Riding in Cars With Dogs

To prevent injuries – or even your dog’s accidental death – when driving with your dog, restrain your dog with a safety harness and seat belt or a properly secured crate, and don’t let your dog sit on your lap, or drive with his head out the window.


Most of us love taking our dogs places. And this usually means taking them with us in our car, truck, or SUV. But improper car safety can turn an innocent trip into life-altering ride. Both human and canine passengers need to practice proper car safety. Emergency veterinarians are all too familiar with dogs that suffer injuries from improper car safety. This includes riding in the driver’s lap, riding with their head out the window, or riding without proper restraint inside the vehicle.

Airbags Can Kill Dogs: No Dogs On Laps

It is so tempting to put your small dog in your lap while you are driving. They are cute and they love to snuggle. And how much harm could come of having your six pound Maltese or Chihuahua ride in your lap?

If you are in an accident, your airbag is likely going to deploy. The airbag is meant to protect you in a crash. If your small dog is riding in your lap when the airbag deploys, the force of the airbag can significantly harm your small dog. Fractures and spinal cord trauma resulting in paralysis are common injuries in small dogs that have been impacted by an airbag.

Secure Your Dog With Safety Belts or Car Carriers

dog in seatbelt
Car safety harnesses are built with a different design than walking harnesses. They are stronger and generally have wide, padded straps and a broad chest-plate, where the dog will take most of the impact if the car stops suddenly or is in an accident. They not only keep your dog safe in an accident, they keep him in one spot in the car, which helps prevent him from distracting you while driving. Photo by Nancy Kerns

Unrestrained dogs can also become projectiles in a car accident. Head trauma from being thrown into the windshield is common. Another common scenario seen by emergency veterinarians is small dogs launched out the driver’s side window like a catapult during an accident. This happens when the driver’s window is rolled down and the small dog is standing in the driver’s lap with their paws on the door. During an accident, the small dog can fly out the window and land on their head on the pavement below. This type of injury often results in traumatic brain injury or sudden death.

The safest way for a dog to ride in a vehicle is buckled into a dog car safety belt or harness or in a secured travel carrier designed for use in cars or planes. Read WDJ’s review of dog car safety harnesses from April 2021 here. Small dogs who are buckled into a safety harness may also ride in a car seat designed for dogs. WDJ has a review of small-dog car seats from the May 2021 issue here.

Prevent Injuries From Open, Unprotected Windows

Large dogs often ride in the back seat away from air bags but can still become injured due to an open window. Dogs who ride with their heads out the window are more prone to eye and/or ear injuries caused by flying debris. Another common injury occurs when unrestrained dogs jump out the window of a moving vehicle. These dogs can fracture a limb when they land on the pavement. Emergency veterinarians have also seen cases where an owner accidentally backed over their own dog after the dog jumped out the rear window!

Installing a dog car window screen or guard on each rear window of your vehicle can help protect your pooch when the windows are rolled down. Wire mesh panels made from welded steel that are custom designed to fit your vehicle’s rear windows are available from BreezeGuard. Screens made from polyester mesh fabric are available from The Skeeter Beater and from Luno. The screens from The Skeeter Beater attach to the window frame with sewn-in magnets. Luno’s screens fit over the top of your vehicle’s rear door frame like a glove. All of these screens and panels allow for normal operation of your vehicle’s windows when installed.

Accidents can happen when we least expect it. Don’t let improper car safety ruin your outing!


  1. OMG! People that drive with their dogs on their laps make me see red. I just want to, and have, tell them what can happen. NH is contemplating a law that will make it illegal to drive that way. I pray they do and that other states follow suit. It is a huge distraction to the driver also. I just don’t understand people. Normally, it is older people that I see doing it. Just so so stupid. No excuse, just ignorant people.

  2. I’d like to find a good screen for rear side windows for a Subaru Forester in motion. I bought the BreezeGuard screens but didn’t install them as there’s no easy way to remove them to clean the windows. The Luno is not supposed to be used while the car is in motion according to the Luno website. The Skeeter Beater also seems to be for use in a parked vehicle. Any other suggestions?