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Buckle up (and that includes Rover)

Special to The Times

Taking a road trip this summer with your dogs or cats? No matter how large or small, dogs should be harnessed and cats should be kept in crates when riding in the car, experts say.

An accident or a sudden stop could send your German shepherd or sleepy lap cat through the windshield, injuring your pets, passengers and other motorists. “You would never let your child roam around in the vehicle while driving ... nor should you let your pets,” says Dr. Bernadine Cruz, a veterinarian at the Laguna Hills Animal Hospital.

Despite warnings from veterinarians and safety advocates, Cruz says, it’s all too common to see untethered pets sitting on drivers’ laps, hanging their heads out of windows or riding in the backs of trucks.

Dr. Nicole Schiff, of the Animal Medical Center of Southern California, says one of the most serious safety threats occurs when drivers put dogs in the beds of pickup trucks. Although California and some other states have laws that prohibit dogs from riding unrestrained in truck beds, some pet owners still allow them to do so.

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As a result, dogs jump or are tossed from trucks. Some are killed when drivers incorrectly tie the animals to the back of the truck. If the dog tries to jump or is tossed from the truck, it can be accidentally hanged or dragged by the truck, Schiff says.

Currently, no law requires pets to be restrained in the back seat of vehicles, but the American Veterinary Medical Assn. recommends animals “be restrained when riding in vehicles because it is distracting and dangerous, not only for the driver and pet, but also for everyone else on the road.”

“You don’t want pets to be rolling around and crawling into driver’s laps,” says spokeswoman Sharon Curtis Granskog. “It’s just too distracting ... and could cause accidents.”

Pets should also be kept in the back seat to prevent them from being injured by front airbags during an accident, says Cruz. Pets face airbag risks similar to those of a small child. There are various products available at pet stores and online supply houses designed to keep pets and humans safe in vehicles. The restraint systems provide varying levels of protection and risk, according to information at ConsumerReports.org.

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While crates can be a protective way to go, drivers need to make sure that the crate is secured in the vehicle. A restraint harness that fits around the animal’s chest allows it to sit or lie down, even look out the window.

Wire or nylon mesh pet barriers are available for between the rear seat and cargo area of SUVs and wagons. They allow the pet room to stretch and move around. However, Consumer Reports warns that if the pet is not secured, it could fly around during a sudden maneuver or accident. Also, the consumer group notes that if the rear-window glass breaks in an accident, the animal could escape.

There’s no data on how many accidents may be caused by drivers being distracted by loose animals in vehicles. But Cruz and other veterinarians say they have treated pets for injuries suffered during accidents or sudden stops. “We see broken bones, neck injuries and bruises,” Cruz says.

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Keep pets safe

Some tips for traveling with your pets:

* Make sure your pet wears an identification tag or a microchip.

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* Update vaccinations and get a health certificate.

* Bring the pet’s food and any medication.

* Give small portions of food and water to pets while driving and stop every two hours so your pet can exercise.

* Don’t let your pet ride with its head out the window. Besides the risks in an accident, the wind can cause eye and ear problems.

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* Never leave your pet in a hot vehicle.

Jeanne Wright can be reached at jeanrite@aol.com.


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