Safe Pet Travel Saves Lives

Pansy in crateSummer is here and with it lots of outdoor fun and travel for people, and pet travel too. Let’s make it safe for everyone. First, let’s talk about pet seat belts and safety harnesses. Then, we’ll talk about other methods of containment for dogs and cats that travel. I’m sure some of you have never thought of such a thing, and I understand. As a child, our dog just hopped in the car with us and off we’d go. No one thought about what would happen if there was an accident. We didn’t even use seat belts for people. We also didn’t know the dog could actually be a danger to us–as well as be in danger–by being unrestrained.

The other thing we didn’t have is the incredible amount of traffic that we have today on the highways. In the event of an accident or even a fast stop, a small dog may become a projectile that injures us, get thrown under the gas or break pedal or out a window, or be injured by airbags when allowed to ride on laps or crated in the front seat. An injured dog that you’re trying to rescue may bite, even one that is normally a docile little pet. A larger dog can be a much bigger hazard to those around him or her. The dog or cat may escape out the door in an unfamiliar place and get lost or hit by a car. One of the saddest cases I heard about was that of a service dog that escaped onto a busy freeway after an accident. Animals will run when afraid or hurt, and some animals will also try to go for help when you are injured.

crate fastened downThese problems are not avoided by putting your dog in the back of a pick-up. If a dog falls out of the back of a pick-up truck, it may be killed or cause an accident when others try to avoid hitting it. In some cases, dogs and small livestock have been thrown through the windshield of another vehicle. Did you know you can be fined and considered liable if that happens? Pets who are injured or whose owners are injured become a threat to police and fire personnel too. Most dogs try to protect themselves and their owners. If you are unconscious, it doesn’t matter how well trained your dog is. You can’t give him a command, and he won’t understand that those noisy people in strange costumes are trying to help. The entire scene is filled with noise and chaos. People smell funny and look like space aliens in rescue garb.

That’s why rescue personnel visit schools and let children see them in non-threatening situations. Young children often run and hide because of the way they look. Dogs react much like three-year-old children, with fear. Some harnesses, seat belt systems, and carriers are expensive, but there are those that are very reasonably priced too. Shop around and shop online. Most important, be sure it fits and get your pet used to a harness or carrier before you take off on a trip. Never clip a seat belt tether to a collar, you’ll choke the dog or break his neck in a fast stop.

While I don’t advocate putting any dog in the back of a pick-up truck, there are good tether systems to keep her from falling out or falling over the side. Just keep in mind that they don’t offer her any protection from flying road debris, heat, cold, slippery truck beds that cause joint injuries, and there’s no vehicle body surrounding her to protect the dog in the event a truck rolls or flips on its side. It’s critical that tether systems be properly adjusted to keep the dog in the center of the truck.

Road debris and weather are the biggest risks. Road debris that hits with enough impact to crack your windshield will blind, or even kill, your dog. Just think about getting hit in the eye or the head with a rock, discarded cigarette, or nails run over and thrown up by other vehicles. This caution also applies to letting her ride with her head out the window too. Did you know that she can go blind from the wind drying out her eyes constantly? Then, she won’t be having fun running, riding, or chasing balls with you. If she’s a hunting dog, she won’t be hunting either. This type of injury is preventable.

Crates and carriers are an option that many people like. If you elect to put a crate in the back of a pick-up truck, it must be securely fastened and stable. Those with airline travel ratings are the best option because they have some level of required strength and durability. While it’s more protection, it’s not ideal because the plastic will disintegrate with the impact of another vehicle or a rollover. Crates inside automobiles should also be fastened down with tethers, like a child’s carseat, or secured with a seatbelt to keep them from rolling or tipping over. Wire crates are lighter and less expensive, but don’t be fooled into thinking they offer protection. It will keep your pets confined during travel and at a hotel, but they don’t offer protection in an accident and many are not sturdy enough to even hold together while traveling. Wire crates may or may not remain closed and keep your pet safe, especially those designed to be portable and fold.

Whatever options you select, remember that your pets need stretch breaks and potty breaks every couple of hours. They need water during travel too. Be especially vigilant about temperature. Heat and cold are a bigger threat to your pet than they are to you. Plan to stop early enough that the animals have time to calm down and walk around before eating and bedtime. Take the pet’s regular food, bedding, toys, and some water from home to use during the trip too. It’s a good idea to carry a pet first aid kit and a veterinary care reference book too, as well as a list of emergency clinics in major towns along the way.

If you travel out of the country, you are responsible for knowing what documentation and procedures need to be followed. Check and double check to be sure you know what to expect. Your veterinarian can’t keep up with the changes that take place in foreign countries. Within the U.S., you are still required to have a travel certificate with you when you cross state lines. This requirement is often not enforced, but it should not be taken lightly. Without proper documentation, your pet can be confiscated and quarantined under very unsavory conditions in a shelter or vet’s office in a strange location along the way.

A travel certificate is not terribly expensive (cost varies from state to state) and only requires a checkup within a few days of departure. Within the U.S., most vets will complete the certificate without seeing the pet as long as the animal has been seen within the past 30 days. We’ve never ignored this requirement because we’ve seen some of the places that pass for shelters and animal accommodations during our thousands of miles of travel. Everything that affect us when we travel–dehydration, constipation, poor sleep in strange places–may affect pets too. Some more than others. Like children, sometimes what they like and what’s best are not the same. Their safety is your responsibility at all times. Be safe and have fun.

It’s not a bad idea to add some CPR and first aid skills to your travel preparations either. Pets, like children, tend to have an occasional emergency at home or on the road.

Learning First Aid Can Save Your Dog’s Life