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Dogs in cars: Traveling tips for dogs by car

Animals onboard: Dog and cat safety in the car

Years ago my grandparents decided to take a beach vacation. Rather than board their cats, a pair of chocolate point Siamese, they decided to bring them along. The drive to the coast was uneventful, until the very end, when the old man attempted to park at the motel. One of the cats had gotten herself down between the pedals, and when my grandfather hit the brake, the cat hit the gas, and the car went through the wall. Everyone was fine, including the cats, but the vacation was ruined before it ever got started. 

According to a 2015 Forbes survey, only 16% of participants stated they used pet restraints when driving with their pets. Driving with pets onboard can be hazardous (and in some cases, illegal), making pet travel safety a priority. Even the most calm and docile cats (and even some dogs) can become confused and frightened, leading to unpredictable panic in the car. This means you, as the driver, spend time attempting to divide your focus between the road and an unrestrained pet. Not only is this a safety risk, but it can create budget problems later—even a minor fender bender can cause your auto insurance rates to increase. Still, 90% of pet owners report that they do drive with their pets, and 8% report driving with a pet in their lap.

To keep you, your pet and other drivers on the road safe, follow these pet travel safety tips:

Driving with Dogs

One easy way to remove the potential distraction of a pet during road trips car is to use a pet barrier.  This is typically a wire mesh wall that is secured within the vehicle to keep your dog away from you as you drive. A number of types and styles are available, and can be easily added to your SUV, truck, station wagon, or van. Barriers allow some mobility and allow you to easily check on your pet while driving. 

In addition, you can use a dog safety belt or pet harness. A wide range of onboard harnesses allow freedom of movement for your pooch, while ensuring that the animal does not roam about the passenger compartment. No driver needs the added stress of a pet leaping into the front seat during a lane change. Harnesses come in a range of sizes, allowing you to select the most appropriate and comfortable type for your pet.

Driving with Cats (and other small pets)

For smaller pets (especially cats ort small dogs), you can use a lightweight pet carrier. Many of these can be secured using the vehicle’s seat belts, or additional restraining belts can be purchased.

How to Make the Trip Easier on your Pet

While most dogs are happy to jump in the car at any opportunity, the same can’t be said for cats (and some dogs). There’s nothing cats like less, except maybe baths. So how can you decrease the stress? 

If you’re using a carrier, set it out as far in advance as you can. Let them sniff it and check it out without the pressure to get inside. Once you’ve got your pet in the carrier, take them to the car, but don’t start the engine immediately. Wait five minutes, then start the engine. Once you arrive at your destination, sit in the car for a moment before unloading the carrier. This lets them calm down too. Some animals like a towel or blanket covering the carrier.

If you’ve got a nervous pet and aren’t using a carrier, you can train them to enjoy the car. Take them in the car without going anywhere, and give them treats for being in the car. Once they adjust, turn the car on while they are in it. Then go for very short drives with plenty of treats before scaling up to longer treks. Do this over a week or two, and you’ll find even the most nervous dog will come to consider the car a happy place!

Happy travels!

Editor's Note: Don't leave your pet unattended in a hot car. In a matter of minutes, the heat inside the car can reach hazardous levels


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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