Tips for safe car travel with your dog

From legal requirements to car sickness, our dog car safety guide covers everything you need to know to make car travel a happy and safe experience for both you and your dog!

When should I start car training my puppy or dog? 

Try to get your puppy or dog familiar with the car as soon as possible. The sooner they get used to travelling in the car, the easier it will be in the long run. If you crate train your puppy at home, they can go straight to the crate in your car. For your dog, this is their safe place, and it will reassure them as you travel. It keeps them from distracting the driver by jumping around the car.

Ideally, before you even go out, introduce your puppy to the car and let them have a good look and sniff around. Start the engine and let it run so they become accustomed to the sounds and vibrations. When they are used to the car, start with very short trips and keep each experience positive. If your dog suspects they will be visiting the vet each time they go in the car, their enthusiasm won't last too long!

The law and suitable dog restraints

Are you aware you could be breaking the law in the UK if you are not following the rules set out by the Highway Code when travelling with dogs?

The law states your dog must be suitably restrained so they cannot disturb the driver of the car. You will be required to put them in a dog crate, pet carrier or dog harness or use a dog guard. If an accident was caused by an unrestrained dog, you could be charged with dangerous driving.

Always check your car and pet insurance policy concerning travelling with dogs. Many policies require your dog to be restrained.

Any dog over 8-weeks old, by law, must be microchipped and wear a collar showing their owner's name and address when not on your property. This applies to any dog travelling in a car too.

To read more about The Highway Code and animals, read the Government's website here.  

Dog restraint options for your car

There are four options to keep your dog safely restrained when travelling by car:

  • Pet carriers. These are mainly for smaller dogs. They are lightweight and portable and are easier to manoeuvre than a metal crate.
  • Dog crates. If you have already crate trained your dog, this option makes perfect sense. It keeps your dog safe while giving them a sense of security when in the car. Crates need to be big enough for your dog to stand and turn around.
  • Pet-safety harness. These come in all sizes and are suitable for all types of dogs. Essentially they are dog seat belts! The harness is fitted to your dog and then clipped into existing seatbelts. Your dog can sit on the back or front seats of your car. If your dog sits in the front seat, make sure the airbags are deactivated on the passenger side.
  • Dog guards. A metal grill fits in between the boot of your car and the back passenger seats. It gives your dog the freedom of your car boot space but keeps them safely restrained within that area.

Keeping your dog comfortable on a car journey

When you head off on a long journey, keep your dog comfortable and happy by following this advice:

  • Stop at regular intervals to give your dog a leg stretch and a chance to go to the toilet. Offer fresh water each time you have a break as it can get warm in your car.
  • Dogs and people may appreciate your air conditioning but don't point it directly at their face. It can be very uncomfortable for them. If you open your window, make sure your dog cannot stick its head out, so there is no chance of injury. Don't open the window enough to risk them jumping out.
  • If your dog is a nervous traveller, give them their favourite toy or blanket to help them settle.
  • Never leave your dog in the car when it is warm, hot, or sunny. Even in the winter or on cloudy days, cars can heat up quickly. Dogs can get heatstroke so easily, and it's very dangerous for them. It can be fatal. If it's sunny or warm, take your dog out of the car. Don't risk heatstroke!

How often should I stop with my dog in the car?

Vets recommend giving your dog a break every two hours or so. Offer them a toilet break, some water, and a chance to stretch their legs.

How can I help my dog with car sickness?

Car sickness is very common in puppies. Some puppies grow out of it but others may still be car sick through adulthood. There are some things you can do to help them:

  • Don't feed your puppy or dog for 2-3 hours before they travel.
  • Lay waterproof sheeting in your car in case they are sick. Travel with paper towels and cleaning spray so you can clean up if needed.  
  • Allow some fresh air into the car. If it is stuffy and hot, this could make their sickness worse.
  • Give your puppy or dog a chance to have a toilet break before you leave home, so they are as comfortable as possible when the journey begins.

If you are worried about your dog's sickness, speak to your vet. They may be able to prescribe travel medication to help. If behavioural issues arise while travelling by car, contact a dog behaviourist for expert advice.

With a Kennel Club Pet Insurance policy, you can access the free Pet Health Helpline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The veterinary-trained team will advise on any concerns or queries that you may have over your pet’s health – much like the NHS 111 service for people. Call free on 03333 32 19 47.