Friends often joke that you treat your dog or cat as though it were your child. Well, when traveling with your pet in a car, that’s just the thing to do.

You don’t let your kid climb all around a moving vehicle, so why would you let that adorable pooch or kitty do so? By limiting the movement of your animal and following other tips on auto safety for pets, you will greatly increase the chances that you and your furry companion will arrive at your destination unharmed.

Never leave them alone

Perhaps the most important animal-travel tip is to never leave your pet alone in a parked car. When the outside temperature is 85 degrees Fahrenheit, the interior of a parked car can reach a sizzling 102 degrees in just 10 minutes and 120 degrees within half an hour, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). And that’s even if you leave the windows cracked an inch or two. Such temperatures put your dog or cat at serious risk of death from hyperthermia.

Even if it’s a perfectly comfortable 70 degrees outside, the inside of a parked car can quickly reach 90 degrees — too hot for your furry friend. ASPCA warns that the dangers are not limited to the warmer months: “In cold weather, a car can act as a refrigerator, holding in the cold and causing an animal to freeze to death,” the organization says on its pet insurance web site.

No roaming

You see it all the time: a dog sticking his head through a moving car’s rolled-down window. The pooch is obviously having the time of his life, but Fido’s fun can be dangerous to his health. Letting your dog ride this way could damage his inner ear and even expose him to lung infections, ASPCA says. Furthermore, he could be struck by flying debris.

Bottom line: don’t give your dog the freedom to stick his head out of the window or otherwise roam in your car, as a moving dog (or cat) can be thrown violently if you have a wreck or suddenly stop your car. Also, a roaming pet can be a dangerous distraction to a driver. A sudden sniff of your ear or lick of your nose can be all it takes to divert your attention from the road for too long. Approximately 30,000 accidents are caused each year by an unrestrained dog sitting in the front seat, according to the American Automobile Association.    ­

ASPCA recommends that you place your dog (or cat) in a “well-ventilated crate or carrier” that gives your pet just enough room to stand up and turn around. Besides limiting a pet’s movements, crates and carriers also provide protection in the event of a crash. For large dogs, a crate may not be an option; in these instances, restrain your dog with a harness that attaches to the car’s seat belts. Although they don’t provide the degree of crash protection as crates, harnesses can at least limit your pet’s movements and prevent him from suddenly bolting from the vehicle when you open the car door.

Hitting the road

When taking a road trip with your pet, make sure you have a gallon of cold water with you to keep your dog or cat sufficiently hydrated, ASCPA urges. And be prepared to make regular stops: the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) says you should stop every two to three hours to allow your dog to use the bathroom and get some exercise. AVMA also recommends keeping a familiar blanket or toy by your pet to help it feel more comfortable during the drive.

Before embarking on a long trip, you should take some shorter drives around town with your pet to see how he responds, says Dr. Meg Wright, a veterinarian with the Powers Ferry Animal Hospital in Atlanta. “Is he anxious? Does he get car sick?” she says. “These are things you want to find out. In these cases, your vet may be able to prescribe a light sedative.”

By taking the above steps, you can ensure that car travel with your pet is as safe and enjoyable as possible. 

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