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Travelling with your dog - things to be aware of

For various reasons it is necessary for dogs to be travelled in vehicles. Their comfort, safety and welfare must be taken into consideration when this happens. Here are a few things to think about to ensure your dog is travelled comfortably and safely.

Safety When Transporting

It is against the law to travel with a dog loose in a vehicle. The Highway Code, Rule 57 states:

“When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.”

A major cause of motor accidents is distracted driving. Travelling with a dog, particularly if it is unrestrained can result in cognitive distraction if the driver is giving attention to the dog, visual distraction of the driver is looking at the dog, manual distraction if the driver is touching the dog to pat, move or restrain them. In addition, the dog moving around, barking or whining can distract the driver. A 2011 study in the US suggested 65% of drivers admitted to engaging in at least one potentially distracting activity whilst driving (Hazel et al, 2019).

It is therefore clear that when travelling with a dog in a vehicle some form of safety measure must be used. As a general rule, dogs should not travel on the front seat or in the footwell of a vehicle as they can distract the driver. However, if this is unavoidable the air bag must be de-activated to prevent the dog being crushed should it be activated.

If a crate is used it must be of a suitable size for the dog. The dog should be able to stand up, lie down and turn around comfortably (Skanberg, et al, 2018).

There are a number of harnesses on the market which are crash tested although these are very expensive. If you don't want to spend quite so much make sure the harness is well fitting and not of the “stop pull” variety which tighten around the dog’s chest if pressure is applied. The seat belt attachment should not be attached to a collar or head collar. If the dog is travelled in the boot/cargo area of the vehicle a dog guard/crate must be securely fitted. If this is not possible then a harness and suitable restraint should be used. Matting should be provided to prevent slipping.

Dogs should never be allowed to travel with their head out of the window under any circumstances.

Any equipment or baggage kept in any part of the vehicle must be secured to prevent any movement that could injure the dog.

Dogs Showing Signs of Anxiety or Stress When Travelling

If at any time during their life a dog shows any signs of anxiety or stress for example: reluctance to move, hypersalivating, vocalising, vomiting, when either entering, exiting or travelling in any vehicle you should investigate why this is happening. Is the dog in discomfort for example?

External Conditions and Transporting Dogs

With hotter summers and milder winters, the risk of heatstroke for dogs travelling in vehicles is increasing. Dogs are particularly at risk of heatstroke due to their natural cooling system (sweating through pads and panting) being inefficient in hot temperatures. As the dog’s body temperature is reduced by radiation and convection, in high temperatures heat loss is restricted to panting which is ineffective. However, consideration must also be given to transporting dogs in cold weather as they can also suffer hypothermia in low temperatures. Therefore, measures must be taken to ensure the dog is kept comfortable during transportation at all times of the year.

Hot Weather

To give an example of the speed with which the internal temperature of a vehicle can increase, McLaren, et al (2005) conducted a study. A dark coloured car was parked in full sun with an ambient temperature of 22oC. Within one hour the internal temperature had reached 47oC. Opening the windows slightly had little effect in cooling the car down.

In view of this evidence it is recommended dogs are not travelled in a vehicle when temperatures reach or are expected to exceed 24oC, as recommended by the Canine and Feline Sector Group (CFSG). If it is necessary to travel with a dog in a vehicle when these conditions are expected, air conditioning should be used to maintain the vehicle at a comfortable temperature. The following provisions should always be available and precautions taken.


  • Fresh water should be offered regularly, at least once an hour and more frequently in high temperatures. The water should be tepid and not ice cold (see precautions).

  • If it is necessary to park the vehicle it must be left in full shade – time of day and possible shift of the sun should be taken into consideration as the extent of the shade may change.

  • The dog should not be left alone in the vehicle

  • A cooling mat or another option should be considered if appropriate, the dog should have the option of choice of surface.

  • A wet towel or sponge can be used to cool the dog by wiping over the neck, abdomen and inner thigh area.

  • Fit reflective sun shades to windows/tinted windows

  • Leave windows/boot open to promote air flow.


  • If possible, select a vehicle with a light colour.

  • Do not park in an area without shade, always consider time of day as mentioned above

  • Do not use a cooling jacket - the jacket will warm up and add to body temperature rather than cool it

  • Do not offer iced or very cold water as this will induce peripheral vasoconstriction limiting heat loss. It could also cause the dog to shiver which will cause body temperature to rise.

  • Remove any jackets or bandanas.

Cold Weather

As well as suffering heatstroke in high temperatures dogs can suffer from low temperatures. The Canine and Feline Sector group recommend dogs should not be transported in vehicles with internal temperatures less than 10oC. As puppies lose heat more quickly than adult dogs this temperature should be slightly higher – there is no recommended temperature, puppies should be observed to ensure they are not in any discomfort. When travelling dogs where the internal temperature of the vehicle might reach below 5oC (for example, break down or stopping for any other reasons) the following provisions should be available.


  • Fresh water should be offered regularly, at least once an hour. The water should be tepid and not ice cold or frozen.

  • Adequate bedding should be available.

  • A fleece jacket should be available.

  • Waterproof jacket should be available in case of excessively wet weather.

  • If a waterproof jacket is not available wet dogs should be towelled off before travelling.

Journey Times

Recommended journey times vary according to age and condition. These are the times recommended by the CFSG.

Puppies (under 6 months): Maximum total journey time of 7 hours is allowable including a 2-hour break in the middle. If total journey length is greater than 7 hours the following rules apply:

2.5 hours with a 2 hour stop to enable feeding, digestion, water and clean out then 2.5 more hours followed by a 16-hour rest period before transport can commence again.

Adult dogs (over 6 months): 6 hours with a 1 hour stop at 3 hours to enable toileting and water and then 6 more hours again with a 1 hour stop at 3 hours, with an 11-hour rest period before transport can commence again for a maximum of 2 days.

In all cases there needs to be regular monitoring of the animals throughout transport for signs of distress.

Leaving Dogs in Cars

Ideally, dogs should not be left in vehicles unless absolutely necessary, such as refuelling or comfort break.

The following provisions should be considered if dogs are left without supervision:


  • Water should be provided in a suitable non-spill bowl

  • Bedding should be provided

  • The vehicle or crate should be securely locked

  • Alarm should be deactivated

  • Dog must be comfortable to be left unsupervised

  • Leaving your contact details clearly visible so people can contact you should your dog become distressed


Hall, E.J., Carter, A.(2016) ‘Heatstroke – providing evidence-based advice to dog owners’. Veterinary Nursing Journal, 31, p.p.359-363

Hazel, S.j., Kogan, L.R., Montrose, V.T., Hebart, M.L., Oxley J.A. (2019) ‘Restraint of dogs in vehicles in the US, UK and Australia’. Preventative Veterinary Medicine, 170, 104714

McLaren, C., Null, J. and Quinn, J. (2005). ‘Heat Stress From Enclosed Vehicles: Moderate Ambient Temperatures Cause Significant Temperature Rise in Enclosed Vehicles’. Pediatrics 116, e109 –e112 DOI:10.1542/peds.2004-2368

Skanberg, L., Gauffin, O., Norling, Y., Lindsjo, J., Keeling, L.J. (2018) ‘Cage Size Affects comfort, safety and the experienced security of working dogs in cars’. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 205, p.p. 132-140For various reasons it is necessary for dogs to be travelled in vehicles. Their comfort, safety and welfare must be taken into consideration when this happens. The length of time a dog may be left in a vehicle unsupervised varies according to age, external conditions and the needs of each individual dog. Guidance will be provided on external conditions and measures to be taken in respect of high or low temperatures. Guidance on vehicle safety including type of restraint and position in the vehicle will also be given. Acceptable journey lengths and provision of comfort breaks will be considered.

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