Traveling with Pets: The Case for Restraint

by Dr. Jason Nicholas

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In the first installment of this blog series on traveling with pets I reviewed steps that can help prevent travel anxiety and carsickness in dogs. So hopefully you are now more likely to take your hounds along on future road trips – and hopefully they are more likely to enjoy it, too. But if you’re going to take your dogs along on long car trips (or even short trips around town), doing so safely is of paramount importance. So for this post, I’d like to highlight this very important aspect of pet travel – that of pet travel restraint.

Now I know this isn’t exactly a very ‘sexy’ topic, but then, neither was travel anxiety and carsickness, but a lot of you read and shared that one. My hope is that you’ll do both in en mass for this one too. So please, regardless of your views about pet travel restraint at this point, please just give this post a read. Because, as long-winded as it may be (though I prefer to think of it as exhaustive and complete), I will be bringing up some points that you likely haven’t considered, or ever been exposed to before. And I will also be highlighting some different means of safely restraining your pets during travel.

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The importance of pet travel restraint truly cannot be overstated – it affects absolutely everyone. In fact, for many people, once they’re aware of all the benefits of pet travel restraint they become fast and complete converts – often encouraging their pet-owning friends and family members to do so too. I hope that you will become one of those, if you aren’t already.

So what exactly are the benefits then?

As I alluded to above, pet travel restraint isn’t just about protecting your pets in the event of an accident or shortstop. It protects them from a variety of other illnesses and injuries, as well. And just in case your pet’s safety isn’t a good enough reason for you to take the simple steps to secure them, then consider the fact that proper pet travel restraint also protects you, your passengers, and everybody else on the road as well.

Take a look at the list of benefits I’ve compiled below. See how many you were aware of or informed of before. Can you think of any others?

Benefits for your pets:

  • Protection from being thrown into the windshield, back of a seat, or dashboard in the event of an accident or shortstop – preventing painful and debilitating injuries, some of which can be fatal
  • Protection from being thrown out of the vehicle in the event of an accident or shortstop – preventing injuries and death from hitting the road or another object, from getting struck by another vehicle, and keeping them from becoming lost
  • Protection from being hit by a car, by preventing them from ‘bolting’ out of your vehicle when you open your doors upon arriving at your destination
  • Protection from a range of toxicities, by preventing them from eating the variety of pet poisons that we often travel with in our car (incl. chocolate, xylitol & nicotine gums, medications, and many others)
  • Protection from ‘food bloat’, by keeping them away from their bulk kibble supply when traveling with a large bag of their food on a long trip
  • Protection from being hit by a car or becoming lost, by preventing them from jumping out of an open car window or the back of a truck while at a stop sign or traffic light
  • Decreased stress and anxiety (did you know that many pets are less anxious during travel when they feel more secure, be it in a crate, harness, or other)


Benefits for you & your passengers:

  • Protection from severe injuries and possible death, by preventing your pets from becoming high velocity and extremely forceful projectiles in the event of an accident or shortstop
  • General protection from accidents, by preventing your pets from nudging your elbow, getting by your feet, or otherwise becoming a distraction while you’re driving
  • Allows for faster emergency medical attention in the event of a crash, as first responders don’t have to be distracted by an unrestrained and fearful pet that may view them as a threat to your safety and try to ‘protect’ you from them
  • Financial savings for you – did you know that there are laws and statutes on the books in some states and municipalities that require pet travel restraints, or at least restrict where in a vehicle a pet can travel?


Benefits for everybody else on the road*:

  • General protection from accidents that may involve or delay them, by preventing your pets from nudging your elbow, getting by your feet, or otherwise becoming a distraction while you’re driving
  • General protection from accidents that may involve or delay them, by preventing your pets from jumping out of an open car window or the back of a truck while at a stop sign or traffic light
  • Protection from being secondarily caught up in an accident, by preventing your pets from being thrown out of your vehicle in the event of an accident or shortstop
  • Protection for emergency medical personnel and other ‘first responders’, by preventing your injured, fearful, or confused pet from biting them in a misplaced effort to ‘protect’ you as these people are attempting to administer (potentially life-saving) medical care to you and anybody else involved in the accident.

* Remember, you and your loved ones are “everybody elses” when it comes to whether or not other people, even those who you do not know, decide to practice safe pet travel. So it’s not only in your best interest to properly restrain your pets during travel, it’s also in your best interest (and those of the one’s you love) to encourage and educate everybody else to do so too. So share this post, encourage your veterinarian, groomer, local animal rescue groups and local pet store to share it, too. Looking for a great gift for your pet owning friends and family? Get them a pet carrier or harness. The more people that know about the importance and ease of pet travel restraint, the better it is for everybody.

Okay, so what does ‘proper pet travel restraint’ entail anyway?

I’m glad you asked – this is the fun part! Hopefully I now have you convinced of the importance of pet travel restraint, now I get to share with you the ease (and, in some cases, the style) of it too.

There are lots of great products out there on the market today that can help you properly and safely restrain your pets during travel. But it’s important to point out that there are sadly plenty of products out there that aren’t likely to ‘stand up’ to a real life test also. And this is why I keep highlighting proper pet travel restraint. After all, if you’re going to make the effort to restrain your pets, it’d be nice to know that you’re doing it right. Right?

Now, as was highlighted above, pet travel restraint is about more than just preventing your pets from becoming dangerous projectiles in the event of a crash or shortstop. So even a cheap harness that doesn’t actually keep your pet from flying through the car as you slam on the breaks will confer some safety benefits for your pet. As will a carrier or crate that isn’t strapped in. But none of those are going to provide as many of the aforementioned safety benefits – and they may even decrease safety for you, your passengers, and the rest of the people on the road, too.

This is why it’s always important to look for harnesses, booster seats, carriers, and crates that have actually been crash or strength tested. And why it’s always important to belt in or strap down all carriers and crates.

Okay, I’m a convert. What are my options for proper pet travel restraint?

I’m in the process of narrowing down that field a bit for you all. There are lots of reviews out there based on style, price, and other “peripherally important” factors. As you might guess, my goals and focus are different.

When I do my reviews, they are primarily focused the safety and ease of use of these products. After all, shouldn’t these be the two most important factors to consider when you’re selecting such a product?

These reviews will take some time. I will be posting them to my own blog and website as they are completed. I’ll also be spreading word of them through my Facebook and Twitter feeds. You can access and subscribe to all of these on my website at

I’m always open to suggestions on products you’d like reviewed, and feedback on the reviews I produce. After all, I started The Preventive Vet to help pets and their people – I can accomplish this goal better if you let me know your thoughts, experiences, and goals for your own pets. Please leave comments here on the blog or on my social media sites. You can also send comments directly to me via the Contact page of my website or by sending an email to [email protected].

Below is some information and insight into the different categories of currently available pet travel restraint options to get you started.

  • Travel-specific harnesses:
    • These are harnesses for dogs that are designed specifically with reliable auto restraint in mind.
    • Some are also effective and comfortable for short walks when at your destination or while en route, but they should not be ‘general purpose’ harnesses designed for long walks or other uses.
    • You should always look for one that has either been crash tested or one that has otherwise been subjected to the forces that it claims to withstand.
    • To this point I have only personally evaluated and reviewed one such harness (but not personally strength or crash tested it). That is the Bergan travel harness – you can read my review of this harness on my blog (just click on or copy & paste this URL:
    • Booster seats
      • These are open seats that either rest on your vehicle’s existing seats or are suspended some distance up the back of your vehicle’s existing seats by attached straps.
      • Most people use these to elevate their smaller dogs (and possibly cats) so that their pets can see more easily out the windows.
      • Many of these booster seats include straps that can be attached to your pet’s collar or harness to prevent them from jumping out (though, if attached to their collar, these could also function to hang your pet in the event they do try to jump out of the booster, or if they are thrown from it in the event of a crash or shortstop).
      • Many of the booster seats that rest on the regular seat can be somehow attached to the vehicle’s seatbelt.
      • It is vitally important to recognize the danger in using these booster seats in the front passenger area – an airbag deployment is likely to injure or kill your pet. So, unless your vehicle doesn’t have a front passenger airbag, or you can temporarily disable it, it’s best to use such seats in the back of the vehicle.
      • My personal opinion is that booster seats are semi-useless as far as pet safety is concerned. The far safer option for smaller dogs (and for all cats) is the next category… the carriers.
      • Carriers
        • Be they soft-sided or hard, carriers can be an excellent and safe way to transport cats and smaller dogs during travel – as long as the carriers themselves are belted in, strapped down, or otherwise secured in the back seat or cargo area.
        • Many carriers have built in means to either pass the car’s seatbelt through or attach LATCH clips to. Either will help to secure the carrier to the vehicle allowing for you to derive the greatest safety benefit from utilizing them.
        • There are many excellent carriers out there on the market for you to choose from. A few of particular note are the Sleepy Pod and the Air carriers by Sleepy Pod, and the Comfort Carrier by Bergan. The Sleepy Pod has even been crash tested – safe, easy to use AND stylish… bonus!
        • Crates
          • Like the carriers above, crates for dogs can be either hard or soft-sided. There will, of course, be benefits and drawbacks to both types with the ultimate decision of which type is better being dependent on personal choice and a few important factors (desired strength, portability, air flow, and certain others).
          • Also in similarity to the carriers, it is important that the crate you choose be easily and effectively tethered to the seat or cargo area when transporting your dogs. You can use kayak straps or other tie-downs, but your safest bet is to use Bergan tethers (or another safety rated strap). And while bungee cords are certainly better than nothing, they are not even remotely your best option.
          • Crates can be a great option for larger dogs that do not tolerate being in a safety harness, and they are an excellent option for dogs riding in open beds of pick up trucks (so long as the crate itself is secured to the truck bed – immobilized to prevent it from tumbling or being thrown from the truck).
          • Cargo area barriers
            • These barriers can improve safety by keeping your dogs out of the front seats and by preventing them from getting into toxins and other hazards in the front of the car.
            • The two big weaknesses I see in using this type of confinement exclusively are (1) barriers that aren’t actually attached to the roof and floor of the car are liable to pop off in the event of a crash, allowing your dog and the barrier to come flying into the front seats, and (2) these barriers do nothing to prevent your dog’s escape from the vehicle in the event of an accident, or when you just open the back gate of the vehicle.
            • If your dog is used to traveling behind such a barrier, consider securing them in the cargo area through the additional use of a travel harness. Many vehicles these days have the top LATCH anchor points on the back of the back seats, a carabineer tether (such as that on the Bergan) or one of the LATCH specific tethers can be used to attach to it. For those without the LATCH anchors, secure the tether to a sturdy metal cargo area tie-down.
            • Pick up truck options – a special circumstance…
              • This is a hugely important area of pet travel safety! How many of you have seen the big dog riding unrestrained in the open bed of a pick up truck? And now how many of you have seen such dogs jump or be thrown from these trucks? Truck travel restraint is so very important, and yet it is so infrequently done (and done properly).
              • There are really only two safe and effective means of restraint for dogs riding in the open bed of a pick up truck – (1) in an immobilized crate or (2) with a proper tethering system attached to a harness. (The harness part is emphasized because attachment to a collar is certainly not safe, and it is often ineffective too. Many dogs have been hung when they jump or are thrown from the back of the truck when restraint has been attempted through the use of a leash and collar.)


 Okay, I think it’s time to bring this post to a close. I’ve provided you with 15 reasons why I believe proper pet travel restraint to be important, as well as some easy means and products for achieving proper pet travel restraint. Can you think of any other reasons or products? Do you disagree? Would you like to share some reasons not to restrain pets during travel? Do you have any pet travel experiences – good or bad – that you’d like to share?

Please share your views (one way or the other), stories, and ideas in the comments section below or via the contact form on my website. Let’s have a conversation about this and see where everybody is ‘at’ on this subject – just remember to keep it civil please.

Happy (and safe) travels everybody! Stay tuned for the next installment in this blog series on traveling with your pets. In the mean time, please consider taking the Paws To Click ‘pledge’ to travel safely with your pets, and please also check out the results of a recent joint survey conducted by Kurgo and AAA for statistics on pet travel safety.


Dr. Jason Nicholas, BVetMed