Safe Travels with Creatures Great and Small

Safe Travels with Creatures Great and Small
27 Jun 2015

School’s out for summer and it seems that all of Europe is already gearing up for August holiday. Every year more and more people take their pets on vacation and many don’t consider their pet’s safety in the car.  You always remember to buckle your seat belt and check the security of the child seat, but what about Fluffy or Fido?

How to Safely Secure Your Pet: By Species


Long-gone are the days of perching your pooch in the bed of your truck for a trip to the beach. Dogs should always be secured no matter where are they are in the vehicle. A few great options include crates and safety harnesses. It is best to secure small dogs in crates or carriers and then secure the carrier to the seat using the seatbelt.

Currently there are no safety standards for pet safety harnesses. Recognizing the lack of crash testing or standards, automaker Subaru of America sponsored a safety harness study in 2013. Many veterinarians recommend researching brands using this study before purchasing a safety harness. The top performer in this study was Sleepypod Clickit harness.


Most cats don’t take too kindly to travel. Keeping your cat calm and secure is extremely important for any trip. Even if your cat isn’t used to wearing a harness – it is a good idea to fit him with one for the trip. If you are flying with your cat in the cabin, you must take him through security out of the carrier. The harness will help ensure that he doesn’t make his first solo flight in the airport!

Secure carriers (hard or soft-sided) are a must and soft bedding like those found through Pet Dreams can help her travel in comfort. Use a calming pheromone spray on the bedding before placing your kitty in the carrier. The safest location for your cat is in a carrier secured to the seat with the seat belt.


It is best to transport your bird in a much smaller carrier than her usual cage. If that is not an option, use their regular enclosure but remove the perches. Keeping your bird on her feet will help to provide security. Perching could lead to a fall if the car stops or turns suddenly.

A good transport option, a “Critter carrier’, for your small bird (such as a parakeet) can be found here through PetSmart. The safest location for them is in a seat, secured with a seat belt.

Small Mammals

Tiny mammals such as guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits sometimes need to be transported too. Their safety plan should include a small carrier- hard-sided is best for easy cleaning. Some small animals like to chew through fabric, so keep this in mind when making your selection. ‘Critter carriers’ like the one mentioned for birds can also be used. Just remember to add appropriate bedding to make the trip more comfortable. Like birds, the safest location for them is in a seat, secured with a seat belt.

Heatstroke – A Travel Concern

Every year, hundreds of pets and children die from heatstroke because they are left in the car. NEVER leave your pet or child unattended in a parked car, as temperatures rise very quickly. If the outdoor temperature is 78 F (25.5 C), the temperature inside of a car can rise to over 100 F (37.8 C) in less than 20 minutes. Heatstroke occurs in dogs and cats when their body temperature rises above 105 F (40.5 C). Overheating can lead to permanent organ damage, blood clotting disorders, swelling of the brain and death.

If your pet is becoming overheated, you may notice:

  • Serious panting
  • Bright red gums
  • Thick drool or saliva
  • Agitation

If your pet becomes too hot – he may become disoriented or unresponsive.

If you think that your pet is overheating, take a break and offer cool water. Check your pet’s rectal temperature (one should always travel with a pet first aid kit). If it is over 103 F (39.4 C), seek veterinary attention immediately. If the rectal temperature is over 104 F (40 C), offer cooled water to drink and begin cooling off your pet while en route to a veterinarian. Place ice packs wrapped in cloth in between the legs and armpits. Pour room-temperature water (never cold or iced) over the body and on the paw pads.

Check your pet’s rectal temperature every 5 minutes during the cooling process. Once the temperature is below 103 F (39.4 C), stop all cooling actions but continue to offer water.

If your car does not have air conditioning and you are traveling during the summer – be sure to keep the windows down and air flow circulating. Check on your pet often and offer cool water a couple of times each hour. Remove all bedding from their crate or carrier. Monitor them for signs of heat stress before heatstroke becomes a real concern.

Bon Voyage!

Keep in mind that safe travel principles apply for all times of the year, even if you are only going around the corner. Buckle up and stay safe!


Deborah Shores

Deborah Shores, DVM, is an American Veterinarian and a 2008 graduate of Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science, minor in Chemistry, from Berry College in Rome, Georgia, USA. As a child, she was obsessed with horses and received her very own mare, named Ivy, at the age of 10. She wanted to become a vet at the age of 13, when her beloved horse had to undergo a complicated eye surgery at the University of Georgia. The veterinary surgeons allowed her to watch the procedure in the operating theatre and she was hooked! As a military spouse, she has lived throughout the USA, in Poland and Japan. In the last 6 years, Dr. Shores has worked as a clinical veterinarian for dogs, cats, small mammals and non-human primates (macaque monkeys) and as a freelance writer. She has also taught anatomy and physiology as an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort. Her passion is educating animal lovers about pet care and common animal diseases. She currently has two mischievous tabby cats, Hummer and Piper. Both cats are also world travelers and enjoy basking in the warm afternoon sun.

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