Driving safely with an animal on board is a legal requirement and one which, if not followed, could invalidate your car and/or pet insurance as well as the possibly harming your pet. For many animal lovers in Britain, the family pet is a member of the family, which is why safety when travelling is so important. Our children’s safety in cars is paramount to many of us and we spend a fortune on appropriate baby seats and boosters. The same level of care should be given when transporting pets.
The Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes owners responsible for the welfare of their animals, and this includes in the car or another vehicle. Drivers who don’t restrain their dogs and cats while on the move are not only breaking the law, they could also see their insurer not paying out if they were involved in an accident. According to the Highway Code, drivers need to ‘make sure that dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so that they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop too quickly’. The law recommends a seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or guard as ways of restraining your pet while driving.
Plan in advance
Before you set off, think about your journey. Make sure you plan your route well, bearing in mind how long it should take and what your pet might need on the way. Consider things such as the size of your animal, how to make them comfortable and whether they travel well. Extra care might be needed if the animal is injured or has a medical condition.
The DEFRA ( Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) advised against transporting pets if they are:
- Seriously ill or injured
- Newly born
- Incapable of feeding itself
- Has given birth within the last 48 hours
- Is pregnant
It’s important to think about what your pet may need whilst travelling. It would be a good idea to pack emergency items including:
- Animal first-aid kit (including bandages, cotton wool, tweezers, clean pieces of sheeting and round-ended scissors)
- Plenty of Water
- Extra blankets
- Contact details for your vet
Before you go
Before setting off on your journey, encourage your pet to go to the toilet and, if you’re travelling with a dog, it is recommended to travel after the dog has been playing or been on a walk. Try to avoid travelling after your dog has just eaten a heavy meal. A light meal two hours beforehand will reduce the chance of car sickness and prevent your pet from being uncomfortable.
On the move
DEFRA offers the very sensible advice that animals should be safely enclosed in the vehicle with the door locked. For cats, small animals and small dogs, a pet carrier offers the best protection and ensures that your animal can distract you whilst your driving. It’s important to ensure the carrier is safely secured in case you turn a corner sharply or have to brake suddenly, and make it as cosy as possible. A good tip for carriers is to put a familiar blanket or favourite toy inside to put your pet at ease.
For larger animals such as big dogs, a carrier might not be appropriate, instead you should consider a restraining harness, which can be attached to the car seat belts to keep your dog safe.
If your pet suffers regularly from travel sickness, your vet might be able to prescribe anti-sickness medicine designed for transporting pets. Some pets can become more travel sick if they can see out of a window, so restricting their view might be a good option.
It’s common to see dogs with their heads poking out of the window to get some fresh air, but this can be dangerous, illegal and could invalidate your insurance. Keep animals cool by turning on the air conditioning or opening the windows furthest from the animal. Put fresh water within their reach and keep snacks handy, making sure you can feed them to your pet safely. Ensuring your pets are kept cool and comfortable is a priority when on the move.
It’s recommended that drivers have a 15-minute break every two hours, and this is particularly important when you have animals on board. Plan a stop at a motorway services or a park to allow your dog to run around. Some services have designated dog areas and dog walks, but take care not to let your dog run off the lead around cars or in picnic areas.
Don’t let cats or other animals out of the car unless they’re fully harness trained. Ideally, you shouldn’t leave pets in the car alone but, if it’s unavoidable, park in the shade and leave windows open on both sides of the car.
There can be lots to think about if your car develops a problem on your journey. Don’t let your animal out of the car unless it’s safe to do so and he or she is on a lead. It is not advisable to let your pet out of the car on a motorway hard shoulder but, if it’s unsafe for them to remain inside the vehicle, get them out through the passenger doors if possible.
It’s important to ensure that your breakdown cover is up to date and, if you call the recovery service, let them know you are travelling with your pet.
If you are looking for a great car for transporting pets, Mazda and Suzuki offer a range of accommodating cars such as: