Living

Along for the ride

How to keep your pet—and yourself—safe while you're in the car

Your dog or cat may not like following rules, but pets can’t help but obey the laws of physics. When it comes to cars and pets, the calculations can be pretty grim. According to Volvo Cars of Canada, an unrestrained 27-kilo-gram pet in a vehicle travelling at 60 kilometres an hour, for example, can exert a force equal to 1,179 kilograms when crashing into a wall. That’s enough force to send Fido on a deadly course, killing or maiming the dog, the driver or passengers. Even if the pet survives the ordeal, the owner could face hundreds or thousands of dollars in vet fees. To keep your pet as car-safe as every other member of the family, here are some handy tips:

Pets may balk at wearing seat belts, but restraints are important. “It’s certainly a lot safer—both for the operator of the vehicle and the pet—to have the animal restrained,” says veterinarian Pat Stapley Chase of Pine Ridge Veterinary Clinic in Cobourg, Ont. She notes that even in crashes where a dog is in the back seat and not thrown into the front compartment, she could fall and damage knee ligaments or break legs. Other common in-car pet injuries include concussions, lacerations, broken bones and nerve and ligament damage. Unrestrained dogs that survive crashes unharmed may escape from a vehicle, only to get hit by traffic.

The best way to protect your pet from such perils is to invest in a doggie seat belt harness (as cheap as $27), a pet travel crate for dogs and cats or a dog cargo barrier. Such restraints also allow you to open windows or doors when the vehicle is parked, without fear your pet will flee.

While dogs may love the wind-in-their-ears feel of open-air motoring they get from poking their head out a window, Stapley Chase discourages it. “They can get eye infections because of the breeze,” she explains. Dogs can also suffer allergic reactions to airborne irritants or get hit by flying rocks or other debris.

A sinister car-related calamity that affects both dogs and cats is antifreeze poisoning. Antifreeze has a slightly sweet flavour that pets find appealing. But even small amounts can be toxic to animals and humans. Keep your eyes peeled for yellowish-green or orange-coloured spots of fluid on your driveway, the telltale signs of an antifreeze leak. Clean up the spots immediately and have your vehicle repaired as soon as possible.

Another hazardous activity for outdoor kitties is crawling under the hood of a car to snuggle up against the warm engine on cold winter days. If the cat doesn’t scoot before the owner starts the car, the results can be grisly. The moving parts can amputate limbs or tails or cause severe cuts, head trauma or even death. If cats roam your neighbourhood, you might want to bang on your hood as a warning before starting your car.

Older dogs with poor hearing and stiff joints can be vulnerable to being run over if they rest behind a parked vehicle. Whether you’re a pet owner or not, it’s a good idea to get in the habit of walking all the way around your vehicle before getting in.

Roaming with Rover may take a bit of planning, but your four-footed friends shouldn’t have to take a back seat when it comes to auto safety.

Maryanna Lewyckyj is a consumer advocate for the Toronto Sun. She conducts car care seminars for women through her company, Autophobics Anonymous.