It’s January 2nd and I know what you’re all thinking... It’s National Pet Travel Safety Day! Well, maybe not all of you were thinking that, but after rolling the idea around in my head for a minute I realized how often I travel with my dog, and how often I see travel related accidents in my patients at DoveLewis.
As a technician, one of my core responsibilities is to educate the pet-owning public on how they can keep their pets safer, and hopefully not need to come see me at work. These are my 'big ones' when it comes to traveling safely with my pets:
- Identification – you may think it’s just a trip to the park where you go every day, but every trip with your pet is a chance for them to go on a grand adventure – and some dogs don’t care if their owner goes along. Every time your pet is outside the house, they should be wearing a collar with identification. This includes cats – I had a cat in college who LOVED car rides, ran errands with me (weather permitting) and would hang out in the car. Microchips are awesome, but identification tags ensure immediate recognition of ownership and a quick way to reunite with your wayward friend.
- Acclimation – Before you take a long trip, take a bunch of short trips to make sure everyone is happy with their travel arrangements. With a dog this might start with just sitting in the car and getting treats escalating to a drive around the block, across town, to the park, and finally to your far away destination. With a cat it might mean getting treats in their carrier and getting comfortable in a confined space before taking the long drive. If the animal is comfortable then the driver is less distracted.
- Animals are Confined – I will admit, there is great joy in seeing a dog hang his head out the window; mouth open, tongue out, enjoying the millions of smells on the wind. But there is also great risk, the first being that the dog is probably loose in the back of the car. Having been guilty of this myself numerous times, this is a hard rule to follow, but it is safer for both pet and person. Again, the driver is less distracted if the pet is not running circles around the back of the car. The dog is safer during an accident if they are confined either to a crate, seatbelt, or behind the seats (which is what I have done and it’s GREAT, not only is my dog confined to her own safe area, but her hair is no longer ground into all of the seats!). Dogs loose in the back of trucks? Seriously? People still do that? STOP IT. Cats should never travel free. In their panic they are dangerously distracting and can end up behind the pedals on the driver’s side. No good can come from that.
- No Pets in the Front Seat – Children are not allowed to ride in the front seat; airbags can be deadly for a child during an accident. The same rules apply to your dog. Dogs and cats do not understand the importance of not obstructing the driver’s view or causing a scene. Everyone is safer with pets in the back. I too think that it’s hilarious to see a tiny dog acting like it owns the world by sitting in the front seat (or on the driver’s lap…) but I’d rather see everyone paying attention and actually driving.
- Train Your Dog to Wait – This is a valuable skill for your dog to learn that will serve them in many situations. Don’t allow them to barrel out of the car as soon as you open the door. It’s cute at home, potentially deadly if they barrel out into traffic, take off into the woods, or disappear at the highway rest area. Teach them to wait until their leash is on and you give the command. Reinforce the skill every day, every time they get out of the car, so there are not any mistakes when you’re far from home.
If we as veterinary professionals start reinforcing these ideas with pet owners today, and pet owners start working on these skills now, the summer travel season will bring less stress, less accidents, and hopefully less emergency vet visits. Happy Pet Travel Safety Day!