Pet Car Seats 101

dogs harnessed
Harnesses are a great safety alternative to a dog running wild in your car. See more dog pictures.

Your trusty dog Max may love to go for a ride in the car with the windows down and the wind blowing through his hair, but a trip to the dog park without some pet protection could be dangerous for both you and your pet. From a quick commute to the vet for an annual checkup to a cross-country move, occasionally transporting pets in the car is necessary. Whether your pampered pooch or persnickety feline loves four-wheeled transportation or not, making your car pet friendly has obvious advantages.

Your car was designed for use by humans, though, and with the exception of a few automobile models that have extra options that make transporting pets easier, the carpeting, upholstery, side panels and ceiling liners in the typical automobile aren't all that pet friendly. If you don't mind frequent car detailing and vehicle rehab, a few scratches, gouges and tufts of pet hair may not worry you too much, but the potential safety hazards should.


In a moving vehicle, your pet can be a dangerous distraction, and even if he doesn't bark, howl, hop around or try to sit in your lap, his unsecured body can become airborne in an accident, putting his life -- and yours -- at risk. Even if you have a minor fender bender, your frightened pet can become agitated and aggressive. A pet restraint offers an an easy, humane way to protect and control your dog or cat.

Because pets can be large, small, destructive or refreshingly laid back, there are a number of seating and restraint options out there. Some even include a few enticing extras. On the next few pages, we'll take a look at car seats, booster seats and seat covers for the discriminating pet and his devoted owner.


Safety Car Seats for Pets

There's more than one way to keep your pet safe in the car, and placing a pet in a dedicated carrier is one of the most secure. It works on a number of levels. Cats are notoriously unruly and vocal when traveling, and enclosing them in a carrier helps control panicky scratching and contain the hair loss that often occurs when a cat becomes agitated. A carrier makes an effective temporary enclosure for a pet once you reach your destination, too. If the pet has an accident along the way, the mess is confined and easy to clean with a garden hose once you get where you're going. An enclosed carrier may not be much fun for your pet, though, especially if you have a well-behaved dog who wants to enjoy the sights.

To make traveling more fun and less like incarceration for your pet, a whole sub-class of secure seating products has sprung up. Most use straps that attach to your car's seatbelt system, the seat base, or the seat and center console. A chest harness keeps your pet from roaming, and in case of an accident, acts like a child restraint, distributing his weight on impact and keeping him confined. In the event of a collision, an unsecured pet can become a projectile, hurting you, other passengers and himself. Even if an unsecured pet survives a vehicular accident, he could make it harder for others to enter the vehicle to help you, or be hurt on the roadway after exiting your vehicle.


When selecting a safe seating system for your pet, choose a brand that has undergone rigorous testing, including crash testing. This can be tricky because currently there are no broadly recognized minimum durability standards for pet travel harnesses or safety seats. The emerging V9DT pet travel harness standard may be one to look to in the future, however.

In lieu of an established standard, rely on major brand names and endorsements you trust. Seats and harnesses may be sized based on your pet's weight, general dimensions or girth measurement. Although some harnesses are adjustable, choosing a snug but comfortably fitting harness (not just a collar) is one of the best ways to take full advantage of the safety features of your pet's seat restraint system. If you have a large or very muscular pet, you may also want to consider using a harness with metal rather than plastic fittings, and wide, heavy-duty nylon straps. Harness styles can vary, too, from simple nylon straps to elaborate vests.

A simple harness may be enough to make your pet safe for a car ride, but his comfort and your convenience also are factors to consider. A lot of pet car seat designs on the market work in tandem with pet harnesses. They include: plush pads, seat mounted carriers, high-sided, fleece-lined dog beds and combo units that can convert from seats to strollers (or carriers). The harness keeps your pet safe, and the padding offers comfort and added cushioning during those unexpected turns and stops. The onboard seating also protects your upholstery from punctures, scratches and pet hair. If your pet experiences a bout of carsickness, the cushion or lining can be removed and laundered, or hosed down for easy cleaning.

Although most pet car seats are easy to install in most vehicles, there are exceptions. Read the directions for the brand you're interested in to make sure it will work in your vehicle and with your bucket, bench or custom seating.


Pet Car Seat Covers

If you want to keep your vehicle interior smelling sweet, it pays to pet proof your upholstery. Pets can be a comfort, but not when they have bladder control issues or when their untrimmed claws accidentally poke holes in your leather seats.

Pet car seats help protect your vehicle from pet passengers by putting a waterproof layer between your pet and the seat. Many covers offer thick, comfortable padding, and some have thermal layers that keep your pet warm by reflecting his body heat back at him. They're available as pads, cushions, hammocks, blankets and the standard covers you might see on a living room couch or chair.


In the case of hammock seat covers, the ends of the covers are secured to the front seat head- rest or side straps, creating a big U-shaped enclosure and making it much harder for your pet to slide off the seat onto the car floor. This particular style is also good at containing messes and pet hair.

Pet car seat cover manufacturers haven't ignored aesthetics when developing their product lines, either. Covers are available in many colors and patterns; some also have optional monograming. They'll typically be made from washable materials so you can just throw them in with your other laundry, but check the care instructions just to be sure.

Microfiber is a popular material for upholstery covers. It's strong, looks plush, and pet hair comes up easily either by vacuuming or wiping with a damp cloth. It can get hot, though. If you want your pet to stay cool during summer excursions, stick with a natural fiber like cotton.

Most pet seat covers work well at protecting car upholstery and making pets comfortable. They aren't designed to keep pets safe, though. For that you'll have to go with a pet restraint product like a pet safety car seat or harness.


Pet Booster Car Seats

A Great Dane presiding over the back seat of your sedan will probably enjoy the sites from any window he likes. If your taste in dogs leans more to Chihuahuas, though, you may want to make the ride a little more entertaining with some badly needed elevation. Sometimes providing security, safety and comfort for your traveling pet isn't enough. If your pet keeps straining to see the view, or just sits in the back seat and wines, you may be able to solve the problem with a pet booster car seat. The same concept that gets your kids up to table level will help make your pet's travel prospects more interesting.

Pet car booster seats fasten securely to your car's seatbelt system or the seat itself and include fittings that attach your pet's harness. The seat has a padded or inflated bottom that raises the level of the seat to give your pet an instant window view. These seats are designed for smaller pets, like cats or small dogs up to around 25 pounds, and will typically fit in either the passenger seat or back seat. In some styles, an opening in the bottom has room for storage. Some convert to carriers or strollers, while others are outfitted with heating elements powered by the cigarette lighter receptacle that can keep pets warm on chilly days. More expensive brands adjust up and down to provide the perfect viewing height.


Most pet booster seats are sized based on a pet's weight, which doesn't always tell the whole story. If your pooch is long, fluffy or likes to stretch out, consider choosing the next larger model. If you have two small pets, some seats come with dual tethers so you can keep both in one carrier. Just be sure to stay within the minimum weight requirement, and make the right judgment call about keeping your precious passengers confined together.

Cleaning is a consideration with the pet booster seat you choose. Check to make sure the interior lining can be removed and laundered, and that there's a waterproof barrier between it and the inner padding. Make sure the exterior can be sponged clean or hosed down, too.

Because many of these units can do double duty as carriers or beds, you might also want to consider purchasing one that has carry handles and, if applicable, convenient access doors that make it easy to get your pet in and out.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

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