate. But in a world still reeling from pandemic lockdowns and the revelation that pets have the ability to spread COVID-19, windshield time has taken a backseat. On the upside, you have been gifted ample time to prepare for the moment those travel restrictions are finally lifted, and both you and your four-legged companion can safely hit the highway once more. 

So in the spirit of research and preparation, here are a few details on what to watch out for when traveling with your pets. COVID isn’t the only thing to watch out for in today’s world. And while avoiding distractions and driving dangers is crucial to a road trip’s success, so too is reducing stress. This topic, and a handful of others will be discussed in the following paragraphs, suggestions coming from the nation’s top pet experts and insurance agencies.

Naturally, we understand that there are a plethora of other approaches one can take when preparing and traversing with pets, we just find the following to be the most universally accepted and useful.

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment /YouTube

Acclimating Your Dog to Car Rides

We begin with an article from BMW, which emphasizes the importance of taking it slow with dogs who are unfamiliar with car rides. The last thing you want on an eight hour road trip is having to fret over a stressed pooch in the backseat, as it whimpers and wails, a sad, shedding mass of fur and feces.

Avoid road trip trauma by gradually introducing your pup to car rides at home, starting with the vehicle parked and the engine off. If the dog hops inside and seems comfortable with its enclosed surroundings, congrats, you’ve probably got a natural travel companion on your hands. However, if the hound seems hesitant, you’ll need to do some coaching. 

For timid dogs, start by feeding them some treats near the stationary vehicle, and then after opening the door, climb inside and encourage them to join you. Once coaxed inside (more treats may be required), allow them to sniff around until they seem comfortable with the enclosed surroundings. Carefully close the door, and then hang out inside the vehicle for 10-15 minutes, going about your normal routine of scrolling through your phone or reading a magazine, all while petting that pooch. These affirmative actions will help reassure the beast, as your calm state and recognizable routine actions will offer confirmation that there is no need to scratch the dash, and that this is indeed a safe environment. 

Once you feel like your pet has acclimated to its newfound environment, start the vehicle, and if the dog seems fine with the engine noise and vibration, go for a leisurely drive around the neighborhood. As your pet becomes more accustomed to the experience of riding in a car, it’s time to look into booster seat and harness options, crucial safety features that we will discuss further into this feature.  

Once the canine is content with car rides around town, and an assigned seat has been determined, the dog should recognize that the only option for travel is in a set location. From there you can begin charting road trips, knowing that the beast will likely remain content with its assigned space within the vehicle.

So get to training, because the sooner you can familiarize a dog with travelling by automobile, the easier it will be for both master and hound alike. Oh, and for those of you looking for cat travel tips, just keep scrolling. We’ve got your feline friend covered as well.

Quick Nerd Note: If you plan on going anywhere beyond a gentle cruise around the block, it is advisable that you harness your dog or place it in a carrier, both for its safety and yours. Sudden braking and collisions can turn man’s best friend into a sharply clawed projectile in a split second, so the sooner you get your dog comfortable with being strapped in for safety the better.

Prepping for Pet Travel

A good rule of claw is to allow your animal a break when you pull of the highway for a quick rest. Toilet time, stretching, snacks, water, and some much needed distraction from the open road are greatly appreciated by human and four-legged beast alike, so plan ahead and allow a little extra time at each rest stop for your furry companion.   

Precautions wise, it’s never a bad idea to install a waterproof sheet underneath the area where your pet will be residing for the duration of the trip. Anxiousness can cause car sickness and unscheduled bathroom breaks in many species, so having a protective layer of plastic along with a roll or two of paper towels and an automotive upholstery approved cleaning spray are all wise safety precautions. It’s also not a bad idea to resist feeding your dog for an hour or two prior to embarking upon your journey together, and to take the pooch for a long walk in order to guarantee that they have ample time to relieve themselves.

Quick Nerd Note:  As spring tips into summer, temps climb, and with them so too do heat related dangers. Leaving your pet in the car is risky. A pleasant 72° Fahrenheit outside temp can send an airtight car interior soaring to 116° degrees within an hour if enough direct sunlight is applied. Even with the windows cracked on an 85° day, interior temps can hit 102° Fahrenheit in under 10 minutes, causing pet emergencies like irreversible organ damage and even death in certain species.

Photo Credit: SleepyPod

Driving Safety and Your Pet

The Humane Society of the United States advises that when traveling, to always make sure that you keep your pet(s) in the back seat of the vehicle when it is in motion. While driver distraction is definitely a concern, the fact that car airbags are engineered to protect adult humans, and not four-legged beasts is also a risk. So keep that canine protected from deployed airbags, and never transport them in the back of a pickup truck, as you run the risk of injuring the dog and those around you.

For open cabin vehicles, opting for a well-crafted transit crate or a dog barrier behind the back seat is your best bet. While caged carriers can be strapped down via the automobile’s standard restraints, the need for a harness is mandatory when utilizing a barrier. Barriers keep pets out of the cabin but they don’t do squat for pet safety, so installing a harness is necessary. Harnesses are like seat belts for pets, and they can be attached to everything from tie-downs, to seat buckles and LATCH systems. So the sooner you get your dog comfortable with one of these options, the better off you’ll both be on the open road.

Quick Nerd Note: Harnesses are engineered to be attached to leashes, so many people opt for this safety option due to its ability to make rest stops safe and easy. Pooches need bathroom breaks and the chance to stretch just like humans, so keeping a leash option handy is going to be of great benefit to you both.

Photo Credit: KittyandLeeloo/YouTube

Crazy Kitties on Catnip and Dopey Dogs on Drugs

As opposed to dogs, who typically relish the notion of climbing inside a car, cats tend to despise automobiles. Most felines will freak out when placed inside a moving vehicle, thus making a carrier mandatory equipment, both for their sanity and your safety. That said, the sight of a cat sprawled across the dash or soaking-up some sun on the backseat of a sedan that’s bumping down the interstate does occur on occasion. Kudos to these pet owners, because they might as well be riding to town atop a unicorn. 

For those of us who have yet to wrangle a “Unikitty,” the need for a carrier that’s been loaded with the feline’s favorite blanket is practically mandatory. Some people will go as far as requesting a sedative from their veterinarian in order to help their feline friend relax during the trip, but at great risk.

Feline sedatives have been linked to everything from nausea and irritability, to organ damage and sudden death, so heed your vet’s warnings before administering these manmade drugs. Personally, we suggest skipping the hardcore sedatives, and instead, opting for the natural approach. All you have to do is make their pet carrier as cozy as possible, and then spike it with a toy that’s been loaded with catnip, or sprinkle a handful of this green stuff inside. Catnip is a natural sedative, so while the cat may complain for a while, eventually the plant’s natural properties will take hold, and dopiness will ensue.

Meanwhile, dogs tend to respond best to synthetic pheromones, some of which are available in topical formats, like bandanas, puppy sweaters, and collars. Drugs such as these tend to be most effective on younger pups, as the pheromone-rich scents replicate the aroma of the mother that cared for them not too long ago. Throw in a few of their favorite treats along the way, some quality play time for five minutes during rest stops, and the dog’s favorite toy or a new chew toy, and that pooch will be loving road trips.

Quick Nerd Note: You should never let your dog hang their head out the window. From road debris and insects in the air, to narrow construction site detours and low-hanging tree branches, the risks are far greater than the rewards. So if that mutt in the back seat is causing a stench in the car, feel free to crack a window for that canine, but anything past a snout should be avoided for safety reasons. 

Photo Credit: AAA

Best Way to Secure Your Pet in a Vehicle

In order to guarantee safe, successful car rides with your animal companion, you must first factor in what type of pet you are transporting, its size/weight, and where you plan on stowing said beastie. Traveling with a box turtle is completely different than hitting the highway with a husky, so read-up on your state’s DOT regulations, because the last thing anyone needs is a ticket for having an unsecured animal in the vehicle. 

While cats and smaller animals like rodents and reptiles should always be transported in an enclosed pet carrier, dogs have the benefit of being allowed to wear specialized restraint belts and harnesses. Unlike a dog carrier, these vests allow open-cabin travel, which in a hatchback, SUV, or van, can provide both comfort and safety, especially when a barrier is installed between the passenger portion of the cabin and the storage area.

According to experts, you should always try and secure your pet in the rear of the vehicle before considering other options. A cargo space’s tie-downs are strategically positioned so that the clasps can offer a convenient and safe travel experience for pets and products alike. Simply put, if it can be tethered, chances are there’s a tiedown with its name on it within most modern hatchback vehicles. 

Naturally, if  these useful clips are not available in your automobile, a seatbelt and a dedicated backseat space is the next best option, at which point you might want to shift gears, and consider adding a dog car seat instead. These fluffy, harnessed booster seats are designed to offer canines a comfortable seating position, complete with ample room for views out the window, and a seat belt secured harness system for when quick stops or sudden impacts occur. 

A recent article by NY Mag’s advice spin-off, The Strategist, focuses on the significance of these dog car seats, and lists a few things to watch out for when purchasing and attaching these practical puppy safety products. Upon conferring with an array of experts and pet owners, The Strategist revealed that the best dog car seats were the ones specifically engineered around impact protection, many of which served double-duty as pet carriers.

One key caveat here, is that in order to securely mount a dog seat, it must not only be properly installed, but pass a series of tests implemented by the Center for Pet Safety. Unfortunately, many of the highest rated seats on the market tend to be geared more toward smaller dogs. On the bright side, manufacturers have been able to produce oversized versions of these miniature booster seats for mid-sized mongrels. Paired with a seat belt and an appropriately sized safety harness, these setups can safely and comfortably transport pups weighing as mush as 90 pounds. 

Large dogs are the only ones that really miss out on the booster seat option, instead relying upon a hammock seat, a design that has its own unique merits. Being that canine seat hammocks tend to be an “all encompassing” product, they are ideal for keeping the rear of your vehicle free from unwanted fur and filth. They also double as a cloth barrier that prevents the pooch from trying to access the front portion of the cabin. Many of these transit hammocks can also be paired with a dog carrier or seat, and due to their padding, offer additional impact protection in case of an accident.

Regardless of what form of pet safety restraint you choose, it is vital that the product is able to effectively absorb kinetic energy during an accident, all while keeping the critter from leaving its assigned seat. This explains the significance of attaching the animal to the car seat LATCH system, and not to the far more forgiving seat belt itself.

According to a report by AAA focusing on “Pet Passenger Safety,” only 16% of pet owners surveyed during their study admitted that they used some form of pet restraint system when driving with their dog. Being that an unrestrained pet can become a projectile during an accident or under extreme braking, the need for a secure option is imperative.

So either opt for a padded harness or dog seat with clips that can be affixed to the vehicle’s DOT-approved LATCH system, or use a crate that can be safely strapped down. And while certification from the Center for Pet Safety guarantees the highest level of roadworthy protection, we suggest opting for a product that is also TSA-approved.

Final Quick Nerd Note: Safely traveling with dogs is way more involved than contending with pet hair and fretting over the protection of your puppy. Human occupant safety is crucial as well. A calm and quiet cabin translates to one less distracted/stressed driver on the road. So for the sake of your safety and sanity, train that critter to be silent and still when you’re behind the wheel.

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