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click it or ticket: petplan pet insurance talks pet safety harnesses

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan

You’d never think about going on a road trip (or even just down the street to the store) without buckling your seatbelt or making sure your kids are strapped into their seats. So why is it so common to see pets roaming around people’s cars? 

From the Labrador Retriever who is halfway out the back window to the Jack Russell Terrier sitting on his owner’s lap in the driver’s seat, dogs that are unrestrained are in danger of being seriously injured in an accident.  They also pose a threat to humans in the car, too.

In the unfortunate occurrence of a car accident, your unrestrained pet turns into a projectile, capable of propelling through a windshield and/or causing significant injury to you and your other passengers.  Unrestrained pets also cause driver distraction, not to mention a physical threat should they venture near the accelerator or brake pedals while the car is moving.

With several states considering or already passing pet restraint laws, the issue of restraint in vehicles is not only just an ethical problem, it can be a legal problem.  Many states can dole out hefty fines for unrestrained pets causing driver distraction, and Hawaii has banned pets from owner’s laps altogether.

I know you enjoy having your furry family members with you on trips, so what’s a cross country vacationer to do?  The answer is, of course, not a short one.

The advent of pet safety harnesses, or pet seatbelts, seemed to be the answer to everyone’s prayers.  Most models entail a harness that is worn by the pet and can be clipped or otherwise fastened to the existing seatbelt in your car.  The problem with these harnesses is that they aren’t really mandated, so their safety claims may not be accurate. 

The Center for Pet Safety conducted a pilot study in 2011 in which they tested the safety of the four leading brands of pet restraint harnesses.  A 55 lb. dummy dog was placed in the harnesses and then put through crash testing.  The results were dismal; all four failed to provide adequate safety for the pets themselves or for the humans in the car.

Since then, some harness companies have been working harder to provide products that protect our pets, even going so far as to conduct their own crash tests.  The car manufacturer Subaru has paired up with The Center for Pet Safety to help test and identify superior products meant for pet travel safety. 

The right harness has its place, so do a little digging and find one that is right for your furry family.  Harnesses keep our pets from wandering about the car, posing a distraction, as well as keeping our pets from becoming a projectile in the case of an accident.

Another option, especially for cats and small dogs, is to travel with pets secured in a carrier or crate.  A crate will keep them contained during the drive, but will itself turn into a projectile object unless it is tied down.  Most carriers come with an area through which you can pass a seat belt, but if yours doesn’t, you can just pass the seat belt through the handle. 

I have seen several heartbreaking outcomes from dogs and cats who weren’t restrained during an automobile accident.  The best case was a young puppy who was thrown into the wheel well and broke his leg.  The worst...well, I’m sure you can imagine.  And I’m not even counting the dogs who escaped through an open window and were never seen again.

You love your pets enough to take them with you on your trip. Restrain them so that they can return home with you after your trip, too.

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Posted by Nancy Hughes
on July 15 2015 05:08

You speak of the small dogs, My cat well she has a crate, but I have to large German Shepards. They are well behaved in the car we lowered the back seat so that they two of them would be comfortable to lay down, and they resent being crated, can I use the harness and the car seat belt on them. I have a hatch back type automobile. I never knew there were laws that the animals had to be restrained also with seat belts. If I do travel across country this is really important information to know. Even when they go into the car to go to the store also. Will look into the harness from Sleepy Pod.

Posted by Gayle
on July 14 2015 16:42

I am always concerned about my side impact airbags killing my dog!

Posted by Debbie Williams
on January 05 2015 12:13

I have a small car (Integra). I normally have the backseats down so there is no access to the seat belts (and front seat has an airbag that cannot be shut off). My dog is 67 lbs and sometimes her 'cousin' rides with us. What other alternatives are there that are safe? Isn't there a lead line?

Posted by Darlene Elliott
on January 05 2015 12:02

We have found that Kurgo's dog restraint products are excellent. We feel much more comfortable when we travel anywhere with our puppy. There are several products to choose from, so I recommend calling them; their customer service is outstanding, and they will help you choose the best product.

Posted by Jill pinder
on November 03 2014 10:11

Sleepy Pod make a harness that works very well for large dogs. They have also crash tested their harness and it rates very high. It is worth checking out. I use it when the crate is not practical.

Posted by Sandy boyd
on August 19 2013 14:04

I have purchased several different types of devices for keeping a dog restrained in a car, off of which consist of a harness that my dog can get out of in about 2 minutes flat. I have tried using a crate, but he was a rescue dog who was kept in a crate almost all the time and then hurt while he was trapped, so there is no way to travel with him in a crate. Any suggestions?

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