Is It Important to Have a Crash-Tested Harness or Carrier?

by Britt
Photo credit: New Africa /

We all love traveling with our best friends, creating lasting memories together. However, wherever the road takes us, ensuring their safety is a top priority.

While some pet parents are comfortable riding around with their pet seated proudly in the passenger seat, this could be a life-threatening decision in an unexpected stop or accident. Is it worth taking the risk? We don’t believe so!

In this post, we will explore the different options for safely restraining your pet during your next road trip. More importantly, we’ll examine what makes a crash-tested harness or carrier different from the non-tested options and how they can offer you, as a pet parent, peace of mind.

Do Pets Have to Be in a Carrier in the Car? What Are My Options?

When discussing how to keep our pets safe in the vehicle, the most common recommendation is to keep them secured in a crate or carrier. In fact, in some states, laws require that pets be restrained to avoid becoming a distraction when driving.

A well-ventilated crate will keep your pet contained and prevent them from being thrown about in an accident. But it’s not your only option. If you have a larger dog, you may not have enough space for an appropriately sized crate in your vehicle. Others may have a pet that is uncomfortable or anxious in a crate. In these cases, a pet seatbelt can keep your pet safe.

But it’s important to note that not all carriers and harnesses are created equally. There are a few additional considerations, including whether your gear is crash-tested and how they are secured within your vehicle.

What is a Crash-Tested Harness or Carrier?

You may be wondering what exactly a crash-tested harness or carrier is and what sets it apart from other travel gear. The products we refer to as crash-tested are those that passed the rigorous independent testing carried out by the Center for Pet Safety (CPS).

Not only do these products pass the initial testing, but they also continue to be evaluated. Certification can be revoked if a product falls below the standards and requirements set out by CPS. On the CPS website, you can see details about the testing each product undergoes, including video evidence of the test and the date that it was tested.

If you are road-tripping with your pet and searching for a CPS-certified harness or carrier, here are a few options that we highly recommend:

A complete list of CPS-certified crash-tested products is on the CPS website.

Should I Use a Carrier or a Harness?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer when deciding between a carrier or harness. Instead, you must consider which option will suit your dog (and your vehicle) better. Several different factors could influence your decision.

The smallest size of the Sleepypod Clickit Sport Plus Car Seat Belt Harness that we recommended above is only suitable for pets over 18lbs. If you are traveling with a young puppy, toy breed dog, cat, or other small animal, they will need the added protection of a carrier to keep them safe.

For larger pets, deciding between a seatbelt or harness is mainly about personal preference.

If you drive a smaller vehicle or a car, you may be limited by the space in your vehicle. A smaller carrier will fit securely in the backseat, but a larger kennel requires the added space of a van or SUV. A harness will allow your medium or large dog to fit comfortably in the back seat.

Do you have a pet that is overly nervous or fearful when traveling? Pay careful attention to what triggers their stress and anxiety. Some pets find the den-like setting of a carrier to be comforting, while others will find the confinement to be stressful. Depending on your carrier, it may limit your pet’s ability to see you clearly, which can also increase anxiety. You know your pet best!

How Do You Secure a Dog or Cat Carrier in a Car?

A carrier is a great way to keep smaller pets secure, such as small dogs, cats, and even rabbits (yes, you can road trip with a rabbit). However, in an accident, the carrier itself could be thrown around the vehicle, causing severe injuries to you and your pet. We need to secure the carrier in the vehicle to prevent this from happening.

For smaller carriers, those that can fit on the vehicle's back seat, you can feed the seatbelt through the top handle of the carrier before buckling it in. If you have to slam on the brakes or make a sudden movement in the vehicle, the belt will hold the carrier securely in place and prevent it from moving around.

Larger carriers or kennels may need to be placed in the back of your van or SUV.

Tie-down or ratchet straps can be used to secure the kennel in the back using the vehicle anchor points. Make sure the straps you are using are crash-tested for the weight of your dog and the kennel combined.

Photo credit: Aleksey Boyko /

Where Should a Dog Sit in a Car?

The idea of having your dog next to you in the passenger seat is tempting – but you may want to reconsider before allowing your pup to call shotgun. Like young children, pets shouldn’t be placed in the front seat when you’re driving. The force of an airbag could be life-threatening for a dog, even a large or extra-large breed. For their safety and well-being, secure your pet in your vehicle's backseat or cargo area.

Tips and Tricks for a Successful Road Trip with Pets

Now that your pet is safe and secure in the vehicle let’s look at a few other steps you can take to ensure that your next road trip is safe and enjoyable for everyone involved!

Double-Check Your Pet’s ID

Before heading out, take a moment to verify that your pet has proper identification. Not only do you want to ensure that your pet has ID, but also that the information is accurate and up-to-date. It’s easy to forget to update your dog or cat’s tag when you change your phone number!

While you’re checking your information for accuracy, make sure that it is still legible. The popular aluminum ID tags that can be purchased in most pet stores do wear down over time. This could make reading the information they contain difficult, limiting their effectiveness if your pet goes missing. An ID tag is a low-cost investment that can make all the difference if your pet gets loose.

Plan a Vet Visit

No one wants to find out their pet is sick while confined in a vehicle for hours on end. A quick checkup with your vet will allow them to check for any signs of illness and verify that your pet is healthy enough to travel safely.

Research Emergency Clinics at Your Destination

Even if your pet is healthy before you leave, it is always possible that they will become sick or injured at some point during your travels. No one wants to be fumbling trying to find a vet in the area during an emergency.

Prepare a list of vets and emergency clinics in the area you are traveling to, as well as any major cities or locations you may stop at along the way. Your list should include all relevant details, including the name of the clinic, its address, and a phone number.

Bring a Copy of Your Pet’s Vet Records

To ensure that your pet receives the best possible care, bring a copy of your pet’s vet records along. This could be a printed copy placed in your glove box or a digital copy on your phone. It should include your pet’s vaccination records, any information about their medical history, and any medication they are currently taking.

Pack a Pet-Friendly First Aid Kit

Most regular travelers understand the importance of packing a first aid kit or emergency kit in their vehicle, but you may not realize that a human first aid kit doesn’t contain everything needed to treat a pet. Items like styptic powder for a broken nail or vet wrap bandaging to dress a wound are important. Create a pet-friendly first aid kit by adding the additional supplies to your current kit, or purchase a skit specifically for your furry travel buddy.

Always Have Fresh Water Available

Fresh water is essential to keeping your pet happy and healthy on the road. However, you shouldn’t assume there will be water available at any stops you make. Instead, make sure to pack fresh water in the vehicle to avoid any surprises. Don’t forget a water bowl!

Ease Anxiety with Familiar Items

If you have a pet that is newer to road-tripping or nervous in a vehicle, you can help ease their nerves with familiar items like bedding or a favorite toy. These items carry a familiar smell, which can be comforting in the vehicle and when you reach your destination. However, if you have a pet who becomes destructive while stressed, you may want to reconsider placing a soft item like a blanket in their carrier that could be ripped up or ingested.

Plan Stops in Advance

We would LOVE to say that every hotel or campground will happily welcome your travel buddy, but this, sadly, isn’t the case. To avoid unwelcome surprises or difficulty finding a place to land, take the time to plan where you are going to stay before leaving. This includes identifying local pet-friendly hotels or campgrounds and familiarizing yourself with their rules and pet fees.

Many hotels will have restrictions on the number of pets or the size of dogs allowed. While most hotels use the phrase “pet-friendly,” they may limit the invitation to dogs only, excluding cats. In some areas of the country, parks and campgrounds may restrict access based on a dog’s breed. Knowing these details will allow you to find the perfect place to enjoy your big getaway.

Final Thoughts: Is It Important to Have a Crash-Tested Harness or Carrier?

Dogs, cats, and other pets can be great road trip companions. Exploring the world together is a fun opportunity to make memories and build a stronger bond. But before you head out on the open road, take a moment to consider your pet’s safety.

Just as we have a responsibility to wear a seatbelt when driving, we also have a duty to ensure our pets are safely restrained.

Whether you prefer using a carrier or a harness with a pet seatbelt, always stick with a crash-tested option with CPS certification. These products have been carefully tested to ensure that they can keep your pet safe and secure even in an accident.

Here’s to your next pet-friendly road trip!

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Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs – Lucifer and Willow – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.

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