Ultimate Guide to Driving With Pets

Learn how to keep your pet safe while traveling the open road together.

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Last Updated: 7/15/2022
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Pets are often considered another member of the family for most owners. They travel and run errands with them and take them along for daily local outings. When going on vacations, more than half would bring them when possible. It’s important to not ignore the associated risks that come with traveling with pets, even if it's just a drive around the city.

It should come as no surprise that 43.3 million American households include pets. In addition to keeping up with vet visits, dental cleanings and vaccines, it’s important that pet owners also consider their safety as vehicle passengers. Learn about the various facets of driving with pets — from understanding risks and knowing strategies to keeping them safe and understanding your pet insurance coverage options.

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Important Factors to Consider About Driving With Pets

It’s not surprising that most people drive with their pets, considering the bond they have. Although some state laws prohibit it, most allow pet owners to drive with them, assuming they use proper restraints. Understanding the various risks involved is crucial when you drive with your pet. These dangers aren't limited to you — sometimes, it’s also unsafe for your pet. You must also consider that there are some situations where it's better to leave them at home.

State by State Laws for Traveling With Pets

Laws about pet travel vary between states. Some, such as Connecticut, Maine and New Hampshire, have regulations prohibiting you from having an unrestrained pet in your car, allowing them to stick their heads out of the window or sit on your lap. However, only Rhode Island requires pet owners to use a crate, harness or seat belt. You can be fined as much as $200 and even more if you’ve violated it multiple times.

Using proper restraints when driving with your pet is encouraged, but not all states have enacted laws. MoneyGeek’s map can be used as a reference to review specific state regulations. It helps you avoid violations you may unwittingly commit.

Risks of Driving With Pets

It can be comforting and fun to drive around with your pet. However, it can also be risky. A study from Volvo found that drivers are twice as likely to demonstrate unsafe behaviors when they drive an unrestrained pet in the car, including petting them, holding them in place when braking and letting them sit on your lap.

Remember, these risks aren’t limited to you. Your pet may also sustain injuries if they can move freely around the vehicle.

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    They’re distracting

    You're more likely to engage in distracted driving behaviors when you have an unrestrained pet in your car. Approximately 52% of drivers admit to petting their dog while driving, which forces them to take their eyes off the road and operate the steering wheel with one hand.

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    Their head may stick out of the window

    Pets, especially dogs, love to breathe fresh air in the car and will often attempt to stick their head out of a moving car. However, they can fall out if they lean too far out of an open window. The rushing wind can also irritate their mucus membranes and pieces of debris can also get into their eyes, ears or mouth.

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    Motion sickness is possible

    Some pets experience motion sickness during a trip. They might have stomach issues if you feed them a full meal before leaving the house, so it might not be the best idea. You can also crack the window to let air circulate inside your car.

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    Interior damage can occur

    Dogs typically chew on items within their reach, so leaving one unrestrained may result in bite marks on your seats, seatbelts or steering wheel. You may also find scratch marks or tears if your pet has long nails.

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    They might get injured

    About 17% of drivers either hold their pets while driving or allow them to stay on their laps. Unfortunately, these actions put them in danger if you get into an accident and your airbags deploy. It might end up injuring, or worse, killing them.

When to Leave Pets at Home

Although most pet owners like traveling with their pets, 32% leave them at home because of safety concerns. Being a responsible fur parent means assessing the situation and deciding whether bringing your pets while traveling causes more harm than good.

You might need to check whether you have the proper equipment to ensure their safety or your route. Sometimes you’ll realize that leaving your pet at home is for the best.

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    You usually put your dog in the back of your truck

    This approach prevents you from becoming distracted. However, you might be putting your dog at risk. Truck beds may give them more space to move around, but it also presents the possibility of them jumping out, sustaining injuries in an accident, or getting hit by other vehicles on the road.

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    Your pet is small and hyperactive

    A smaller pet may seem more manageable. However, if it likes running around in your car, it might find its way into your footwell. Remember, these are where your gas and brake pedals are. Your pet may prevent you from using either one properly.

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    You don’t have any safety equipment for pet travel

    Several studies found only 16% of drivers use restraints when driving with pets. You and your pet can benefit from carriers or seatbelts. You may want to wait until you have one before continuing to bring your pets when traveling.

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    You need to make stops where pets aren’t allowed

    Long drives often require you to make stops — some may be long (like if you need to buy provisions or have a meal) and at a place that isn’t pet-friendly. Leaving your pet inside your car is never a good idea. The temperature inside can quickly rise, causing your pet to experience heat exhaustion. Unfortunately, leaving your window opened slightly doesn’t make a difference.

A woman and her cat getting ready for a car ride.

Top 5 Vehicles for Pets Owners

Parents often consider several key factors when buying a car. These include cost, reliability, safety and the potential to accommodate a growing family (assuming they’re expecting or planning to have children). Having a pet is no different.

Pet owners must also look at features that make vehicles safer for their furbabies. These may include considerable cargo space, difficult-to-damage material or technology that makes maintaining it less challenging. It’s crucial to balance cost with your (and your pet’s) comfort.

1. Subaru Outback

Cargo space is vital when you have pets and a Subaru Outback won’t leave you wanting. Your storage area increases to 75.7 cubic feet if you fold the rear seats. It also offers cargo hooks so you can secure your pet’s crate. It ensures that they won’t bounce around even if you go off-road. If your resources allow, consider getting the Onyx Edition, which uses synthetic leather upholstery. It makes cleaning after your pet easy since the material is water-repellant.

2. Honda Odyssey

Like the Subaru Outback, the Honda Odyssey also offers more-than-ample cargo space of 158 cubic feet. It also has other helpful features if you regularly drive with your pets. It has a built-in vacuum cleaner, which you can use to keep your vehicle clean even if your pet tends to shed. You’ll also have CabinWatch, so you can see what’s happening in the cargo area from your head unit. If your pet’s being unusually quiet, you might want to see what it’s doing.

3. Jeep Wrangler

The Jeep Wrangler is a favorite among pet owners because it’s durable and easy to clean due to its water-resistant materials, ideal if your pet makes a mess. It has a removable top, allowing you to give your pet a breath of fresh air without exposing it to the hazards of being on a truck bed. It’s an excellent choice if you’re outdoorsy and like driving off-road.

4. Kia Soul

The Kia Soul may not be as big as the other vehicles we’ve included, being a compact SUV, but it makes our list nonetheless. It has a low load floor, making it easier for your pets to jump into the vehicle, even if their legs aren’t the longest. Its cargo area extends to 62.1 cubic feet once you fold the rear seats. You’ll have a Cluster Ionizer, which helps keep your vehicle smelling fresh even if you drive with your pets regularly.

5. Tesla Model 3

There's only one sedan on our list: the Tesla Model 3 and because of its Dog Mode feature. Pet owners are always discouraged from leaving their pets inside the vehicle because temperatures can quickly increase. Dog Mode allows you to adjust the temperature inside to something comfortable for your pets. It also flashes the message "My owner will be back soon. Don't worry!" for passers-by who might be concerned.

Driving Safety Gear for Pets

Several risks come with driving with your pet. Fortunately, there are many products you can purchase to keep them safe. These range from a simple harness that keeps them safe as they stay in your backseat to a GPS collar that can help you pinpoint their exact location if they run off. Remember, although their primary purpose is to keep your furbaby safe, these also prevent you from driving distracted.

  • Gear
    What Does It Do
    Average Price Range
  • Kennel or crate

    A crate or a kennel is a container where you can
    safely transport your pets while driving. Some are
    made of hard material, while others are
    collapsable, making them easier to pack. Try to
    look for one with hooks or straps that keeps it in
    place and prevents it from sliding around as you
    drive.

    $25–571

  • Safety harness

    A car harness is also a pet seatbelt. It looks like a
    typical harness, but manufacturers designed it to
    withstand the impact of a crash. Choose one that
    fits your pet well to ensure they’ll be secure.
    Those with wide straps and padding can minimize
    injuries if you get into an accident.

    $12–40

  • Car seat

    A car seat (or a booster seat) is best for small
    pets because it elevates them so they can see
    outside while restraining them, keeping them safe.
    Ideally, choose one that attaches to your vehicle’s
    seatbelt and has a harness that fits your pet
    comfortably.

    $15–600

  • Car barrier

    A car barrier is technically more for you than for
    your pet. As the name implies, it creates a divider
    (usually between the cargo area and the vehicle’s
    interior space), so your pet can’t climb over the
    seats and distract you.

    $5–150

  • GPS collar

    A GPS collar can help you keep your peace of
    mind. Even if you lose track of it during a stop or
    when you get to your destination, it'll help you
    track down and find your furry friend.

    $150–220

A man putting safety restraints on his dog before they drive home.

Staying Safe on the Road

Road safety requires a bit more thought when you’re traveling with your pet. After all, you’ll have to consider its needs as much as yours. MoneyGeek’s guide explores the different areas that contribute to this — from securing your pets to ensure your safety to understanding what you need to prepare before your trip to things to keep in mind during the actual drive.

Why Do You Need to Secure Your Pets in the Car?

Sometimes, you get so excited about having your pet in the car with you and end up overlooking the hazards it presents. Some people think confining them is cruel, but not doing so is riskier. An unrestrained pet is more likely to get injured during a drive. They’ll also keep your attention from the road. Remember, 60% of drivers admitted to being distracted by their dog while behind the wheel.

Tips for Driving Safely With Your Pet

There's more to traveling with your pet than jumping into your vehicle and hitting the road. You'll have to spend time planning to ensure you and your pet remain safe. For example, visiting the vet is always a good idea. You'll have to pack a travel kit that may contain everything from toys to medication. MoneyGeek's guide details several things to keep in mind.

1

Take your pet to the vet

The minute you decide to bring your pet on your trip, schedule a vet visit to ensure it’s healthy enough to travel. Make sure vaccines are up-to-date, especially if you’re planning to cross state borders.

2

Pack a travel kit

If your trip to the vet results in some prescribed medicine, purchase it beforehand. Think of what your pet might need when traveling, such as health certificates, toys and water. Don’t forget to pack supplies for cleaning after your pet when they relieve themselves.

3

Ensure your pet’s identification

Your neighbors might recognize your pet, but people at your destination won’t. It’s best to have your pet microchipped, so you’ll have the means to find it if it gets lost. Besides a collar and a leash, ensure your pet has an ID tag with your updated contact details.

4

Put a first aid kit together

Mishaps happen, no matter how much you try to prevent them — and it might require you to take care of your pet. Bring bandages and ointments in case something happens on one of your stops. Don't forget to include items you may need, such as anti-allergens and other medication.

5

Prepare your car

Clean the space where you intend to keep your pet during travel. Ensure you have the appropriate restraints and all your systems are working to keep your pet comfortable.

Rights and Wrongs When Driving With Pets

Safety isn't guaranteed because you are prepared. There are some things you must remember for the actual trip. This includes building stops in your route and keeping your pet hydrated. However, there are other things you must avoid as much as possible. All of these increase your chances of enjoying your drive while ensuring your safety.

Key Takeaways

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Rights
  • Make several stops on long drives. This gives your pet an opportunity to stretch their legs and go potty before you continue on your way.
  • Take several short rides before your actual trip, giving your pet the chance to get used to riding in your car.
  • Although food is discouraged, water is not. It’s best to bring water — an unfamiliar source may lead to stomach problems.
  • Pets get bored. Bring a toy that can keep them occupied. Otherwise, they might start misbehaving, which can become a distraction.
  • Share pet care responsibilities when traveling with a friend or a family member. It ensures someone’s looking out for it, leaving you free to concentrate on driving.
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Wrongs
  • Don’t leave your pets inside your vehicle for extended periods, especially in warm weather. Temperatures can rise quickly, which is harmful to your pet’s health.
  • Don’t feed your pet a full meal right before leaving. If you want it to eat, make sure it’s at least three hours before your trip.
  • Avoid feeding your pets treats during the drive. They might choke on it. Give them water if it’s past their meal time and you’re far from your next stop.
  • Don’t leave your pet unrestrained, no matter how small it may be. Roughly 17% of drivers allow their pets to sit in their laps, which is dangerous.
A woman is purchasing pet insurance for her cat.

Prepare for the Unexpected With Pet Insurance

Sometimes, accidents happen, no matter how much effort we put into ensuring everyone's safety. In these situations, having coverage helps considerably. Some might wonder if purchasing pet insurance is worth it, but when your furbaby needs medical attention, it almost immediately becomes a resounding yes.

Part of being a responsible pet owner is at least considering the benefits of pet insurance. Some plans protect you from post-accident costs and offer routine wellness care, taking a more preventive approach to your pet’s health.

Coverage plans can be flexible — you can adjust coverages to fit your budget. On average, you’ll spend $27.59 for dogs (or $14.96 for cats), which already provides $5,000 worth of coverage.

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FINDING THE BEST PROTECTION FOR YOUR PET

You can explore several pet insurance companies if you’re considering purchasing coverage for your furry friend. MoneyGeek’s study on the best pet insurance companies puts Spot as the top provider. However, the ideal company for you depends on several factors, such as:

  • The kind of pet you have (whether it’s a cat, a dog or something more exotic)
  • The number of pets you have
  • Your pet’s details, like their gender, age, weight and breed
  • Your pet’s pre-existing conditions (if any)

It’s best to gather quotes from multiple providers before deciding. Rates and add-on coverages vary between insurers, so shopping around can help you find the best deal.

How Driving With Pets Could Affect Car Insurance

Full coverage car insurance is an excellent way to keep you, your loved ones and your pet safe. However, while driving your pet doesn’t automatically hike your car insurance costs, leaving them unrestrained can lead to situations that may affect your rates.

MoneyGeek’s study on distracted driving found that it causes 69% of crashes. Once it’s on your record, your insurance premium can increase. Shopping around for quotes can help you find cheap car insurance if your insurer begins charging a more expensive premium.

Does Your Car Insurance Cover Your Pets?

Technically, car insurance companies consider your pet as property. If your car insurance policy includes collision coverage, it might help pay for injuries your pet sustained in an accident. However, if a car hits your pet, your auto insurance policy won’t cover it — only a pet insurance plan will.

Not all car insurers cover pet injuries, but some that do are:

Reading through your insurance documents can help determine whether this coverage is available. Or, better yet, contact your insurer directly to know if your policy includes it.

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CANVASSING FOR COLLISION INSURANCE

Full coverage auto insurance includes comprehensive and collision insurance. It's the latter that protects your furry friends. On average, it costs $34 more than liability-only insurance, but the protection it provides makes it worthwhile.

Besides potentially covering your pet’s injuries, it’s best to have collision insurance in the following scenarios:

  • You drive an expensive car
  • You don’t have enough funds to replace your car if it gets totaled
  • You’re renting or leasing your vehicle
  • You live in a state with many uninsured drivers

Shopping around for estimates can help you find affordable full coverage car insurance for your needs and preferences.

Expert Insight on Driving Safely With Pets

A significant portion of the pet owners drive with their pets. MoneyGeek reached out to industry experts for their insights and tips pet owners should keep in mind.

  1. We always highlight the risks involved when you drive with your pet, but what benefits do pet owners get from doing it?
  2. What kind of vehicles are best for pets? Are there specific features pet owners should consider?
  3. What advice can you give pet owners who cannot imagine road trips without their pets? What do they need to prepare and keep in mind?
Arman Ghosh
Arman Ghosh

Founder & CEO at GreatVet

Margarette Stine
Margarette Stine

Writer at 4WheelOnline

Michelle Henry
Michelle Henry

CEO of Outdoor Dog Fun

Resources for Driving Safely with Pets

Although we can’t deny the risks involved with driving with pets, there are several ways to ensure your safety. The following resources feature items or services you might need when driving with your pet.

  • Chewy: More than your typical pet accessory store, Chewy is also licensed to sell medication. You can find a pet shelter near you if you’re ready to adopt another pet.
  • Petco: Petco can be your one-stop-shop for your travel pet needs. You can purchase accessories and find various services to help prepare your pet for a trip.
  • PetSmart: PetSmart is another online source of accessories. It’s best for pet owners who own multiple species. They have products for birds and reptiles and cats and dogs.
  • Pet Travel Store: It’s crucial to ensure you have the right gear for your pets. Explore the Pet Travel Store to see what you may need.
  • Sherpa: For pet owners who take their pet in the car often, find everything you need — from carriers to harnesses to car protection products.
  • The Animal Foundation: If you’re on a budget and looking for a low-cost clinic, this page can help you out. They can help get your pet microchipped at a more affordable rate.
  • VetLocator: As the name implies, this site helps locate the most accessible vet for you. Best for pet parents preparing for a trip — remember, the first step is to ensure they’re well enough to travel.

About the Author


expert-profile

Mark Fitzpatrick is a senior content manager with MoneyGeek specializing in insurance. Mark has years of experience analyzing the insurance market and creating original research and content. He graduated from Boston College with a Bachelor of Arts and Johns Hopkins University with a Master of Arts.


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