Last weekend, my husband and I drove North to Prescott, Arizona for an art fair. As we left a rest stop, a large sign reminded us to buckle our own seat belts and place small children in restraint seats. It occurred to me that the sign did not mention pets.
During my twenty-one years as a veterinarian, many of my patients have been involved in car accidents. Unfortunately, some of them were allowed to ride unrestrained in the car. This led to horrible injuries. One of my clients was involved in a rollover. His two large breed dogs survived the crash but escaped through the shattered windshield. One was then hit by a car and killed. The other was found a week later with a broken leg. Another client suffered a neck injury when her dog flew into the back of her head during a quick stop. The dog was okay, but the owner required surgery.
To prevent both injuries and escapes, I recommend the following:
1) Keep pets in the back seat away from the air bags. Like children, they are safer in back.
2) For cats, I recommend a carrier. This will keep them restrained and out of the driver’s way. I loop the seatbelt through the handle on top and around the front to keep the carrier in place.
3) For dogs, you may use a harness or a crate. My dog wears a fleece lined harness with a slot for the seatbelt to slide through. This system gives him enough room to sit or lie down. I prefer a harness with buckle adjustments over velcro as they provide greater security for the pet.
4) Tie down all crates or carriers to make sure they do not become a projectile.
5) For birds and other small pets, remove toys and swings from the cage to prevent injury.
In 2006, I learned firsthand how seat belts prevent injury. I was rear-ended on my way to work. To make it worse, I was transporting a litter of foster kittens in the backseat! Because of their small size, I placed the carrier on the seat backwards with the metal door facing into the seat. I padded both ends of the carrier with a towel. Those simple steps helped enormously. None of the kittens were harmed. Since this happened on a major Phoenix freeway during rush hour, the nice police office escorted us directly to the animal hospital where I was headed. I was able to get the kittens right inside and examined by other staff. I then returned to the parking lot to sort out the accident report with the officer and other driver.