Nothing is more ubiquitous of a road trip than a sunny drive with the windows down and a dog’s head hanging out the car, ears flapping in the breeze, tongue out, and tail wagging. However, there are a number of dangers that pet owners should be aware of when letting their dog loose in the car.
Although no one wants to think of the worst case scenario, properly restraining a dog, such as with a seat belt or seat belt attachment, can keep a dog from being injured or killed in case of an accident. For one, a loose dog in the car can be a major distraction to the driver. Any number of occurrences can startle a dog, such as honking from other cars, poor weather, or even the driver accidentally driving the car across a rumble strip. A scared dog may try to seek refuge on the driver’s lap, causing the driver to momentarily lose control of the car. Owners have also reported their dogs having jumped down near the driver’s feet, which can ruin the driver’s ability to hit the brakes. Even if not scared, a dog may still try to play with the driver or seek attention from him or her, especially during long car rides.
In the unfortunate case of an accident, an unrestrained dog is very likely to become injured. If the dog is sitting in the front seat, either on a passenger’s lap or by himself, detonation of the airbag can be particularly devastating. Additionally, even in minor accidents, the trauma from the wreck can cause a dog to try and flee the car. If the accident occurs in an unfamiliar area or on a busy road, the dog can easily become lost or hit by another car if escaping through a broken window or door.
Even though dogs cannot resist hanging their heads out of the car windows, owners should not allow their pups to do so. Every year, veterinarians treat eye injuries, head trauma, and broken bones caused by dogs being allowed to feel the wind in their fur. When traveling at even moderate speeds, road debris, bugs, and gravel can become lodged in a dog’s eyes, causing serious corneal injury or blindness. Overgrown branches along the side of the road, or even narrow passageways through tunnels, can also pose a risk, resulting in head trauma. Dogs have also been known to see another dog on the sidewalk and jump from the moving car, resulting in abrasions, broken bones, and even death. Sun or moon roofs are not any safer, as a dog’s head can become injured if driving under a low hanging bridge or tree branch.
Ultimately, the safest way for a dog to ride in a car is to be restrained in the back seat. Although restraining a dog may take the initial fun out of car rides, doing so is safer for everyone in the car, as well as for people in other vehicles on the road.