Pet Car Seats 101

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.