Skip to main content

Guide to pet-friendly cars for pet owners

minute read

    Many people with pets will happily tell you that they don’t consider themselves to be pet “owners” but rather pet “parents.” Pets become a part of your family, and each pet has unique quirks and preferences. It’s no wonder then that some pet parents consider their furry friends’ needs in every decision they make — including when they’re car shopping.

    While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for when it comes to finding a pet-friendly car, there are a few considerations that can make for a more comfortable ride for both two- and four-legged passengers.

    Is there space for your pet?

    One of the most important questions to ask yourself when looking for a pet-friendly car is whether the car you’re considering has enough room for your pet. You may also need additional space for any crates or kennels your pet may require. If you have multiple pets riding at once, it may be helpful to have a roomy enough interior for each of them to have some personal space (or in case you need to separate them). 

    It also helps to consider the size of your car when it comes to ground clearance and roof height. Large dogs may need a taller roof so that they’re not constantly bumping their heads. Smaller dogs, on the other hand, may need low ground clearance so they can hop into the car unassisted.

    Does your pet like the car?

    Not every pet reacts to car rides the same way. Some will jump up at the mere mention of the word “ride,” but others may have unpleasant memories associated with cars. While having some space between you and your dog is generally good practice to avoid driver distractions, too much distance can potentially contribute to pet anxiety. A good rule of thumb is to keep pets close enough to feel safe in your presence, but far enough not to interfere with your driving.

    With many pets, establishing positive experiences early on (when possible) can go a long way toward establishing comfort. Whether it’s car rides, grooming or meeting new people, getting your pet used to these situations as a completely normal part of life early on makes for a smoother experience all around. 

    Car features to consider when you have a pet

    Every car is different, but there are a few features that make some vehicles a little more pet-friendly than others. Here are a few things to look for:

    • Heating and cooling: Does the car have adequate heating and cooling for your pet? Dogs can quickly overheat in a closed vehicle, so it’s helpful to look for cars that have a good air conditioning system for those hot days where an open window simply won’t cut it. Remote starters may also come in handy to help regulate the car’s temperature before your pet even gets in.
    • Window and lock switch positions: Window and lock switches that lay flat in the armrest can easily get pressed by errant paws. Switches that are placed vertically along the handle are typically harder for pets to engage accidentally. Child locks can also help ensure your pet doesn’t accidentally open up something they shouldn’t.
    • Cargo space: Pets are a lot like babies in that they come with a lot of stuff. Toys, beds, clothing, snacks, water, potty pads ... the list goes on. Having storage space to hold all that (preferably that comes with some organization too) helps keep your car from feeling cluttered. You may also need space for kennels, and possibly some anchor points so you can safely secure them.

    Car accessories to consider for your pet

    The right pet accessories can make car rides significantly smoother for your pet. Here’s an overview of some of the pet-friendly car accessories out there:

    • Kennels and carriers: Kennels or carriers are good ways to keep your pet securely contained, and some pets do better in the comfort of their carrier. Look for models that can be securely fastened using seatbelts or fastened down in the trunk so it doesn’t slide around as you drive.  
    • Seat belts and harnesses: Seat belt attachments help connect your pet’s harness to the car’s seat belt fasteners. This lets your pet sit comfortably while keeping them securely in one place.
    • Barriers: Car barriers for pets, typically made of wire, allow your pet to have a lot more freedom to move around in their own little area without worrying about the possibility of them going somewhere you don’t want them to, like jumping into the driver’s seat.
    • Car seats: For smaller pets, there are a variety of car seats out there specially designed to keep them safe and comfy. 
    • Seat covers and mats: For larger pets, there are a variety of seat covers and floormats specifically designed to keep your car’s interiors neat and clean while letting your pet stretch out in comfort. This can be especially helpful if you’re leasing or just want to keep your car extra clean.
    • Ramps: Portable pet ramps are a great option to consider if your pet requires a little extra assistance getting into the car.
    • Bowls and bottles: Keeping a collapsible bowl, an emergency stash of food and a pet-friendly water bottle can be a lifesaver in case a ride ends up going unexpectedly long.
    • Bags and cleaning supplies: While you’re at it, it may also help to get some waste bags and cleaning supplies for any messy situations that may arise.

    Safety tips

    Taking a car ride with your pet is one of the simpler joys in life, but it can also be potentially risky for you and your pet. An unrestrained or untethered pet can easily get skittish and jump into your lap or out of an open window. As such, it’s helpful to keep pets secure with a harness, seatbelt or carrier. 

    It may be tempting to keep your pet on your lap, but this could leave them open to injury from airbag deployment. Similarly, seeing a dog with its head hanging out the window is a common sight but not the safest practice — it can leave them highly vulnerable to any flying debris and increases their risk of falling out of the window if the car gets jolted suddenly. Having a dog unsecured in the back of a pickup truck bed is similarly risky, if not more so.

    In summary 

    When looking for a pet-friendly car, you need to think about space, safety and accessibility. You may also want to invest in a few accessories that could help make the ride more comfortable for your pet. With just a little planning, however, there’s no limit to the adventures you and your pet can have on the road together.

    What to read next