The post has been prepared in cooperation with veterinarian and junior researcher Dagni-Alice Viitu.
More and more dog people want to take their pet with them wherever possible - whether it's to eat in a cafe, take a walk in the forest, travel, exercise or visit the vet. We also asked the followers of our Kullakuu social media accounts how many of them transport their dog by car. Of the 517 respondents, 52% transport their dog by car weekly, 34% at least once a month, and 14% less often. We also asked the followers how many have thought about the safety of their pet while driving. Only 40% of the respondents had thought about this topic and adopted suitable security measures, the rest had thought about it and had not yet found a suitable security measure or did not consider this topic important enough. A study conducted in the Czech Republic revealed that although most drivers see a dog as a member of their family, they relatively rarely allow the animal in the car because they believe that the dog is calm in the car and nothing will happen.
The use of seat belts has been mandatory for people for many years. However, in the eyes of the Traffic Act, a pet is cargo, so the requirements arising from it are mainly related to the fact that the pet must not endanger fellow passengers and must be secured to prevent it from flying around in the event of a traffic accident. However, there are no requirements set by law that would also take into account the safety of the pet itself. In addition, there are no requirements for the security equipment with which the pet is secured, which is why there are many such things on sale that have not been tested for breaking resistance and security.
Dogs live with us (hopefully) for a very long time, most of them 10+ years. If you transport your dog by car on a weekly basis, the probability that an accident could happen in 10+ years is high enough to think about this topic and ensure the best possible safety, both for the passengers and for the pet itself.
Why is it important to secure your pet while driving?
Dangers of an unsecured pet in the car
When traveling by car, we, as people, follow the traffic rules as a matter of course and use the correct safety equipment to minimize accidents and their bad consequences. However, there are often no requirements for transporting animals, and many conventional methods of transportation can be extremely dangerous for a dog (or a cat) in reality.
Unfortunately, there are many situations in traffic where a pet is loose in the car, and the survey conducted among our followers also showed that a very large number of dog people today have not adopted appropriate security measures.
If the dog is loose in the car, in the event of an accident, there is a very high probability that traumatic injuries will occur - starting, of course, with concussion(s) and fractures (including, for example, teeth, spine, skull or pelvic fractures) and ending with, for example, pneumothorax (external air entering the chest, which which prevents the lungs from filling with air and eventually leads to life-threatening lack of oxygen and respiratory arrest) or with cardiac disorders arising from various causes, which are also life-threatening. In addition, there are many other health risks, such as hernias, partial or complete detachment of the eye from the eye socket, ruptures of various organs (for example, bladder, spleen, liver or intestinal rupture) and slightly lighter injuries, such as bruises, dislocations and superficial wounds. In the scientific literature, however, (diabetes mellitus) has even been described as a result of a traumatic brain injury resulting from a car accident.
All injuries may not be visible immediately after the accident (neither on examination nor, for example, on an X-ray), and the first 24 hours are the most critical and dangerous in such cases. Sounds really bad, right? Unfortunately, in an emergency situation, animals are affected by all the same factors and forces as humans, and when driving without safety equipment, such injuries would also be common in humans.
In addition to risking the dog's health, a completely loose animal in the car poses a danger to everyone in the car. On the one hand, a loose animal can simply disturb the driver's concentration. However, in the event of an accident, an unfastened animal as a "loose object" is dangerous for everyone in the car. Smaller dogs and cats can also, for example, jump off the passenger's or driver's lap and get stuck in front of the pedals.
The first and most important decision we have to make as pet owners is whether or how to restrict the animal's movement in the car.
The dangers of an open window
Surely everyone has also come across some awesome pictures of a dog driving with its head out of the window, ears and tongue flapping merrily in the wind. Even though the dogs themselves may like it, because a huge amount of smells and interesting information reaches their noses at the same time, the dog does not know how to assess the dangers that come with it, and the dog's owner should mitigate them.
If the dog enjoying the open window is not somehow fixed in the car, it can rush after a cat, bird or other interesting thing both while driving and when standing at a traffic light. Even if the car should stop at the moment and the crawling out of the car ends well, it is still dangerous and troublesome to search for four dogs that have fled to the wind. However, being thrown from a moving car can cause concussions, broken bones, lacerations of internal organs, skin injuries and other traumas to the dog, depending on the speed. If this should happen in traffic, the dog is also at great risk of being hit by a passing vehicle.
Even if your dog is sitting nicely in an otherwise moving vehicle with the window down, there is a risk that he could fly out of the open window in the event of sudden braking or an accident and suffer the above-mentioned (and potentially life-threatening) injuries.
The next danger is things that can fly into your dog's eyes or ears while driving. When driving at a speed of 50 km/h, even a fly weighs as much as, for example, 1 euro cent. Although a penny may seem light in the hand, getting hit in the eye with it would not be very pleasant. At a road speed of 90 km/h, the weight of a fly would already be equal to one ten-cent euro coin. If, for example, someone were to throw a cigarette butt out of a car window in the city, it would already be the weight of a two-euro coin when it flies into the eyes of a dog. On the highway, however, pebbles or pieces from other vehicles, not to mention dust, can fly into your eyes at high speed. All of this can lead to minor eye inflammation at best, but serious eye trauma and potentially loss of vision at worst.
Dogs' ears are also delicate in this regard. Ear mites are designed to prevent various particles from entering the ear canal, but this is not always possible when moving at increased speed. Also, the sidewalls themselves cannot withstand the constant trauma caused by flapping back and forth in the wind. The combination of wind and flying particles can lead to swelling and pain in the ear(mite), cause an ear infection or fluid build-up in the eardrum, and in the worst case, these problems can lead to permanent ear problems and hearing loss. We humans are protected from such dangers by car windows, and it would be wise to leave your dogs behind this safe barrier as well.
Safe measures - what to prefer?
In addition to the question of whether the pleasure of driving with your head out of the window outweighs the potential health risks, you must also think about how different methods of fixing the dog in the car affect the dog's health. Unfortunately, there are no uniform requirements for dog (safety) equipment that should be followed, but several manufacturers have also voluntarily passed independent safety tests.
In the following, we will analyze various security devices and the risks associated with them. In advance, we can say that unfortunately not all variants available in stores are safe and there are dangers to be aware of.
It would be safest to transport your animals in special safety-tested cages, which are designed in such a way that in the event of a collision or accident, they "absorb" a large part of the applied force and the animals suffer minimal injuries. This is the best safety measure available today, and even though these cages can be a bit more expensive in terms of price, it is still a very necessary expense, especially if you are traveling with your dog often. Unfortunately, not all cages are safe for dogs and it is also worth remembering that the label "safety tested" alone does not say anything about the results of this test. When plunging into the world of security equipment, it's worth doing a proper background check to really get the best value for your money.
The most common metal cages, which are often called "transport cages", can cause life-threatening injuries to dogs. These cages are made of thin metal that bends and breaks easily. In the event of an accident, such a metal rod can easily pierce the dog's chest cavity or abdomen and pierce or cause puncture wounds to the lung or heart, large blood vessels or abdominal organs. In addition to a decline in organ function, all of these can lead to life-threatening bleeding. Normal plastic cages usually simply break in the event of a collision, but the cages themselves are rather not very dangerous - especially if, for example, a piece of plastic flies into a dog's eye.
It is important to know that such metal or plastic cages do not absorb the force generated in the collision, which means that the dog will suffer various traumatic injuries during the accident, such as the previously mentioned various concussions and fractures, pleural effusion, heart problems and other more or less life-threatening problems .
Safety belt + safety braces
There are, for example, straps that can be used to attach the dog's collar or braces to the seat belt buckle. It is a cheap and quick means to prevent the dog from climbing on the driver's lap, for example, and thus somewhat reduces the risk of accidents, but if an accident happens with a dog fastened in this way, the dog can easily suffer a paralyzing or fatal neck or spine injury while attached to the collar, at a higher speed. it can be instantly fatal. Even in the event of a sudden braking, the dog can dislocate some of the neck vertebrae, or the nerves, trachea, esophagus, thyroid gland and muscles in the neck area can be crushed and pinched. Depending on the severity of the injury, they can cause either temporary discomfort or permanent damage.
Attaching it to a leash is safer because the applied force is distributed a little more evenly, but normal walking leashes still do not hold the dog in case of an accident, and the possible injuries are similar to the injuries received when riding loose. There are also various seat belts designed to be attached directly to the seat belt or to the aforementioned belt buckle.
Harnesses, in which the dog is attached to the seat belt buckle from the back or chest, do make the dog safe for passengers, because this type of harness prevents the dog from flying around in the car in the event of an accident, but the situation is still dangerous for the dog itself. Depending on the length of the strap between the brace and the lock, the dog can hit, for example, a car door or an armature, and the result is again various fractures, contusions, concussions and other injuries, such as skull or rib fractures, concussions or hernias.
Even without bumping into anything, however, the use of such single-point braces can lead to spinal cord-damaging (and thus paralyzing and generally euthanasia) compression fractures in the back, because even if the brace attachment point does not give, the rest of the dog's body still moves around this attachment point due to inertia sharply forward. It looks a bit like stumbling while running - if your foot gets caught on something and stops, the rest of your body still moves forward, resulting in a fall.
From the point of view of the dog's health, perhaps the safest models are such braces, which fix the dog with its back completely to the backrest of the seat, but this position may not please the dogs too much and is not suitable for larger dogs. At the same time, safety harnesses and a safety belt are a good option if the dog rarely drives a car and it is not possible to buy a safety cage or there is not enough space to fit it in the car.
You should definitely choose safety harnesses that have passed independent crash tests. Standard walking braces are not suitable for transport by car. In addition, it must always be ensured that the safety belt has also passed the crash test and that its length is rather short, so that the dog has the smallest possible radius of movement in the event of an accident.
It is still common to have a dog kennel that covers the entire back seat or the trunk sewn, but from a health point of view this does not contribute to safe driving. Such a nest may be nice and comfortable for the dog, and the car may remain untouched by hair and dirt, but in the event of an accident, the dog is again as unprotected as when driving freely. We also reviewed the tests of the most popular car seats.
None of the tested car seats fully ensured the dog's safety. In many cases, the fastenings and straps broke and the dog still flew around in the car. In the event of an accident, an animal in the front or back seat as well as in the trunk of the car is equally dangerous. By the way, the grates that can be placed between the trunk and the passenger compartment to physically keep the dog away from the passenger compartment will not save anyone in the event of an accident, unless it is a security-tested grate.
The manufacturer's recommendations must be followed for any safety device intended for driving. This is the only way to ensure that you use the product correctly and that it really helps prevent the worst in the event of an accident. The fact that a manufacturer has tested and conducted tests on its products does not automatically mean that these tests have been successful. If the manufacturer says that he has tested his products, it is definitely worth investigating what the results of these tests were and how these tests were carried out. Manufacturers who conduct proper tests have, in most cases, provided this information in detail on their website.
In conclusion, it would be worthwhile to consider the nuances of traveling with a dog well in advance and thoroughly. In addition to accidents, potentially life-threatening injuries can also occur as a result of simply driving or braking suddenly. Safer options are more expensive and it may not always be possible to choose the best option, but it is worth at least considering whether it is possible to make traveling with your dog a little safer for him.
If you want to start somewhere, we recommend that you read the following sources, which highlight some of the safety equipment options available, but we definitely recommend that you do proper preliminary work yourself and research the models of various safety equipment manufacturers and make a well-considered choice.