Traveling With Dogs in a Car: Safety Tips

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Whether you're packing up for an extended road trip or a short drive to the park, riding in the car with your dog can be a fun adventure for both you and your furry companion. However, traveling with dogs in a car can pose some safety concerns. Read on to learn more about safety tips for car travel with dogs.

Bring Health Records

Planning ahead when traveling with dogs in a car is important. Ensure your pup is up to date on vaccinations and has identification tags with current information on their collar. You can also have their veterinarian implant a microchip, which can be scanned and used to help identify your dog in case their collar comes off. Carry a copy of their vaccination records, most recent physical exam and blood work in case of an emergency. If traveling in the car to another state, a health certificate from your vet may be necessary. Get in touch with them to discuss requirements and schedule an appointment in advance of travel, as health certificates can be difficult to obtain last minute. The American Veterinary Medical Association is a great resource for more information about traveling with your dog.

Use a Crate in the Back Seat

When traveling with dogs in a car, the ASPCA recommends securing dogs of all sizes in travel-rated crates or carriers, both for their safety and to prevent distractions to you while driving. If possible, place the crate in the back seat of the vehicle or in the cargo area of an SUV, station wagon or minivan, and secure it so the crate won't slide around if you make any sudden stops. It should be large enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, sit and lie down comfortably. It should also provide plenty of ventilation. You can place blankets or crate pads on the floor of the crate to ensure it's a comfortable and homey environment — as long as your dog isn't a known chewer at risk of ingesting their bedding.

When a Crate Won't Work

Sometimes using a crate may not be an option. Alternatively, you can try a safety harness that buckles directly into the seat belt buckle, securing your dog in the back seat. Another available option for safer car travel with dogs is a mesh or metal barrier made for minivans and SUVs to keep your furry friend confined to the back seat or cargo area. While these options are great for confining your dog so they can't get underfoot while you're driving, they aren't designed to protect them from injury during a crash. Although it might seem like these alternatives provide your dog with more freedom, a crate is always best for their safety.

Dog lies next to a woman leaning on a car.

When Your Car Doesn't Have a Back Seat

While the back seat or cargo area of a vehicle is the safest place for your dog to ride, this may not be an option if you have a regular truck cab or two-seater car, for example. In this case, it's best to secure your dog in a crate in the passenger seat and turn off the passenger-side air bags. If your dog is too large for a crate to fit in the front seat, use a safety harness to secure them instead. Never allow your dog to ride in the back of an open pickup truck.

Reduce Car Travel Anxiety

For some dogs, traveling in the car can be stressful. Here are some steps you can take to help soothe and limit their anxiety:

  • Acclimate them to the crate or harness they'll be using prior to travel.
  • Start with short car rides, gradually working up to longer periods in the vehicle.
  • Make frequent stops — at least once every two hours — to give your dog a break, let them stretch their legs and give them an opportunity to use the bathroom.
  • Pack plenty of fresh water and a collapsible bowl to offer during stops.
  • Bring a familiar blanket or toy from home.
  • Never leave your dog alone in the vehicle, even for brief periods.
  • Discuss options for anxiety-reducing medications with your vet if needed.

Remember that these guidelines for traveling with dogs in a car are for your and your dog's comfort and safety. All dogs, no matter how big or small, should be secured while riding in a vehicle. Your small breed dog might be perfectly content to curl up in your lap during the trip, but it's safer for everyone if you resist their charms. With a little planning and a good dose of attention to your dog's needs, you're bound to have a joyful, memorable road trip together.

Contributor Bio

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus


Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent and pet blogger from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.