By Elizabeth Xu
Your pet is a member of your family, so chances are you like them to be involved in everything your family does—whether it’s riding along to the grocery store or adding to the excitement of a family road trip. Even if you prefer to keep your pet at home, vet trips or dog park visits require some car time.
If you’re the type to let your dog or cat hop in the car and go, it’s time to rethink that strategy. There are some pet dangers in your car that you might not be aware of.
Many of the hazards listed below wouldn’t be quite so dangerous if pets were properly contained with a crate or harness, but many pet owners don’t take that extra step.
“If your dog’s in a crate and you’re unfortunately in an accident, he’s a lot less likely to go flying around,” says Jeffrey Stupine, VMD, head veterinarian, wellness for the Pennsylvania SPCA.
With that in mind, here are some pet dangers lurking in your car:
A vehicle isn’t a house, so sometimes cleaning can be a little lax. If you routinely have pets in your vehicle, however, you should step up your car cleaning routine, says Stupine.
Sugar free gum that contains xylitol, left-over grapes or raisins, or chocolate candies can all cause toxicity in pets.
Dogs and cats can’t open vehicle doors themselves, or shut them, but doors can cause serious problems for pets. Dr. Duffy Jones, DVM, of Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Georgia, says that broken bones often happen when kids are involved and don’t notice the pet near the door.
Make sure any children riding in your vehicle know to look before shutting the door to help minimize potential problems.
Gas and brake pedals can pose a threat not only to your pet, but to you as well, Stupine warns.
“If the dog jumps onto your lap and then onto the floor where your feet are operating the pedals, that could be a major safety hazard,” he says.
Secure pets with seatbelts or crates in the backseat to avoid any accidents involving gas and break pedals.
Windows carry a multitude of risks, especially when they’re open.
“I’ve seen people that keep their dogs in the car with the windows completely down, and that’s very dangerous,” Stupine says. “The next thing you know your dog sees a squirrel and jumps out of your car when it’s moving at a high speed.”
Many dogs enjoy the smells that pass by if they stick their head out the window while you drive, but that poses plenty of risks, too.
“Their eyes are exposed to dirt, rocks, dust and other debris,” says Kim Salerno, president and founder of TripsWithPets.com. “These materials can easily puncture and scratch your dog's eyes.”
It’s no secret that dogs love to chew, and that could include things in your vehicle. Jones says one client’s dog ate through about eight seatbelts. He says that dogs who are in a harness or crate don’t usually have such issues.
Even parked cars can be a hazard to pets, especially in the winter. Stupine says that cats like an engine’s warmth, which can last for a while after a vehicle is parked. Of course, there’s an even bigger issue if the cat is still near the engine when the vehicle is turned on. Severe burns or even death can occur from an engine or fan belt, Stupine warns.
If a crash unfortunately happens, your pet’s safety is important. If airbags are deployed durng a crash, Salerno says that they can injure pets just as they do people.
“Just as with children, pets should not be allowed to travel in the front passenger seat because of the severe injuries that could be sustained by an airbag deploying,” she says.
Though not a danger of the car itself, a car that is too hot is a very real danger for pets—one you should always be aware of.
“A car's interior can heat up by an average of 40 degrees F within an hour,” Salerno says. “Even on a relatively cool day, the temperature inside a parked car can quickly spike to life-threatening levels if the sun is out.”
Pet parents should never leave their dogs alone in the car, even with windows down or the air conditioner running—because a running car with keys in the ignition can cause problems too. Jones says that dogs may get excited when an owner comes back and may sometimes lock the door from the inside.
As always, talk to your veterinarian if you have any specific concerns about your pets and your vehicle.