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Car Safety for Pets

BY REBEKAH OLSEN

Summer vacation is for the dogs. Literally. It’s the best time of the year to pack up your pooch and take a road trip to the beach, lake or your favorite trail in the mountains.

Whether your dog curls up in the back seat for a nap or sticks his head straight out the window for some airtime, riding in the car can be a fun experience for your pet. But before you buckle up and put the pedal to the metal, do you know how to protect your pet in the event you have a car accident?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2013 there were 5,687,000 car crashes in the United States with 16% of those being caused by a distracted driver. And one of the most common distractions during driving are -- you got it -- our furry companions. In fact, traveling with pets can significantly increase the risk of an accident on the road.

Think about it: have you ever reached back to restrain your pooch from crawling over the seat? Or lean back to give her a quick pat on the head if she starts whining from carsickness? Maybe you just want to take a quick selfie of you and your adventurous dog, or your feline friend decides to try to curl up under your feet.

According to this survey by AAA and Kurgo, 65% of dog guardians admitted to being distracted by their dog while driving. But when you’re distracted and crash at 50mph, your ten-pound Boston Terrier becomes a 500-pound wrecking ball.

After a car accident, unrestrained pets also pose a threat to first responders. Frightened pets may lash out or bite anyone that approaches you or the car. They can also cause secondary accidents if they take off across a highway to escape. As a pet guardian, it’s your responsibility to not only take precautions to reduce the risk of a car wreck, but to also protect your pet in the event it does occur.

To make sure your travel plans are safe and fun, here’s what you need to know to protect your pet in the event of a car accident.

Use a Proper Restraint

When driving, you should properly restrain your dog in the car. Using a restraint decreases the chances of distracted driving and protects your pet from being tossed about or thrown from the car. It also secures your dog in the event of a crash when he’s likely to escape and run away.

A dog seat belt is made with adjustable straps that fit every size and variety of dog. The safest place to restrain your pet is in the middle of the back seat. You don’t want to put your dog upfront as the air bag can crush your pet if it’s deployed.

Here are three seat belts sold on Chewy.com that are affordable and effective:

Kurgo Direct to Seat-Belt Tether 
This seat belt tether clicks directly into your female seat belt slot and then hooks onto your dog’s harness using a carabiner.

Skybox Booster Seat 
If your small pup loves to look out the window, this Skybox Booster Seat is a good compromise. It elevates your pup so she can see out the window and the adjustable tether keeps her safely in the boxed seat.

Kurgo Leash/Zip Line Combo 
If your energetic pup isn’t content with just one window view, this zip line inspired tether allows your dog to walk back and forth between the seats while also keeping him restrained and safe.

Another option, of course, is a sturdy travel crate, which can be especially helpful for smaller animals such as cats, ferrets or rabbits.

Have an Emergency Plan

If you have a wreck, chances are you may not be in the position to care for both yourself and your dog. Before you leave town, write down an emergency car accident plan for your pet and share it with your own emergency contacts, such as your parent, spouse or a close friend. If you’re injured in a car accident, a first responder will call your emergency contact. Your friend or spouse can then give them instructions on how to also care for your dog.

You should carry a copy of this plan in your purse or car. Put it in a visible place where a first responder may find it. Print it out on red paper or place it in an envelope with ICE (in case of emergency) written in bold lettering.

If you have an iPhone, you can also use the Medical ID section of your Health Application. Most first responders know to access this information by selecting the emergency button on a locked phone screen and then clicking the Medical ID.

This information is technically for your own medical history, but I also include my dog’s information under the Medical Conditions Section with the heading “If a Dog is With Me”. It’s visible and provides quick information to the responders on what they should do.

Here’s what you should include in your emergency plan:

Name of Pet
Breed of Pet
Age of Pet
Any relevant medical history
Any medications your pet is currently taking
Pet Personality

Include a brief description of your pet’s personality and their common behaviors. Is she anxious? Is he apprehensive of strangers or friendly? What type of treat is irresistible? Does he have a tendency to escape and run? What are her likes and dislikes? Is she prone to seizures? Does he know basic commands?

Veterinarian Information
Contact Information for a Pet Sitter, Trusted Guardian or Kennel

The ASPCA will also send you a free Pet Safety Pack with a pet rescue window decal. It alerts recue personnel that pets are inside your home (or in this case, car).

Remember, a car accident is a traumatic event for your pet. If your dog is injured or scared, you should approach them cautiously as they may inadvertently react aggressively. Talk slowly and move them as little as possible and carefully. You should also call your vet immediately. They can give you tips on how to transport your dog safely to the hospital.

Do you have any tips for caring for a dog during an accident? Share with us on social media!

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