08 Jun A Guide to Driving With Pets
By: Alex Hasty
How to keep your pet safe in the car
Whether you’re planning a short trip to the vets, a UK staycation or a European summer holiday, sometimes you’ll need to transport your cat or dog in the car.
Travelling in a car can be challenging and sometimes traumatic for pets, so it’s important to make sure they’re as comfortable and safe as possible on your journey.
You’ll also want to make sure that you’re staying on the right side of the law to avoid being pulled over for careless driving. The Highway Code states that whenever you’re travelling with a pet, you need to make sure they’re properly restrained so they don’t distract you while driving or injure you (or themselves), if you need to come to a sudden stop.
Tips for driving with pets
If you have to make a journey with your four-legged friend, here’s how to do it safely:
- Use a crate or carrier. Buy a crate or carrier that keeps your pet safely contained. It needs to be well-ventilated and big enough for your pet to stand up and turn around in. The carrier must also be strapped in to ensure it doesn’t move around as you drive.
- Buy comfortable restraints. While ‘restraints’ don’t sound very pleasant, they can actually be quite comfy if you use specialised harnesses and seat belts. These allow dogs to partially move around and even sit upright.
- Get your pet used to travel. If your pet is an anxious traveller and you have a big journey coming up, start getting your four-legged friend used to being in the car with some shorter journeys.
- Check on your pet regularly. Ask a passenger to keep an eye on them, or if you’re alone in the car, take regular breaks to make sure they’re doing okay. Be on the lookout for signs of overheating or motion sickness, such as panting.
- Never leave your pet alone in the vehicle. Cars can heat up quickly, even on days that don’t seem particularly hot, and heatstroke can be deadly. It’s not enough to park in the shade, leave the window open (which is also unsafe) and give them water, as animals don’t have the same ability to regulate their body temperature as we do.
- Bring food and necessities. When you’re packing your travel bag, don’t forget your pet’s supplies – that means food, bowl, lead, poo bags and any medication. Think about packing more than you need in case of an emergency or if you’re stuck out for longer than you expected.
- Keep them hydrated. Make sure water is easily accessible for your pet. If you’re worried about spills, you can buy specialist bowls that are designed to be used in cars.
- Don’t let your pet hang their head out of the window. They could get stones, dust or other debris in their eyes, and they’re more likely to get seriously hurt if you have an accident. It’s fine to have the windows in the car slightly open to help with airflow but make sure there’s no chance of your pet jumping out.
- Microchip your pet. It’s a legal requirement for a dog to be microchipped and wear an ID tag. That way if they do get lost, you maximise your chances of being reunited. Having your cat microchipped is a good idea for the same reason, especially if you’re going to be away for a while. If you’re taking your pet abroad, find out what you need to know about travelling in Europe with your pet after Brexit.
- Let them exercise. Don’t forget to make regular stops so your pet can stretch their legs. Motorway service stations often have grassy areas where you can do this. Just make sure to clean up after them if they make a mess.
The dangers of driving with pets in the car
Keeping your pet safe when you’re driving should always be a priority. We love our furry family members, so the last thing you’ll want to do is put them or yourself in any kind of danger. Allowing your pet to travel unsecured could result in a number of potential hazards:
- A distraction to the driver. Whether it’s because your pet is moving around and causing you to lose control or doing something that takes your attention off the road ahead of you, it’s important not to be hampered in any way while you drive.
- Higher risk of injury. If your pet isn’t properly restrained while you drive, the chances of it being badly injured are higher. If a car comes to a sudden halt, a pet could be flung forward and suffer a life-changing injury or injure you (or the human members of your family) in the process.
- Driving offences. Becoming distracted to the extent that you’re committing the offence of careless or even dangerous driving could see you slapped with a serious fine, penalty points or even jail time if you cause a serious accident. The Highway Code highlights that animals need to be restrained to prevent you from losing focus. If you’re involved in a crash and your pet was found to be unrestrained, you could face legal action and your insurance provider is unlikely to pay out for any damage caused in the accident.
- Infection to your pet. It may not be something you’ve ever considered, but dogs are particularly at risk of picking up an infection when driving with the window down. While sticking their heads out is great fun for your pet, it heightens the chance of dirt, dust and debris entering their nose, eyes and mouth.
Pet owner checklist for travel
One of the best ways to make sure your pets stays safe in the car is to be prepared. This means having all the right gear to guarantee they’re safely secured throughout your journey. Here are some of the items to check off before you begin your journey:
- Pre-travel pet care. Make sure your pet is as prepared for the journey as possible:
o If your pet is energetic, do your best to tire them out before you go, so they’ll hopefully go to sleep or at least rest while you’re driving.
o Give your pet a big meal a couple of hours before you go, so they’re less likely to get travel sick from being jolted about with a full tummy.
o Before you set off, give them time to go to the toilet and make sure they’ve had plenty to drink.
- Create a safe place for your pet. If you’re using a carrier, make sure it’s clean and try to create as comfortable and comforting a spot as possible using their favourite blanket and toys. If you’re using a harness, make a cosy space for your pet to sit or lie down.
- Strap them in securely. While it may feel restrictive, strapping your pet in is no different to how you’d travel with a young child. They need to be tightly secured to avoid getting hurt in the unlikely event of an accident. Being strapped in, whether they’re inside a carrier or not, means they’ll be stable and safe throughout your journey.
Pet owner’s equipment checklist
There are a few items you’ll need to make sure your pet has a safe and comfortable car journey with you:
- A way to safely secure your pet while you’re driving, whether that’s a crate, a carrier, or for a dog, an adapted seatbelt or a harness.
- Pet travelling kit. If you’re going on a longer journey, you might want to think about putting together a travel kit specially for your pet. While what to include in this will vary on a pet-by-pet basis. Some basic items that everyone can pack include food, treats, water bowls, clothing, medication, toys, waste disposal bags and blankets.
- A collar and lead or harness. You’ll want to let your dog out to stretch their legs when you get to your destination (and along the way), but this might be a new and strange location for your pet, and they may be nervous and excitable. Keep your pet on a lead outside of the car to make sure they don’t run away.
- Seat covers. You can choose between covers that are soft and cushioned for your pet or more industrial designs, which may be waterproof if your furry friend has a toilet mishap.
- Anti-anxiety remedies. If your pet gets anxious when they travel, there are products you could try to help lower their stress levels while they’re in the car, including compression coats, pheromone collars and supplements. Speak to your vet if you need advice on what to use.
When getting ready for a trip with your pet, make sure they’re familiar with the harnesses, belts, carriers and other pieces of equipment you’re going to be using before you go.
When to avoid travelling with pets
Sometimes bringing your pet along just isn’t practical, no matter how badly you want their companionship. Remember that you have a duty of care to your pet, and this means making sure your pet is safe and isn’t suffering unnecessarily. Keep these instances in mind, and consider whether bringing your pet with you is actually going to do more harm than good:
- If your pet is sick
- If your pet is a newborn
- If your pet gave birth 48 hours or less before the trip
- If your pet is heavily pregnant.
If you notice that your pet is unwell, it’s best to avoid travelling for anything other than an absolute necessity. If you have no alternative but to travel with a sick pet, follow this advice:
- Take all medication with you and make sure it’s up to date
- Take a copy of your pet’s medical records with you
- Regularly monitor how comfortable they seem
- Have a readily accessible list of emergency numbers ready to call if they take a turn
- Keep a pet first aid kit to hand.
Managing travel sickness in dogs
Just like humans, dogs can become sick as a result of the motion of travelling. According to the PDSA, some of the most common symptoms of travel sickness are:
- Excessive swallowing
- Excessive lip licking
If your dog has started to show these signs, it’s best to contact a vet and ask for their opinion. Try to avoid travelling with your dog until you have been given medical advice from a professional.
If you’re looking to tackle and prevent motion sickness before it ever becomes a factor, some of the best advice is to:
- Feed them two to three hours before travelling
- Let them out and work off any energy with a walk before your journey
- Make sure they’re not overheated
- Work them up to longer journeys by taking them on shorter ones first
- Make sure they have something comfortable and stable to sit on while travelling
- Look for a car harness or adapted seatbelt that allows your dog to face forward so they can better anticipate twists and turns
- Take routine breaks throughout your journey.
The best thing you can do to reduce motion sickness is to ensure your dog is safe and secure, as this reduces the chances of their equilibrium being thrown off balance.
If your dog or other pet has severe motion sickness but you need to make a journey, your vet may be able to prescribe anti-sickness medicines. Never try to give your pet human motion sickness medicines as they won’t work and could have severe side effects.
Laws on driving with dogs in the car
Many people drive with their dogs, but did you know there are laws on transporting dogs in cars? If your pet isn’t secured with a restraint, they could affect your ability to focus on your driving. If you’re pulled over or you cause an accident while your pet is loose in the car, you could be charged with careless or even dangerous driving. Depending on the seriousness of the incident, you could face a fine and points on your licence, disqualification from driving or, if your driving causes a fatality, even jail time.
Plus, if your pet isn’t restrained and causes an accident, you may find that your insurance provider refuses to pay out.
Here’s what the Highway Code says about driving with pets in the car:
‘When in a vehicle, make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly.
A seat-belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.’
Travel advice for different kinds of pets
As you can probably imagine, different species of pets have different needs when travelling. After all, what works for a dog might not be best suited for a rabbit. Let’s take a closer look at some of the best advice for different animals:
- Dogs. A dog will need to be restrained, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have access to some kind of movement. It should be possible for them to sit up to full height if they wish, as well as being able to lie down to get comfy.If you choose to transport your dog in a crate, make sure your pet can see you. This could reduce how anxious they feel, especially if you have a close bond. Putting treats in the crate could also create a positive association for future journeys.
- Cats. True to their stereotype, cats can be quite fussy when it comes to being driven. According to the RSPCA , you’ll need to carefully place your cat in a robust carrier, which should be secured tightly to a seat. Your cat should have enough space to sit and stand up fully, turn around comfortably and lie down. Make sure to include familiar items, with scents they can recognise as ‘safe’. Also think about giving them toys or occasional treats to keep them distracted.On longer journeys, take regular breaks to allow your cat to move around the car (only while parked) and use the litter tray. Remember to make sure the car is secure, with all doors and windows shut, before you let them out of their carrier.
- Rabbits. Easily spooked, rabbits need to be given time to understand and adjust to new surroundings. Make sure to fill their carrier with items they love (treats, food, toys and bedding that smells like home) and allow them to enter it at their own pace. Keep it dark inside, either by choosing a carrier with plastic sides or placing a blanket over the top of wire carriers.Make sure rabbits have enough space to move around and lie comfortably but keep it small and cosy enough, with newspaper, old towels and hay, for example, so that they don’t slide around. Remember to always keep bonded pairs of rabbits together – don’t transport them alone. Strap them in tight and try to take it as easy as possible.
- Reptiles. Unlike mammals, reptiles need to be kept warm when they travel. Think about using heat packs as part of their container, but be sure to monitor the temperature to avoid them overheating. Check that what they’re travelling in is well-ventilated and lined with a soft, absorbent paper or towel. If your reptile likes a moist environment, you can line the base with moist paper towels. Though it might be tempting to include rocks and sticks to make them at home, these items could move during transit and cause injury to your cold-blooded friend.
Travelling with pets in the car in hot weather
External weather conditions play a big part in the safety of travelling with a pet. If you’re planning a long journey on a hot day, it’s best not to bring them along with you. If it’s a short journey, which they ideally need to make (such as a trip to the vet), be sure to do what you can to keep them comfortable.
While it might feel relatively mild out, research shows that the temperature in a car can reach as high as 47°C internally when the external conditions are just 22°C. This can cause heatstroke for most pets, which could be fatal.
Some of the best steps to take in hotter conditions are:
- Air conditioning. If you’re fortunate enough to have an in-built air conditioning system, be sure to use it to keep the car as cool as possible. It’s a handy tool for preventing the vehicle from becoming humid and stuffy. If you’d prefer, you could also open the windows a small amount – but not enough for your pet to stick their head out.
- Pet sunscreen. Largely used for dogs, sunscreen is an important and often overlooked tool in the fight against heatstroke and dehydration. It’s best to find products that have been specifically created for safe use on pets. These kinds of items will often be:
- Free from the harmful zinc oxide
- Waterproof for longer protection
- UVA and UVB protection
- Fragrance-free so as to avoid any irritation
Source: Animal Friends
The sunscreen itself can be applied in much the same way you would to yourself. Gently rub it over the danger areas, such as the ears, nose, belly, tail and back. This level of protection is particularly important in hot weather for dogs with finer fur, such as greyhounds and bulldogs.
Take breaks. Taking regular breaks gives everyone the chance to step out of a hot car and get some much-needed fresh air. This is also a good opportunity to give your pet some fresh water. Both of these factors could help to lower their body temperature and make them feel more comfortable.
Shade them. If possible, try to create shade in your car to keep the concentrated heat of the sun off your pet. You may need to think about creating a makeshift shady area (using blankets, for example) to block out light.
If you’re transporting a dog and notice any of the following tell-tale signs of heatstroke, be sure to pull over safely as soon as you can and let them out for fresh air:
- Heavy panting
- Difficulty remaining balanced
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Unusual levels of drowsiness and lethargy
- High levels of drooling of foaming at the mouth
- Sticky, dry or bright red gums
- Muscle spasms, tremors or shaking
- Any odd or uncharacteristic behaviour.
Try to cool your pet down in any way you can, using cool water and fans to cool their body, and giving them lots of cold water to drink. Act quickly: heatstroke could cause serious and lasting damage – or worse – if left untreated.
Advice on taking pets abroad
When travelling to any country in the EU, as well as Northern Ireland, your pet needs all of the following:
- A microchip
- A valid rabies vaccination
- An animal health certificate, that’s valid for the country you’re travelling to
- Tapeworm treatment for any dogs travelling directly to the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Finland, Malta or Norway.
These rules apply to all pets, including any kinds of service animals. Each country will have a specific set of requirements, which you will need to understand and follow when transporting your pet.
Pet passports issued in Great Britain are no longer accepted by countries in the EU or Northern Ireland after Brexit. If you want to travel into the EU or Northern Ireland, you’ll have to use an animal health certificate instead.
Just as you’d expect when travelling to another country, pets will need to go through a traveller’s point of entry upon arrival. It’s at this stage you’ll be asked to show the documentation proving your pet has had the necessary checks and jabs done.
Read our guide to find out more about travelling abroad with your pet after Brexit.
How does driving with a pet in the car affect my car insurance?
If you have an accident with your pet in the car, it’s only natural that you might be confused about how it could impact your insurance policy. In short, as long as you’ve followed the rules highlighted by the Highway Code, you should be able to make a claim without the risk of being rejected.
As a reminder, that means:
- Making sure your pet is restrained at all times while you’re driving.
- Ensuring your pet is not a distraction – which could be classified as dangerous driving.
Each claim will be based on an individual basis, but by following the rules laid out in article 57 of the Highway Code, your chances of claiming successfully are heightened.