This post is dedicated to my friend Reed Coleman, as well as to all the dogs and cats who are injured or die each year in vehicular accidents, and to the Husky dog I saw riding unrestrained, with an obvious look of anxiety on its face, in the bed of a small red pickup truck heading north on the I5 last week. The former is still very much with us, the middle ones sadly are not, and it is my sincere hope that the latter is – but I recognize that there is a distinct possibility that one day, that poor dog will jump, fall, or be thrown from the bed of that pickup. I hope it doesn’t happen, and I know its so easily preventable. So if anyone knows the owner of this pickup (red, believe it was a Toyota, with Washington plates) please direct them to this post, you may just save their dog’s life by doing so.
As you have likely deduced by now, todays post is about the importance, and ease, of restraining your pets during vehicular travel (this includes not just cars, but trucks, RVs, and motorcycles too!).
To start off, let’s establish that there are many reasons to appropriately restrain your pets during vehicular travel:
As you can see above, appropriately restraining your pets during vehicular travel is important for so many reasons – and doing so is about protecting more than just your pet’s safety!
Did you know that an unrestrained 50-pound dog becomes a projectile with 1,500 pounds of force behind it in the event of a 35 mph collision? This is a statement given by Katherine Miller, the director of applied science and research for the ASPCA, for another article written on this subject. So, even if you don’t restrain your pets for their safety, hopefully this fact will prompt you to do so for yours, as well as for that of the other passengers in your vehicle.
What’s that, you don’t have a 50-pound dog? You have a Yorkshire terrier, or a Maltese – a true ‘lap dog’? Or perhaps you routinely travel with your cat? This information still applies to you and your pets. Though the relationship of your pet’s weight to the force with which they will smash into the windshield (or the back of your head) in the event of a crash is not directly linear, and is very highly dependent on the speed at which you and the other object involved in the accident are traveling at the time (and involves physics equations that I’ve long since forgotten), it can safely be said that even a 10-pound unrestrained pet will become a projectile with enough force to cause serious and potentially fatal injuries to themselves and anyone else in the vehicle in the event of an accident. When you think about this logically, there really is no good reason not to appropriately restrain your pets during travel, regardless of their weight and the speed at which you typically drive.
Equally as important as restraining your pets, is where you restrain them. Pets should ideally never ride in the front seat, and this is especially true if your car has a passenger-side airbag. As is the situation with small children, the force of an airbag deployment can be enough to cause severe, and often fatal injuries to pets riding in the front seat – restrained or not! The backseat is typically the best location. If you have the space though – such as in a station wagon, SUV, or minivan – restraint within an appropriately sized, and secured crate in the cargo area is even better.
Pick-up trucks on the other hand, are a situation unto themselves. As was the case for the Husky dog mentioned at the beginning of this post, dogs riding unrestrained in the bed of a pick-up truck are at a very high risk of sustaining severe, expensive, and fatal injuries. And this is the case even if you’re not involved in a crash. Dogs in open pick-up truck beds are not only at risk of jumping or being thrown out of the bed, but they are also at risk of significant injury from flying road debris. I think we’ve all been behind that large truck traveling down the highway carrying a load of rocks, yard debris, or some other material that has flown out and hit our windshield. Think of the dings and cracks that such debris have put in your glass windshield, and now think of what it would do to a dog’s skull, or their eye. (This is also a good reason not to let your dog ride with their head out the window of a car.) The best way to restrain your dog in the bed of a pick-up truck is in an appropriately sized crate, with good ventilation, that is itself appropriately secured to the truck bed floor. If restraint in a crate is for some reason not possible, then restraint with an appropriate tethering system attached to a chest harness is the next best option. It is vitally important that any leash or tethering system not be attached to a neck collar, as your dog can very easily be hung and strangled in the event of a crash or if they fall or try to jump out.
There are many good, inexpensive, easy to use, and effective options for vehicular pet restraint available on the market today. From sturdy and easy to use pet seatbelt harnesses, to crates with straps for securing to the seat, as well as truck bed tethering systems, and a few other options in between. To learn more about your options speak with a knowledgeable employee at a good pet store, read reviews online, and speak to your veterinarian.
As I get the time (and resources) to test and review the available options I will post them here. For now though, I can say that I have a Tru-Fit Smart Harness by Kurgo(R) for my own hound (her name is Wendy, she’s not actually a hound – we just like to call her one - you can see a couple of photos of her on The Preventive Vet website). She does great with it, its easy to fit, and attaches to the seatbelt quickly and securely. Fortunately it’s never been put to ‘the test’ yet in my car and so I can’t speak personally to it’s performance in a crash situation (and hope to never be able to do soJ) – but I’m sure they have all of the test data somewhere on the Kurgo site.
I love and recommend the Bergan dog travel safety harness. It is co-branded and marketed under the ASPCA brand too. For my review of this potentially life saving harness click here… Bergan harness review.
Again, proper restraint of your pets during vehicular travel is important for everyone’s safety. Furthermore, it is easy, inexpensive, and effective. Oh, and one last thing before I sign off… you may want to check the local laws where you live too. In some states, allowing pets to ride unrestrained (or heaven-forbid, in the driver’s lap) isn’t only bad for safety, but it may be illegal too. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
So please, for the sake of your pets and for the safety of everyone else on the road - including the ‘first responders’ that may one day save your life - properly restrain your pet during vehicular travel. You buckle your own seatbelt (hopefully) and secure your young children into their car seats (please tell me that you do!) – why wouldn’t you provide the same safety measure for your canine and feline family members as well?
Happy travels! And if you see the red truck with the Husky in the back, please educate the driver on the error of their ways.
Be proactive, be preventive, and be safe!
Jason Nicholas, BVetMed(Hons)
The Preventive Vet™
*Photo credit: Elizabeth A. Coughlin. From the following web page: http://www.aaa.biz/publicaffairs/PetPassengerSafety.htm