Dogs and Cats

Top 5 Reasons to Properly Restrain your Dog or Cat in a Car

Click below to read more about each topic.

In a crash everything becomes much heavier - weighing its usual weight times however many G's (G = force of gravity) are in the crash. A 30mph crash will have about 20-25G's which means everything will weigh about 20-25 times its usual weight. A 30 pound dog will weigh more than 600 pounds in a 30mph crash and if not properly restrained will fly around the vehicle. Neither you, nor the dog, will do well in the crash if the dog lands on top of you. Imagine what the dog could do to a child if the dog lands on the child in a crash.

Studies with people show that when one person doesn't buckle up in the back seat the people in the car who did buckle up are up to 3 times more likely to die in that same crash because the unbuckled person becomes a human missile flying through the car. So make sure every human in the car is buckled up - and every furry critter is too!

Your dog or cat is more likely to survive a crash when properly restrained. The first job of a restraint is to keep you in the car - as studies show if you are ejected from the car you are 4 times more likely to die in that crash. The next job of a restraint is to try and distribute the crash forces over the strongest areas of the body so that you can withstand the impact with as few injuries as possible.

Sadly, many dogs run off after a crash - usually because they are scared or injured. Crashes are scary enough, but losing your animal - or watching the animal get hit by a car as they run off into the street - makes things so much worse. An animal who is properly restrained will not be able to run away and endanger themselves.

An unrestrained animal can interfere with first responders quickly reaching and tending to injured humans.

If injured, your animal is most likely to get the medical attention they need as quickly as possible if they are easy to locate AND easy to handle. Injured/scared cats or dogs can act in ways that put the adult approaching them at risk - which can lead to the animal not getting the help they need if the adult is afraid of getting bitten or scratched. An animal who is restrained is easy to approach and handle in a way that can keep the person safe from being hurt by the animal.

Unrestrained animals can easily distract the driver - putting everyone in the car at risk. A survey of dog owners found that while driving nearly one-quarter (23%) have used their hands or arms to hold their dog in place while applying brakes, and 19% have used their hands or arms to keep their dog from climbing into the front seat.

An unrestrained animal is also distracting as the driver may be checking to make sure the animal isn't hanging too far out the window, jumping on the baby, trying to jump on the driver's lap, etc.

What does “properly restrained” mean?

Properly restrained means in a carrier, crate or harness that is capable of holding the animal during a crash. Surprisingly, most pet harnesses, carriers, and crates are absolutely useless in a crash – even the ones that say they’re “crash tested” – as they break / shred / rip apart on impact sending your pet flying – as shown in the video below.

As discussed above, things will weigh 20-25 times their usual weight in a 30mph crash – meaning that your 10 pound cat is 200+ pounds, and your 50 pound dog is 1000+ pounds. Most harnesses, crates, and carriers weren’t designed to hold these massive weights.

How can I find a carrier or harness that WILL properly restrain my pet?

Unlike child car seats, currently there are no government regulations or safety standards governing pet restraints for the car. The Center for Pet Safety (CPS) is trying to change that; they are the only independent non-profit research and consumer advocacy organization working to cut through the marketing hype to see which products are truly safe for pets in a crash by creating independent test protocols and ratings guidelines. We’ve been exceptionally impressed by the scientific rigor of their testing. Subaru sponsored the CPS’s initial research; CPS is not affiliated with the pet products industry nor do they accept funding from any pet product manufacturer. To read more about their testing protocol and research, see here. In 2015 they launched the CPS Certified Program where you can find their logo on brands that meet their rigorous testing and performance requirements.

Just because a manufacturer says that their harness/crate/carrier is crash tested does NOT mean it will keep your dog safe in a crash – all it means is that they crash tested it. Very misleading, we know! A CPS Certified product is one that performed well in crash testing.

See below for the carriers, harnesses, and crates that are CPS certified (click the blue boxes to learn more about each).

The Sleepypod ClickIt Sport and ClickIt Terrain easily secure your dog using just the vehicle's seat belt, which threads easily behind the dog's back through special loops on the harness.

If your dog tries to spin and get caught up in the seat belt, you'll want to try using the S-clip that Sleepypod offers as an accessory. These harnesses are available in sizes for dogs as small as 20 pounds and as big as 90 pounds.

The other harness that recently passed the CPS testing is the ZuGoPet Rocketeer Pack which is for small dogs who weigh less than 25 pounds. While it may look a little silly, the reviews of it from pet owners show that most dogs really like it. It is a great option for tiny dogs to get a great view out the window (while traveling safely of course!). There are 5 sizes - with the smallest able to fit even very tiny dogs. It secures to the LATCH anchors (both the lower anchors and tether anchor) in the car - so to use this, your dog must sit in a position in your car that has LATCH... which means in most cases the center seat in back & many 3rd row positions are off limits and of course the front seat will never be an option. The Sleepypod products only require a seat belt so can be used in more seating positions in the car.

Please note that the ZuGoPet JetSetter is NOT a safe product for the car - it puts the dog and the humans at risk as it does not pass crash testing and will launch the dog either out the windshield or at the head of on eof the adults in front. 

Click here to read more about the crash testing that the Center for Pet Safety did of more than a dozen harnesses - including the results.

All Sleepypod carriers are CPS Certified - this includes the Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed, Atom, and Air. If space is tight in your back seat - for example the carrier is going next to a person or a car seat - choose the Atom or Air. The Atom & Air can also be used on an aircraft. Carriers are best for cats, and small dogs (typically under 18 pounds).

If your cat gets stressed out going to the vet, the Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed is a great way of decreasing the stress - as you can use it in your house with the top removed as a cozy napping spot for your cat. The fact that the Mobile Pet Bed is a familiar spot will make the cat less anxious going in it on the way to the vet. My cat LOVES napping in it - I move it around my apartment and she goes wherever I put it. She used to always try and lay her entire body on either my arms or my keyboard while I was typing, which was needless to say very cute but also very annoying. Now I put the Mobile Pet Bed on the table right next to my laptop and she hangs out in it and leaves me alone to get my work done. 

Click here to read more about the crash testing that CPS did of carriers - including the results.

2 Sleepypod Mobile Pet Beds + 2 forward facing car seats

The Gunner Kennels G1 Intermediate with 8’ Tie Down Straps for dogs up to 75 pounds was the "hands-down top performing crate" of CPS's 2015 study. Using the strength rated connection straps (sourced from Gunner Kennels) the product withstood the significant forces generated in the CPS testing as well as other rigorous testing.

Here's what CPS had to say about the Gunner Kennel:

The Gunner Kennel is unique. It has a dual locking feature on the door that provides significant structural support to the door in the case of an accident. With the strength rated anchor straps tightened, the Gunner Kennel’s rubber feet gripped the carpet, unlike any other crate we have tested. This is a significant travel device, with outstanding structural integrity.

Click here to see the full testing results for all of the crates that CPS tested in 2015.

What about dog/cargo barriers?

Pressure mounted barriers/screens – that are held in with pressure between the roof & the floor – are not safe. Crash testing has shown that these pressure mounted barriers can easily dislodge in a crash, fly forward along the roof line, and can hit the driver (or others) in the back of the head. 

Travall, a UK company, makes dog guards for SUVs, wagons and hatchbacks that have been crash tested with 44 pounds of weight (pre-crash weight) behind them. The Travall guards rest against the structural pillars of the vehicle – which allows the crash forces to be transferred out of the guard and into the vehicle’s structure in a crash. The guards are vehicle specific – so you’ll choose the one designed for the make, model, and year of the vehicle you own. However, even a Travall guard can not prevent your pet from being ejected out the rear window nor can it prevent the pet from running away after a crash – both of which a CPS approved harness or kennel can do.

In addition, some vehicle manufacturers offer gates/screens as accessories that fit into special holes in the side wall or roof of the vehicle. These are typically not intended to – or likely capable of – restraining the animal in a crash. They are merely there to keep your dog from jumping into the back seat while you are driving.

What should I do if I don’t have a CPS certified carrier, harness or crate?

First, we’d suggest getting one. Think of this as a health insurance policy for you and your pet.

One key rule: never connect a safety device to your dog’s collar or walking harness.

CPS recommends the following if you are using a carrier or small animal crate that is not one of their recommended ones:

DO NOT use the seatbelt to secure your small animal carrier or small crate on the back seat of your vehicle – unless the manufacturer has published crash test video (most of the products on the market have not been crash tested). Instead, CPS recommends that you place the carrier on the floor of the vehicle behind the driver or front passenger seat.  While it may feel intuitive that the seatbelt will protect your pet – in reality, if the carrier is not tested or structurally sound, the seatbelt may exert a crushing blow to the carrier in the case of a sudden stop or an accident.

For an unrestrained pet in an SUV or minivan, try keeping the animal behind the row of seats where the kids are (and keep the entire 2nd row of seats up to serve as a barrier between the pet and the people).

What if I don’t have an empty seat belt to use a carrier or harness?

If you have an SUV or minivan, consider using a Gunner kennel for your dog.

I’m worried about my dog getting hot in a crate or harness in the back of an SUV or minivan.

The Noggle is helpful for directing cold air directly to your pet – especially in vehicles that may not have air vents for the back rows. The Noggle attaches to one of the front air vents and using duct tubing it brings the cold air to wherever you direct it to.

My dog likes to roam – can I use an extension tether / zipline?

Just as the key to keeping you and your child safe in a crash is to limit movement, the same applies to your pet. As such, extension tethers, ziplines, and other straps that allow the pet to move far away from the back of the vehicle seat will increase the risk of injury to your pet – and to the humans in the car as well because the animal is able to fly a significant distance while still attached to the harness. See here for videos that show what happens with and without the use of an extension tether.

My dog likes to see out the window – can he sit on a pet booster seat?

CPS has the following to say about Pet Booster Seats (like are shown in the video below):

CPS is concerned about the use of Booster Seats for many reasons. First, the majority of attachment connections for these products have not been tested. Additionally, these products place your pet in close proximity to glass, airbags and in line with the heads of adult passengers. Many booster seats come with their own safety harness systems – however, most of those harness products have not been tested by the manufacturers.

This post contains affiliate links to, meaning at no additional cost to you The Car Seat Lady will earn a commission if you click through and purchase. We participate in an affiliate program with Sleepypod because independent research and crash testing by the Center for Pet Safety shows that they currently make the best harnesses and carriers for protecting cats and dogs in a crash.