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Kansas State University
128 Dole Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506
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Source: Susan Nelson, 785-532-5690,
News release prepared by: Jessica Grant, 785-532-6415,

Monday, Oct. 29, 2007


MANHATTAN -- As a practicing veterinarian, Susan Nelson has seen some pretty gruesome injuries following accidents where pets had been improperly restrained in vehicles.

"I have seen cases where dogs had jumped out of the back of a pickup and were injured by the force of the impact, or they would get hit by another car after jumping out," said Nelson, an assistant professor of clinical sciences at Kansas State University. "Also, if an animal was improperly tethered and they fell or tried to jump out of a vehicle, they would get dragged or hung. It's never a pretty sight."

Nelson said keeping pets in safety restraints while on the road can protect both pet and owner.

"One reason to put a pet in a safety restraint is to prevent accidents," Nelson said. "If pets are restrained, it keeps them out from under your feet while driving. Pets are also distracting; if you're petting them or looking around for them, you're not paying attention to the road."

In an accident, pets, like humans, can get catapulted or crushed if they're not properly restrained. A sudden stop could result in an unrestrained pet getting thrown around the vehicle, possibly suffering a broken limb or head injury.

And, although it may seem like nothing makes a dog happier than being able to hang its head out of a window, this probably isn't the best idea, Nelson said, because it could lead to dust or debris getting in their eyes. Dogs also seem to love the freedom of being able to walk around in the back of pickups, but it's probably best for them to remain restrained to avoid injury from an accident or the from jumping out, she said.

According to Nelson, a pet restraint can be anything from pet seat belts to crates to barriers. For dogs, there are canine seat belts, which consist of a harness that attaches to the existing seat belt in vehicles or to cargo hooks inside sport utility vehicles, trucks and wagons. There are also seat belts that can be attached to the beds of pickup trucks to stop a dog from leaping out. Use only restraint harnesses that are padded and adjustable and are designed to distribute weight evenly, Nelson said.

"In general, the wider the strap, the better the weight is distributed," she said. "Also, additions like padding with sheepskin may be more comfortable for a pet. If you're contemplating getting one of these, check them out to see how they are constructed and make sure the harness fits correctly."

Nelson also said to buy the restraint that fits your particular pet. "People should always remember that cats don't fit into dog harnesses," she said.

It is usually best to restrain a pet in the backseat of a vehicle for the safety of both pets and humans, Nelson said.

Pet barriers are one way to ensure that pets stay in the back of vehicles. These are usually made of mesh or metal and create a barrier between the driver and pet, effectively keeping the pet in the backseat.

"You should probably treat your pet as you would a child, so the backseat is generally safest," Nelson said. "If they're in the back, then you aren't as likely to be distracted by them while you drive."

Nelson also said that it may be calming for some pets, like cats, to be confined while in a vehicle. A pet crate or carrier may offer the best protection for some animals, but Nelson said to make sure the crates are tied down.

"If there is a way to immobilize them, it helps," she said. "Crates can tip over or slide around, which could not only injure a pet, but make a trip scarier. For a smaller crate, having it tied down could help in an accident so it doesn't catapult the crate or hit passengers."

Dog car or booster seats that hook onto a vehicle's head rest and offer smaller dogs an elevated view also are available. They generally have built-in harnesses for restraint.

"Evaluate these like you would a child's car seat," Nelson said. "Some are good and some are bad; you just have to check them out. Make sure you check the latches for a secure fit and strength. For instance, you probably want a metal latch instead of a plastic one."