The most common cause of preventable injury to both people and pets are car accidents. When I discuss car safety in my pet first aid classes, most students assume dangers from getting hit by a vehicle. But to our fury family members there are actually more dangers inside the automobile!

Hot Cars
Heatstroke is most often caused by leaving your dog or cat in the car for a “few minutes“. In Hotatlanta even on a mild summer day of only 75 degrees, the temperature inside the car can easily climb to 118 degrees. The normal body temperature of pets ranges from between 100.4 and 102.5 degrees, so anything above that can very quickly lead to hyperthermia. Especially short-nosed dogs or pug faces are more susceptible to get overheated as they are not as efficient in cooling themselves by panting.

Open Windows
Other dangers are observed when dogs stick their heads out of the window while riding. Certainly we appreciate their enjoyment of having their nose in the wind and the ears flopping with a sense of freedom. But a small speck of dust or an insect at 20 mph can cause a severe eye, ear or nose injury.
Dangerous Fluids
Be aware of any leaking fluids such as coolant or motor oil. Some of these substances are sweet in taste, attracting animals; simply walking through and licking their paws later on can also lead to serious poisoning. In my classes I teach how to induce vomiting, but I strongly advice not to do so without being sure what the ingested substance was and to ensure what the appropriate protocol would be. Call your vet or the experts at the Pet Poison Helpline: 855-289-0358.

Unrestrained Pets
Pets can become living missiles if they are unrestrained. In an accident, your pet can be catapulted out of the car and get lost. It has been reported that a dog have kept paramedics from rendering aid to the pet parent. Keep in mind that first responders are allowed to shoot a dog, as first priority is to save the human life!

Firefighters fighting fire during training

Air Bags
Air bags deploy at approximately 200 mph, so the passenger seat is not a safe place for your pooch. Most common injuries with air bags involved are head and neck injuries, along with tongue amputations.
Dogs should also never ride in an open pick-up truck bed, loose nor tethered. It is just not safe and in some states it is illegal to have a dog ride in the back of an open vehicle.

So let’s talk about properly
restraining your pets in the car:
The best and safest way is to crate your pet and secure the crate behind the passenger seat with appropriate straps or seat belts. Cats especially should always be in a crate. Do not secure your dog by its collar, because in the event of an accident, it will cause neck and spine injuries or even death. Your next best option is to use an appropriate harness, secured with seat belts.
Before you go out to buy a crate or harness, make sure you do your research to invest your money wisely. Unfortunately in the U.S. manufacturers of pet products are not required by law to test their products. Some manufacturers claim to test their products, but with the absence of test standards, these claims cannot be substantiated. I highly recommend visiting the website of The Center for Pet Safety (CPS): It is a non-profit, independent research and consumer advocacy organization, dedicated to companion animal and consumer safety. By using scientific testing, CPS studies pet products and develops safety standards. In fact, very few harnesses or crates have passed their tests in recent studies.

The is also a great resource for further reading:
To a happy life-time tail wagging and never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly!

Nicole Essawy grew up in Germany and immigrated to the U.S. in 2003. She is a certified Pet Tech Instructor, giving classes on first aid techniques for dogs and cats. Nicole is also a Pet Food Nutrition Specialist and teaches pet parents and industry professionals alike in the Atlanta Area. See class schedule and more information at or email questions/comments to