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Car Trips with Cats and Dogs

A car trip is just no fun without taking everyone in the family, even the four legged members. There is nothing quite like seeing the excitement of a dog when he hears the jangle of the car keys and knows that he is going out for a ride. Even some cats enjoy being in a car and will cope quite well if they feel safe and secure.

Whilst the road trip might be fun, travelling with a pet in a car requires some planning to make sure that the journey is safe for them as well as for the rest of the family. Just like every other member, cats and dogs must be secure and should know how to behave in such an environment.

Begin getting a cat or a dog used to being in a car whilst still very young. Train them to sit quietly in their designated spot whilst the car isn’t even moving and then let them get used to the movement of the vehicle in short trips of just a few minutes. Make sure that someone else is driving during this training process so that you can concentrate on the pet whilst the driver concentrates on the road.

Restraining a dog in a car can make the environment safer for the dog and for you. A dog that is allowed to roam free can become a projectile in a collision causing great damage to others in the vehicle. According to crash testing conducted by US pet safety program Bark Buckle Up, a medium sized dog weighing 27 kilos would exert a force of 1,227 kilos in a crash at just 56km/h.¹

Animals allowed to wander through the front of the vehicle can distract the driver or get under their feet meaning that an accident is almost inevitable. Several years ago, changes to road rules in WA made it an offence to drive with an animal on your lap. The penalty is $100 and the loss of one demerit point.

Harnesses are available for a dog to wear in the car which has a buckle that clips directly into the seatbelt. These come in many sizes for all breeds of dog and the length of strap can be adjusted to make sure that if the dog does fall forward that it is safe. The great thing about these is that they also have a D hitch attached allowing them to be used as a normal walking harness when the dog arrives at its destination.

We all know that dogs love to stick their head out of the window. They obviously enjoy seeing everyone go past as well as the feeling of the wind in their face and their jowls flapping about. They may even be imagining that they are running really fast! Experts believe that it’s their incredible sense of smell that makes them want to poke their head out the window to soak up every bakery, farm and burger joint that they pass.

‘Window surfing’ can be a dangerous pastime for dogs as apart from the obvious danger of it escaping and hurting itself or being hit by another car, there is the very real risk that the dog might end up with an eye injury. With its head out the window in the wind, the dog will not be able to blink quickly enough to prevent dust, flying insects and air-borne pollens from hitting its eyeball at great speed. Goggles for dogs can help prevent this if it is willing to wear them but another option is to use a window pet vent which secures into the space between the open window and the frame allowing the dog to enjoy the aromas around him without the fear of eye injury.

Many dogs enjoy travelling in the back of an SUV or wagon as they like seeing everything that is going on out of all the windows. Wire barriers and pet transport crates are great ways to keep a dog in the back whilst still allowing plenty of ventilation and a good view. Pet transport crates must be large enough to allow the dog to lie down flat, turn around, stand up and stretch and must be secured to prevent them from sliding around.

Getting a large dog into a car can be quite tricky, especially if it is unable to jump. Extendable pet ramps take out all of the effort as they allow the dog to walk up and down without any lifting from you or exertion from him.

We have all had the experience of seeing a delighted dog with its head hanging out of the side of a ute; it certainly looks like it is having fun. In many states across Australia it is an offense to transport dogs unrestrained on the back of utes or other open vehicles or trailers and for those without this legislation such as WA, it is still an offense to transport them in a way that is likely to cause harm or is otherwise inappropriate for the animal’s welfare.

RSPCA Australia advises that a dog be restrained by a rope or chain that is long enough to allow it to stand and lie down but not so long that it could jump or fall over the edge. Swivels should be used to prevent the chain from becoming tangled.

They also advise that a dog should not be exposed to extreme heat such as hot sun as just like us, they can get sunburnt and can suffer dehydration. Also, ute owners often forget that the tray of the vehicle can become extremely hot in summer and can burn their dog’s footpads. Wire dog crates are a good option for restraining dogs on the back of a ute, especially if they are lined with blankets and have a sun cover over the top.

When riding a motorcycle, it is an offense in WA to ride with an animal on the part of the bike between the rider and the handlebars with the penalty for this being $100 and 1 demerit point. This does not apply to a person riding with an animal for a distance of not more than 500 metres on a road for the purpose of carrying out farming, providing it is safe to do so.

It’s inevitable that if not for a holiday, a cat will need to be transported in a car even if just for a visit to the vet. Cats tend not to be as comfortable in moving vehicles as dogs but will become used to it if started early in life, even when they are kittens.

Cats should never be allowed to roam free in a vehicle as they are incredibly quick and it will only take seconds for them to distract the driver or get down at their feet amongst the pedals. A scared, unrestrained cat in a moving vehicle is a recipe for disaster.

Travel crates come in various sizes and materials and are the best option for transporting a cat, making sure that it feels secure whilst everyone else in the car will be safe as well. Make sure the cat is used to the crate before it has to ride in it in the car and start with short trips of just a few minutes, gradually building up to longer ones. Don’t be too concerned if the cat meows continuously, especially in the beginning as this is just its way of letting you know it isn’t happy. Eventually it will settle down and may even relax and enjoy the trip.

Sometimes a cat that is not used to travelling will defecate fairly quickly once the car starts moving and this can certainly be uncomfortable for everyone, including the cat. A good tip is to put two layers of bedding in the crate with the top one being disposable. This layer can then be removed quickly leaving the crate and the car clean for the rest of the trip but only attempt this from inside the car with the doors closed to prevent the cat from escaping if it gets out of the crate.

Dogs and cats need to access water when they travel, especially on a long road trip. Foldable water and food bowls are a great idea as they can be kept in the car and filled with water every hour or so for the animal to drink. There are also non-slip travel bowls that are designed for the back of moving vehicles and allow the animal to access water at any time without it spilling.

Take a few dog or cat treats on the trip since take-away food from road houses is too rich and not a healthy option. However, for animals that are not good travellers, only offer them a tiny amount of food so that they don’t get an upset tummy or wait until you’ve reached the destination before letting them have their meal.

All pet owners know how dangerous it is to leave a cat or dog in a car and yet many do just that thinking they will just be a minute whilst they pop into the shop. However, the reality is that it takes six minutes or less for an animal to suffer severe heat exhaustion in a car and die; this is much less time than it takes to line up at the supermarket for milk and bread.

Tests conducted by Melbourne’s Metropolitan Ambulance Service on a 29°C day after the car’s air conditioner had already cooled the vehicle to a comfortable 20°C showed that it took just 10 minutes for the temperature to increase to 44°C. Ten minutes later it had skyrocketed to 60°C ².

Dogs are not able to regulate their body temperature, especially if they don’t have access to water, and if left in a space such as a car where the air is hot around them will suffer severe dehydration and heat exhaustion. It’s just not worth the risk just to pick up a few groceries.

All pets should wear a collar with identification showing their home address and phone number but it’s important to remember that when travelling an extra tag may need to be added to show contact details whilst they are on the road. Microchips are also a great investment but make sure the details on the database are fully up to date.


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