How to Drive with Your Pet

Driving with your mastiff in the front seat beside you probably isn’t the safest way to travel.­ See more pet pictures.
DreamPictures/Riser/Getty Images

­Driving with your pet seems like a no brainer, right? You put your pet in the back seat, close the door and drive. While it see­ms simple enough, that's not always the case. Maybe Princess gets very excited when traveling and has had a few accidents in your backseat. Buddy, meanwhile, sheds so much you aren't sure what color your car's interior really is anymore. Or perhaps Rusty's always jumping b­ack and forth, making quite the distraction, while Fifi doesn't seem to enjoy traveling at all.

Depending on your pet, your vehicle and the specific issue your pet may have with driving, there is a multitude of options to make driving with your pet more enjoyable, safe and comfortable for everyone involved.


­This article will cover pet car seat covers, travel crates, car barriers, steps, ramps, car seats, booster seats and safety harnesses. That's a lot of accessories! You'll also learn basic tips for automobile safety when driving with a pet, regardless of what accessories you might need. And be prepared to discover that some of Lady's favorite activities are a no-no -- like sticking her head out the window when you drive.

If you are planning on traveling with a cat, you m­ay be most interested in the travel crates page, as cats generally are not the calm car travelers that dogs are. It's generally best to skip the booster seats and safety harnesses on felines and stick with a sturdy travel crate, kennel or carrier for them.

So you've been using a towel or a sheet to cover your back seat to avoid contact with Max's accidents, but it's not quite cutting it. Forget the homemade remedies and consider a pet car seat cover, detailed on the next page.


Pet Car Seat Covers

You love your pet, and you love to make her happy. One of her favorite activities is riding in the car with you. There's just one problem -- you value the interior of your car.

Whether you just want to keep your pet's shedding hair off your seat or you need to protect your soft leather, you may want to invest in a pet car seat cover. And let's face it, even the most well behaved dog can sometimes have an unexpected accident. You don't want to be stuck trying to air that smell out in the middle of winter when it's too cold to open the windows.


In general, pet car seat covers are basically just what they sound like -- a layer of cloth that covers your car seat. They can come in a variety of colors and materials, and you can get them in a single car seat, a long row that will cover your entire back seat, or even a large mat for the back of a sport utility vehicle.

You can purchase a pet car seat cover for anywhere from $25 to $100, depending on the material and style. When looking for a pet car seat cover, be sure to find one that fits your car, has a waterproof layer, and is machine washable. You don't want to be stuck with something that's difficult to clean.


Pet Travel Crates

If your dog is uncomfortable traveling in the car or you want to take your cat in the car at all, a pet travel crate is what you need -- and many agree it's the safest way for your pet to travel.

A pet trave­l crate, kennel, or carrier can come in a vast array of styles, colors and materials. They can range from utilitarian metal cages to decorative plush pieces. Aesthetics aside, if you're interested in safety, a hard-case carrier is probably the best option.


Though there aren't specific restrictions when using a particular crate in your own car, if you ever plan to fly with your pet, you may want to visit the airlines' pet crate requirements so you don't have to buy a second one down the line. For example, there are specific size requirements, and you can't use a wire or collapsible crate [source: Pet Relocation].

Even if you never plan on flying with your pet, you should buy within the following guidelines because you want your pet to be as comfortable as possible when traveling. When your pet is standing:

  1. Measure from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail, closest to the hindquarters.
  2. Measure from the floor to the highest point of your pet, either the head or the ears, if they stick up [source: Pet Relocation].

It's important that your pet can turn around, stretch out and relax in the crate. Conversely, a crate that is too big won't help either, as the animal may not feel secure. Take careful measurements and then purchase the crate closest in recommended size. Be sure it is properly constructed and allows for plenty of ventilation.


Pet Car Barriers

­If your pet loves to have free reign from the back of your minivan to the front­ passenger seat, but you don't love it, you might want to add a pet car barrier to your vehicle.

If you drive a sedan and merely want to keep your pet from jumping up to the front seat, you can purchase an inexpensive fabric or mesh barrier that will attach to each of the front seats, providing a barrier across the center console. This will keep the dog from getting in your way and causing a potential distraction while driving. You can also use a hammock style pet cover, mentioned previously in this article, for this purpose.


If you have a minivan, sport utility vehicle, wagon or a crossover, pet car barriers allow you to keep your pet in the back of the car without it jumping onto all of your car seats. These barriers are generally made of wire and adjust to fit various vehicles. These kinds of barriers are more expensive -- but also much more extensive -- than the fabric barriers that cover the small gap between front seats. You can also by extenders to use in conjunction with the wire barriers to help keep even the most Houdini-like pup at bay.

If your pet is older and has trouble jumping into a car -- or you merely have a monster truck that even you have to jump up to get into -- visit the next page to learn about pet steps and ramps.


Pet Steps and Ramps

If you've got a big truck or SUV, chances are you have a step or si­de running board you use to help yourself get into the vehicle. Think about it -- if you need help getting in the car, your pet might need help, too. Pet steps and ramps may be a perfect solution.

Pet step and ramps are usually foldable to add to their portability when traveling by car or truck. In addition, ramps also come in telescoping models, where they expand and collapse within themselves for storage, or you can even buy a short ramp that doesn't fold at all. Those kinds of ramps are used on cars and very small SUVs for very small dogs or dogs that are older and need assistance entering and exiting the vehicle. You should also look for stairs or a ramp that has an anti-slip surface to protect your dog from slipping and sliding. Most ramps and steps will be adjustable and fit a variety of vehicles -- or even the steps of your house. The outdoor varieties can be used on decks as well as your car.


Though steps and ramps can be expensive, they are very sturdy, and might even be able to hold your weight. The properly made, heavy-duty varieties can hold up to 250 lbs.

Pet Car and Booster Seats

­If you want to pamper your pet on yo­ur next road trip, your first stop might b­e a car or booster seat. Made generally for small dogs, these seats allow your pooch to enjoy the open road first-hand.

Using a series of straps and buckles, these typically basket-like seats attach to the front or backseat of your car. When looking for a pet car booster seat to purchase, first be sure the seat can handle your pet's weight. Your full-grown lab won't make the weight requirement, and with good reason -- a large dog like that doesn't need it. Pet booster seats are made only for little dogs.


Secondly, make sure the booster seat has a lining of some sort that is removable for machine washing. Imagine your pet getting so excited on the car ride that an accident happens. You want to be able to clean up the mess with ease and use the booster seat on the next trip. The rest of the seat should be padded or plush in some regard for the comfort of your pet, and built with enough durability that your pet feels stable in it.

You may also want to consider how the straps lay. Some deluxe booster seats boast that their straps go behind the seat to provide an unobstructed view for your pet. Whatever you choose, just make sure the straps aren't situated so that your dog could get tangled up in them.

To keep your pet the safest it can be during traveling, check out the next page to discover pet safety harnesses.


Pet Safety Harnesses

You don't want to confine your pet to ­a crate, but you're concerned about your pet's safety -- and with good reason. A dog traveling in a car going 30 mph (48 kph) would hit the seat, floor, dashboard, window or you with hundreds of pounds of force behind it if you got into an accident [source: Pet Travel].

Just as you wouldn't let your child roam around freely in the backseat as you drive down the highway, you shouldn't let your dog do that, either. Obviously a regular seatbelt (alone) won't work -- you'll need a pet safety harness, instead. The harness, a series of straps and buckles that work together often in conjunction with your car's safety belt, restrain your pet much like a normal human seat belt. You should also consider checking with your state or municipality, as several places have enacted laws requiring some degree of restraint for your pet. You just might find out that a pet safety harness is actually required in your state.


So far, you've learned about a few of the many pet travel accessories on the market designed for ease, safety and comfort. Visit the next page to discover the steps you should take to ensure your pet's safety in your automobile, whether you are loading up on accessories or not.

Pet Safety in Automobiles

Though the accessories listed on the previous page can certainly kee­p your pet safe while the car is in motion -- a harness is the perfect safety belt, while a crate can keep a pet from becoming distracting -- you don't need to purchase anything to follow the most basic safety rule regarding pets and vehicles.

The number one rule of having a pet in a vehicle is that you can't leave the pet there. Your parked car is not an appropriate locale for your pet, period. It's not OK in the high heat of the summer or the dead of cold in the winter. You should never leave your dog in a truck's bed unattended -- it might become threatened by or threatening to strangers. Similarly, experts recommend you should never travel with your dog in the back of a pickup truck. Many dogs have been injured by falling out of open truck beds. The same goes for those dogs who love to stick their heads out the window -- experts say that's a no-no, too. While hanging his head out the window, your dog can get inner ear and lung infections from the flying dust and grime, as well as eye infections if something flies in his eyes [source: ASPCA]. It's also possible that your animal could be struck by something whizzing by.


It can seem like a lot to consider for your next drive with your pet, but as long as you plan a bit and take proper precautions, you and Sparky can have miles of fun on your next road trip.

For more pet travel information, visit the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • ASPCA. "Automobile Safety." (Accessed 1/19/09)
  • Cats Play. "Snoozer Lookout Pet Golf Cart Seat." (Accessed 1/19/09)
  • Family Education. "Automobile Safety for Dogs." (Accessed 1/19/09)
  • Mighty Pets. "Vehicle Barriers, Safety Dividers." (Accessed 1/19/09)
  • Nextag. "Car Booster Seat." (Accessed 1/19/09)
  • Nextag. "Pet Barrier." (Accessed 1/19/09)
  • Oh My Dog Supplies. "Dog Car Seat Covers." (Accessed 1/19/09)
  • Pet Classics. "Outdoor Dog Ramps." (Accessed 1/19/09)
  • Pet Relocation. "Your Pet's Travel Crate." (Accessed 1/19/09)
  • Pet Super Store. "Dog Car Seats." (Accessed 1/19/09)
  • Pet Travel. "Pet Restraint Systems - It's the Law!" (Accessed 1/19/09)
  • Pets on the Go. "The Best Pet Carriers." Accessed 1/19/09)
  • Robert, Greg. "Pet Car Barriers, Pet Vents, and Seat Covers." (Accessed 1/19/09)
  • Top of the Line. "Dog Travel Safety Harness." (Accessed 1/19/09)