Safe car travel for dogs - how to protect dogs in cars

You wouldn't let a baby travel loose in your car... or hopefully not! Even if you're going slowly, a sudden stop can kill your pet, effectively turning them into a lethal projectile. If you crash at thirty miles an hour and your dog isn't restrained, they'll keep going at 30mph... with awful consequences.

An airbag can kill a dog easily, with its violent opening action. And a frightened or injured dog can be dangerous in itself, more likely to attack people, get run over or run away.

Bearing all this in mind, we thought it'd make sense to take a look at dog safety in cars.   

Dog mesh cages and doggie car seats

Metal mesh barriers are all very well. But they're not much use in a crash, when your dog will be thrown about inside the cage, just as bad as being thrown around the car without a cage. The same goes for those sweet-looking doggie car seats for little dogs like Yorkies, the ones that let short dogs see out of the window. Because they don't strap a dog in properly they're basically window dressing, no good for safety. 

You can buy special dog crates for vehicles, of course, but they're often nothing more than a big box, not always built for safety. The trick is to fix it firmly so it doesn't get thrown around. A good quality dog car cage will specify the size of dog it's suitable for, sometimes by breed. They come in different sizes to suit different vehicles too, and it's wise to measure your car before buying one.  

How to protect your dog when driving

How about harness-style restraints? They work a bit like a human seatbelt. Look for a harness with wide, padded straps for comfort. The strap that runs down the dog's chest is particularly important, since it protects the heart and ribs. A nasty, thin strap will cut into their flesh in a crash but a nice, thick strap will support them properly.

Our second tip is to keep the tether part of the harness short. After all, the shorter the leash bit is the less distance your dog can fly if you have a car accident, and the less serious their injuries. And, of course, never tether a dog by his or her neck in the car. Fasten the lead at their back instead.

Many experts recommend a well-made, properly fastened harness because it's safer than a dog crate. But if your pet is used to travelling in a box, buy the best quality, most sturdy one you can find. Put the long side of the crate against the back of the seat for support. Secure it with a seatbelt and, for extra safety, anchor it with a couple of wide, strong luggage straps.

12 more car travel safety tips for dogs

There's much more to dog travel safety than harnesses and crates. Here are 12 more doggie safety tips for the next time you travel by car. 

  • It looks like huge fun, but it's best to prevent your dog from hanging their head out of the window while you're driving. They'll only get dust and dirt in their eyes and nose, which can cause injuries and illness
  • Never leave your dog alone in the car. Leaving a dog in a car can be a killer, as we hear on the news every year. If you can't avoid leaving the vehicle, park in the shade whatever the weather. Leave the car windows cracked open, and come back as quickly as you can since heat builds up in cars ridiculously fast even when it's only warm, not hot outside. Cars also get cold very quickly in cold weather, which can be equally dangerous, especially for wee dogs
  • Take regular breaks to stretch your legs. It'll keep your pooch happy as well as making your journey more enjoyable
  • Carry bottled water wherever you go, so your dog doesn't have to drink from uncertain sources. It's much better than letting them drink water that's been lying around outside, like puddles and ponds, which can cause tummy upsets
  • If your dog hasn't travelled in a box or crate before, take them on a few short trips to get them used to it.
  • What about food? Give your dog a light meal 3-4 hours before travelling – never feed them in the car, even on a long drive. Stop for snacks instead
  • Take food, a bowl, lead, poop scoop and bags, grooming supplies, any medication they need plus a special pet first-aid kit, available from good pet shops
  • Take their favourite toy or pillow to help them feel safe
  • Either microchip your dog or keep his or her collar on for identification in case something goes wrong. You could even make a special travel tag for their collar including your phone number, email and street address
  • Never, ever put a choke collar on your dog while they're in a car. Stick with an ordinary flat collar
  • If you do frequent doggie travel you can buy special rubber floor protection and waterproof seat covers, perfect in case your pooch has a little accident

What about the law?

It's actually illegal in Britain to let your dog travel loose in a vehicle. As the RAC says:

"More than one in four (27%) dog-owning motorists unwittingly break the law when it comes to transporting their pets by not keeping them restrained when their vehicles are on the road, new research has found*."

The RAC Pet Insurance study also revealed that 4% of pet (2% dog and 2% cat) owners have had an accident, or a near miss, as a result of a cat or dog being loose in their car.

According to the Highway Code dogs or other animals** should be suitably restrained in a vehicle so that they don’t distract the driver or injure them if the vehicle stops quickly. Official advice from the RSPCA is that dogs are both secure and comfortable during transport.

While the majority agree that it is a hazard to allow a dog to be loose in a vehicle, 28% said they would let their dog move freely, even in a vehicle full of luggage. Also of concern is that 21% usually leave their dogs unsecured on car seats while 6% let them travel in passenger footwells.”

What about doggie car sickness?

Dog motion sickness is more common in young dogs, but they often get over it as they age.  If your dog is used to feeling sick in the car, he'll equate car travel with throwing up. Not nice. Stress doesn't help, and if the only time your dog goes in the car is to the vets, they can literally worry themselves sick on the journey.

Doggie motion sickness can involve them being inactive and listless, uneasy and yawny, whiny and drooly as well as actually being sick. The best way to prevent dog travel sickness is make the journey as comfortable as possible. It's best to face forwards, since it makes dogs (and us humans) feel less sick. It's best not to look out of the side windows, and you can actually get special pooch seatbelts which make sure they face in the right direction.

If your poor pet throws up every time they get in the car, a crate might be a better idea than a seat belt or harness, since most of the sick should stay in the cage. Or travel a different way, by bus or train instead. 

What about your doggie car travel tips?

Have you any top tips for safe, fun, enjoyable doggie travel? If so we'd love to hear them. Why not woof your way over to our Facebook page and share your wisdom? You'll find us at