Crash Test Doggies: Prevent Your Pet from Becoming a Projectile
Do you regularly put your dog in danger?
If your pet travels unrestrained in any vehicle, then the answer is "Yes." The idea of keeping a pet safe in transit is not a new one. Indeed, the Center for Pet Safety (CPS) has undertaken crash tests to rate the effectiveness of canine travel restraints. However, the reason behind the CPS trials was not what you might suppose – to promote safe travel for pets – but to reduce human injuries.
The vehicle manufacturer Subaru sponsored the CPS study, seeing it as the next logical step in promoting passenger safety. But if you are left scratching your head and wondering what the link is between pets and people, then take a look at the report's sobering definition of a dog-restraint failure: "When [the harness] fails in such a way that it allows the test dog to become a full projectile...”
The problem is that in the event of a crash, a dog loose in the vehicle travels forward and becomes a projectile that can injure fellow passengers or go flying through the windshield. So if the thought of your pet sailing past your ear gives you the chills, then make sure he is properly restrained while traveling.
You decide to do the right thing and secure your pet, but find the wide array of pet restraints confusing. Booster seats, harnesses, carriers, and barriers leave your wondering: What is the right choice for your furry friend?
Indeed, safe travel for an 8-pound Chihuahua presents a different challenge from transporting an 80-pound Doberman. When it comes to travel safety, size matters. So your first challenge is to decide what type of device is appropriate for your pet. Finding the right equipment takes into account a combination of pet size, device type, and the individual product's safety record.
Don't give up!
If you find the safety issue alarming, but are about to file pet restraints under "too complicated" – don't despair. Read on for a no-nonsense guide to the five types of pet restraints.
1. Pet carriers
Pet carriers the familiar secure containers for taking cats or small dogs to the vet clinic. The idea is that the pet is safely confined in a box that can be picked up and carried, but it can also be strapped inside the car using the vehicle's seat belt. Pet carriers work well for cats and small dogs weighing less than 15 pounds, and give nervous animals the safety of a den-like area to hide in. The relatively small size of the pet vs. the rigidity of the container keeps the pet safely confined in the event of a crash.
2. Pet harnesses
Pets not in a carrier (those above 15 pounds) should wear the doggy equivalent of a seat belt. Of course, regular seat belts are designed for human anatomy, so a bit of lateral thinking is required in the shape of a dog harness.
Travel harnesses are designed to fit around the dog's chest and neck, which helps spread the force of an impact. When choosing a harness, one factor to be alert for is that the heavy vest pieces of some designs are not suitable for smaller dogs.
Harnesses have tethering straps that anchor them into the vehicle's seat belt fixing points. The best harnesses have a 3-point fixing system that holds all parts of the dog's body secure against the seat. The alternative is a 1-point harness, which may allow the dog's rear end to snap forward in a crash.
In terms of absolute safety, the CPS report is well worth a browse, and you can watch a video of a crash test here. Long story short, the CPS found a big difference in performance between harness manufacturers. The most reliable system, and the harness against which all the others were measured, is the Sleepypod Clickit Utility. Other equipment tested (listed from best to least reliable) include:
That said, any pet restraint is better than none at all, especially as it also keeps dogs from distracting drivers by climbing into their laps.
3. Booster seats
Much like boosters seat for toddlers, doggy booster seats are designed for smaller pets. They commonly take the form of a comfy box-like nest, which is held above the car seat by the arrangement of the seat belt. The effect is to raise the dog up so that he can see out the window without having to balance on his hind legs. To keep the dog from jumping out of the booster seat and to keep him safe in a crash, he must wear a harness.
Again, Sleepypod scored highly in safety trials, along with Kurgo Skybox. But whichever system you choose, check to see if your vehicle's front passenger air bag will deploy in an accident (if there is no weight on the seat, not all airbags activate). If the airbag DOES deploy, your pet could be crushed, so his booster seat should be mounted in the back .
For larger dogs, a harness attached to the back seat is ideal, transporting him almost like a human passenger. If the pet is too big, or will not settle in a harness, then the next option is to confine him to the back seat or trunk using a barrier.
Barriers range from mesh secured with loops to metal grills. Mesh curtains are better than nothing because they stop dogs from slipping onto drivers' laps and distracting them, but they offer no protection in an accident.
Metal grills that secure the dog in the trunk are more effective. However, these are not crash-approved and at best stop the dog from flying through the windshield in an accident. If you are confining your dog to the trunk and want to keep him as safe as possible, the best option is a crash-tested crate (see the next section.)
Crates are to medium and large dogs what carriers are to small pets (although obviously crates are not portable). They vary in construction from simple metal boxes, similar to puppy training crates, right up to crash-tested safety crates.
The daddy of them all is the Variocage. This is crash-tested to European safety standards as offering the equivalent of crumple-zone protection to the dog. The downside is that their solid construction means they are better suited to roomy SUVs, and you should carefully measure the trunk to ensure the crate fits before making a purchase.
In an ideal world you'd choose crash-approved safety equipment for your pet. However, driver distraction is a big factor in causing vehicle collisions, and restraining your pet in transit (by whatever means) could help you both stay safe.
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About the author: Pippa Elliott is a veterinarian with 27 years of experience, a freelance writer, and an all-around animal nut. The proud owner of five cats, two guinea pigs, and a bearded dragon, she is never happier than while writing with a cat on her lap.
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