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Cruising in Canine Comfort

If you’re in the market for a new car, you’ll likely consider bringing along your significant other, or perhaps a good friend, to offer their opinions, help you ‘kick some tires’ and ask the usual questions. This time you might want to bring along your canine buddy too.

In recent years owners have become more sophisticated about bringing their dogs along for car trips around town and on vacation. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that as much as 98 percent of traveling dogs are unrestrained, which poses a huge safety risk for the dog – and the passengers.

As the demand for pet restraints and safety features in cars is becoming more widespread, a number of both domestic and foreign car manufacturers are adding special enhancements to promote pet safety and comfort.

During an accident, an unrestrained pet can not only be severely injured but can also become an instant projectile and potentially injure other passengers. On the other hand, a properly restrained pet is at less risk for injury to themselves or others, won’t interfere with emergency workers and can’t escape through an open window or door after a car accident.

It is estimated that pets are a factor in as many as 30,000 automobile accidents in the U.S. each year. Many states, counties and cities now require that pets be restrained in moving vehicles and more legislation is pending in several states.

Even edmunds.com — considered the premier online resource for automotive information — has gotten involved in pet car safety. Edmunds includes a list of Top 10 Pet Safe Vehicles on their Web site to make driving with pets safer and more convenient. “The best vehicles for pet owners to consider are the ones with plenty of room and safety features such as tri-climate control, fold-flat seats, rear back-up cameras, sliding rear doors and side airbags,” emphasizes Karl Brauer, Editor-at-Large and Senior Analyst for Edmunds. “It’s in everyone’s best interest for drivers to ensure that pets and their gear are safe and secure while on the road.”

While traveling, there are several ways to secure your dog, all with varying levels of protection and risk. Keep in mind that airbags that deploy in the front seat of a vehicle could potentially harm your dog.

It’s always best to discuss car safety and restraint options with your veterinarian in advance, since no two dogs are alike. If you are also traveling with a cat, keep in mind that they do not have the same travel ‘spirit’ that dogs tend to have — their special travel needs should be discussed with your veterinarian as well.

Crates offer a secure space that can double as a place to sleep, although unsecured crates can move during an accident and your dog could still be injured. Some carriers include an adapter for seatbelt compatibility or feature a built-in seatbelt slot. Other models come with a base, similar to an infant carrier, and can be easily secured during travel. Besides safety, another advantage of a pet carrier is that urine or vomiting accidents are contained, avoiding seat and carpeting stains.

Other methods include a restraint harness, a booster seat for small pets and a seat-belt receptacle; all need to be properly fitted to your dog for security and safety. Look for metal components in restraint options, since plastic can break easily during an accident.

Sport utility vehicles and wagons often have their own special enhancements for pets (not offered by sedans) such as barriers and gates between the rear seat and cargo compartment. It’s important to check how secure and stable these barriers are and whether or not they could allow your dog to fly forward if an accident should occur.

During summer months, the interior of a car can reach very high temperatures and change minute-by-minute, sometimes resulting in canine heatstroke. Direct sun can adversely affect dark-colored dogs, even when the car is moving and the AC is on. Check the temperature where your dog is positioned and consider using window shades.

When evaluating the wide array of car models that benefit people and pets alike, look for safety, comfort, space and convenience. Some popular features and accessories now offered by manufacturers include:

  • Safety belts and harness restraints
  • In-floor storage to secure pet gear
  • Advanced temperature controls
  • Increased cargo space for larger dogs
  • Tri-zone climate controls
  • Vibration and noise reduction controls
  • Pet safety carriers
  • Pet cargo ramp
  • Window shades
  • Soy-based foam seating
  • Travel barriers / kennel restraints
  • Curtain airbags with rollover sensors
  • Pet seat covers
  • Traction control and anti-skid action
  • Easy rear access and exit
  • In-dash coolers and refrigerated coolers
  • Rear-view camera display
  • Pet travel seats
  • Rear ventilation fans
  • Pet emergency first aid kit
  • Direct link to Poison Control Centers
  • All-season rubber mat
  • Rear-fold flat seats for crates
  • Privacy glass to keep rear temperatures cool
  • Remote keyless entry
  • Back-up warning system
  • Spill-resistant water bowl
  • Power lift gate
  • Optimized suspension for a smooth ride
  • Dual sliding rear doors
  • Low cargo floors
  • Pet safety seat tethers and anchors
  • Collision-proof pet barriers
  • Blind spot warning system

As you shop for a new vehicle be certain to ask about customized pet travel aids, offered by several car manufacturers. Also, check independent crash test results and safety rating scores.

Remember basic canine car safety guidelines at all times. Dogs should slowly be introduced to any kind of car travel since some easily become anxious or ill. Remember to bring along plenty of water for your furry friend while traveling, especially during warm summer months.

For longer car trips, plan ahead for your dog’s needs for food, snacks, toys, medication, bedding, disposable bags for cleanups and rest stops. Check your dog’s collar, leash and ID tags and bring your veterinarian’s contact information, medical history and pet insurance forms. The American Kennel Club (AKC) also offers many useful tips for traveling with dogs.

No matter what vehicle you ultimately choose, remember to select the right restraint for your dog. It only takes a few minutes to make canine safety a priority and prepare for unexpected accidents. Whether you’re taking an hour’s drive or a three-day trip, with the right planning, you and your dog will be ready for the road!

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