Pet Connection

Crash Course

How safe is your pet when riding in the car? Here's what you should know

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Lindsey Wolko had just adopted a new dog. She had crates in her car for her other dogs, but no way to secure Maggie, so she stopped at her local pet retailer to purchase a safety harness for her. A couple of months later, when she had to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident, Maggie, wearing her harness, was badly injured.

Whether they are riding loose or are confined in a crate, car seat or harness, pet passengers can be hurt or killed in the event of a sudden stop or collision. They can suffer bruising, contusions, sprains or lacerations -- some of the injuries reported to Nationwide, which has claims data on 585,000 insured pets -- and more serious injuries such as broken bones and internal trauma, says emergency and critical care veterinarian Gretchen L. Schoeffler, DVM, at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Veterinarian Marty Becker has seen too many avoidable accidents involving pets riding in cars. He recalls being stopped at an intersection during a thunderstorm.

"I saw a flash of lightning, heard the clap of thunder and then watched a frightened medium-size dog freak out, jump out the open window of a car, and get hit and killed in front of me. If the dog had been secured in a crate or with a seatbelt restraint, it would still be alive."

Simply securing a pet in a crate, carrier or harness isn't necessarily enough, though. Crates can break apart on impact, or be crushed if they are held in place with a seatbelt. The force of a collision can propel pets out of a crate or carrier or cause paralyzing injuries to pets restrained by harnesses without crash protection qualities.

Wolko's experience galvanized her to investigate ways pets could be safer inside vehicles. She became involved in the pet travel gear industry, studied the manufacturing process and founded the nonprofit Center for Pet Safety, which has established crash-test standards for pet travel products and certifies those that provide tested crash protection.

"We're an independent entity," Wolko says. "We don't take funding from manufacturers."

To help keep your dog or cat safe in the car, we've gathered six expert tips.

1. Place a small pet carrier -- soft or hard-sided -- in the footwell behind the driver's or front passenger's seat. If you have an SUV, crossover or station wagon, place larger crates or carriers in the cargo area of your vehicle.

"There's actually video demonstrating that in a collision if they're in the back seat or the back of the vehicle, they're much more likely to be airborne than if they're in the footwell," says feline veterinary specialist Elizabeth Colleran, DVM.

2. Never transport pets in wire crates.

"They explode. They bend, they morph, the pieces come out, the plastic pan shatters into very, very sharp pieces," Wolko says.

3. Anchor carriers with strength-rated anchor straps.

4. Avoid using zip line-style products or harnesses with long extension tethers. It may be easier for your dog to move around, but it can increase his risk in a crash.

5. Teach your pet to ride comfortably in a crate, carrier or harness. Harnesses, in particular, can seem restrictive to dogs.

"Most owners will need to train their dogs to accept it and to be comfortable being strapped in," says Natasha Audy of Castlegar, British Columbia, Canada, whose 13-month-old German shepherd, Richochet, wears a Sleepypod Clickit Sport harness.

6. Choose a crate that is no more than 6 inches longer than your pet. A snug fit reduces the chance of injury. Pets should have enough room to stand up and turn around.

Q&A

Canine coughing

can be serious

Q: My dog has been coughing lately. Is this something I should worry about? Does he need to go to the vet? -- via Facebook

A: We all need to cough sometimes, but a persistent cough in a dog is a concern. Coughs can have several causes and may call for veterinary treatment or different management.

A deep, dry, hacking cough that becomes worse after activity may suggest canine cough, also known as kennel cough. This is a highly contagious viral or bacterial infection. Tell your veterinarian if your dog has been boarded recently or was otherwise in contact with many other dogs at once.

A wet cough can suggest fluid or phlegm in the lungs. That's usually associated with pneumonia. This is a real concern, especially if your dog is very young, very old or immunocompromised. Pneumonia can be bacterial or viral, or is sometimes caused by fungi or parasites. Dogs can also develop what's called aspiration pneumonia if they inhale an object or throw up and accidentally suck in some of the vomit. Both canine cough and pneumonia are usually treatable with antibiotics.

Your dog may have something stuck in his throat if he's making a high-pitched gagging cough. It may not be visible to you and may require a veterinary look-see with an endoscope to identify and remove the object.

If a deep honking sound is coming out of a small dog such as a Chihuahua, toy poodle, Maltese, Pomeranian or Yorkshire terrier, he may have what's called collapsing trachea. This usually occurs when the dog pulls against his collar. Try walking him with a harness to ease the pressure on his throat.

Coughing can also signal congestive heart failure in breeds prone to heart disease. Get to the veterinarian right away for treatment and medication. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Flu season for dogs?

It's year-round

-- Dog flu is still around, and it has also been found to spread to cats. The highly contagious -- to dogs -- infection is caused by the H3N8 and H3N2 strains of the influenza A virus. Canine influenza spreads when infected dogs cough, bark or sneeze, or dogs come in contact with contaminated objects such as crates, food and water bowls, or collars and leashes. Typically, cases are mild, but some dogs develop severe cases of pneumonia. Take your pet to the veterinarian if he is coughing, sneezing, has a nasal discharge or fever, or is having trouble breathing. Canine flu can occur year-round.

-- Does your cat like chewing on your houseplants? Cats may be hypercarnivores (super meat eaters), but they have a taste for greenery as well. Save your plants and satisfy your cat's munch mania with an indoor garden of her own. Wheatgrass, which you may not have known when you have it added to your smoothie, is also called cat grass. Plant or buy a pot of it for your cat's delectation. Start a new pot when the grass starts to turn brown. You can also try growing catnip or catmint. Your cat will love you for it!

-- Meet the Entlebucher. The smallest of the four Swiss mountain dogs, he stands 16 to 20 inches tall and weighs 45 to 65 pounds. Wearing a short, thick, tricolor coat, this sturdy and enthusiastic herding dog is a good family companion, farm aide and canine sports star. Teach this hard-working brainiac to help with household chores such as picking up toys and laundry or bringing you the television remote, or compete in dog sports such as agility or nosework. With proper socialization, he's good with older kids, but should learn not to herd them by nipping at their heels. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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