Dogs in Cars: Should My Dog Hang His Head Out the Car Window?

We have all seen a car racing down the road with a dog’s head sticking out the window, ears flowing in the wind and lips flapping uncontrollably. “Man, is that dog having fun! He actually looks like he is smiling!” And indeed they are having fun. Unfortunately, they are oblivious to the dangers of their precarious perch. Few people would even think of allowing their children to hang heads out of a car window, or to stick their heads out of a sun roof, but they still allow their pets to risk serious injury by doing so. 

Dog in the back seat of a car

What makes it so dangerous?
Dogs love the wind in their face but bad things can happen. First, foreign objects like leaves, insects and rocks can strike them with tremendous velocity. Just think back to the damage a tiny pebble might have done to your windshield or the finish of your car. The cornea of a dog’s eye is far more delicate and damages are not so easily repaired. Similarly, foreign bodies can find their way into a dog’s ear or nose and cause severe inflammation.

Even worse, a dog could jump through an open window or be thrown from the car during a swerve or collision. The least sever injury that would result is road rash or a broken leg. That of course assumes he isn’t hit by another car. A dog in the back of a car may look cute but sudden braking or swerving could transform it into a hurling mass of fur and muscle that could cause fatal injuries to thedog or a passenger.

Can my small dog sit with me?
I often see people driving with their dog on their lap, perhaps with their face right next to the owner.  That can result in impaired vision, inability to operate controls and even interference problems with steering. Talk about distracted driving! In a 2010 survey, run by AAA (reported by Jim Walsh of USA Today). “20% of participants admitted to letting their dog sit on their lap while driving. A ‘staggering’ 31% said they were distracted by their dog while driving.  Some states have gone so far as to pass legislation requiring restraint of dogs in moving vehicles.

What is the safest way for my dog to travel in the car?
How can you protect your dogs? It is pretty simple: restrain them. Do not allow your dog on your lap while you’re driving. There are widely-available, complete restraint mechanisms like doggy seat belts and restraint harnesses. They keep your dog secure and help protect him during an accident. They don’t have to be fancy or look silly to be effective, they just have to be worn.

To learn more about choosing a proper restraint, click here>

I am a believer that like small children, dogs, even when restrained, should be limited to the back seat of the vehicle. Passive protection mechanisms, like airbags, undoubtedly have saved many lives but a passenger side air bag will open in a quarter of a second and quite literally explode causing a tremendous amount of impact for an unsuspecting dog or cat. Keep them in the back seat!

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

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