If you have a pet, you know how difficult it is to leave your favorite companion at home. Fortunately, there are many reasons to bring your furry friend along on a road trip, whether you’re embarking on a week-long camping adventure or heading to the beach during the warmer months. But did you know there are several safety precautions to consider whenever you travel with your dog? These include using appropriate restraints in the car, packing up-to-date vaccination records and ensuring you have essentials like food, water bowls and waste bags on hand.
If you’re planning on taking your dog along for a car ride but don’t know where to start, we spoke to veterinarians and pet safety experts about the best ways to keep your dog safe. We also rounded up expert-recommended and crash-tested crates, carriers and safety harnesses.
Our top picks
- Best carrier: Away Travel Carrier
- Best crate: Gunner Kennel G1
- Best travel harness: Sleepypod Click-It Terrain
How we picked the best crates, carriers and harnesses
We kept the following in mind while picking safe travel restraints for dogs, based on expert guidance:
- Crash-tested: Look for travel enclosures that have undergone crash testing by the Center for Pet Safety, a registered nonprofit and advocacy organization that crash tests car restraints and containment devices, according to Wendy Hauser, veterinarian and special advisor to ASPCA Pet Health Insurance. “The pet products industry is highly unregulated and many brands subjectively ‘pass’ their products if they test them in the lab,” says CPS founder Lindsey Wolko. This can give pet owners a false sense of security. “Most carriers on the market only offer distraction prevention, which is important, but in a crash, they may not perform as you would expect them to,” she says.
- Type of car restraint: There are four main types of restraints: carriers, crates, harnesses and booster seats. Carriers and crates, especially hard-sided options, are safest because they keep your pet secure using your car’s seat belt system or built-in anchors, according to our experts. Travel harnesses that fit properly can keep your dog securely attached to a seat belt strap but won’t leave them feeling trapped as they would in an enclosed carrier. Booster seats generally aren’t recommended by our experts, who note that you should only use one in conjunction with a travel harness and never attach it to the vehicle’s seat belt system, center console or seat.
- Size and weight of your pet: Check the weight and size guidelines of the dog carrier, harness or car seat to make sure it’ll fit your pet securely and comfortably, according to our experts. If a harness or seat is too big, they may be able to wriggle out during the ride, creating a distracting and dangerous situation.
The best crash-tested carriers, crates and harnesses for dogs
To help you determine which products are safest for your companion, we’ve compiled the safety products and containment devices that are crash test-certified by the CPS, which put products through rigorous testing to determine the strength and effectiveness of latches, zippers, stitching and built-in reinforcements.
Best crash-tested carriers
This option from the popular travel brand Away is designed for both car and airline travel and won a Select Best for Your Pet award for best overall travel carrier. It’s made from water-resistant nylon and has latches on the side that securely fasten to a car’s seat belt system, according to the brand. It has top and side openings and comes with machine-washable sherpa bedding on the inside to help your pet feel comfortable. It also has multiple pockets to keep your belongings secure and the front entry point has fully see-through mesh (if you want to cover the mesh, it includes a piece of fabric that rolls down). The Away carrier comes in two colors — black and blue — and you can personalize it with your initials for an additional $35.
Pet weight: Up to 18 lbs | Water-resistant: Yes | Washable: Yes, bedding | Dimensions: 18.7 in. L x 10.8 in. W x 10.75 in. H
This travel carrier from Select staff-favorite brand Diggs has custom seat belt clips and a buckle strap to keep your dog secure during car travel. It’s recommended for dogs weighing up to 18 pounds (the brand does offer an inflatable travel crate for larger dogs weighing up to 80 pounds). The carrier has a built-in bed and pee pad, and it has both front and side openings that make it easier for your pet to get in and out of the carrier, according to the brand. It also has three outer pockets and a detachable cross-body strap. It comes in four colors: navy, slate gray, blush pink and charcoal gray.
Pet weight: Up to 18 lbs | Water-resistant: N/A | Washable: N/A | Dimensions: 20 in. L x 10.8 in. W x 11.5 in. H
The Cabana Carrier is designed from Paravel’s EcoCraft canvas, which is made of 38 recycled plastic bottles, according to the brand. It has a washable fleece lining, multiple pockets, a trolley sleeve so it can attach to your suitcase and mesh panels to encourage airflow inside. It also folds down completely, so it’s easy to store away when you aren’t using it.
Pet weight: Up to 20 lbs | Water-resistant: Yes | Washable: Yes, fleece lining | Dimensions: 11 in. L x 11 in. W x 20.5 in. H
The Sleepypod Atom is designed for smaller pets and works for both vehicle and airline travel (although experts recommend looking at your airline’s carrier size requirements before boarding). This carrier weighs only 3.4 pounds and has a buckle on both sides that can secure it to the seat belt in the rear seat of the vehicle. The included plush bedding on the inside is also removable and machine-washable.
Pet weight: Up to 12 lbs | Water-resistant: N/A | Washable: Yes, bedding | Dimensions: 17 in. L x 8.5 in. W x 10.5 in. H
The original Sleepypod includes velcro positioning points to secure a seat belt, removable and machine-washable interior bedding and mesh panels for breathability. “The bottom of the carrier can be used as a bed inside the home, making acclimation training easier for the pet,” says Wolko. It’s also offered in a mini size, which is certified for pets 7 pounds and under and is considered an appropriate size for several airlines.
Pet weight: Up to 15 lbs | Water-resistant: N/A | Washable: Yes, bedding | Dimensions: 17 in. L x 8.5 in. W x 10.5 in. H
Best crash-tested crates
This crate earned a 5-star safety rating from the CPS in both the crate and carrier-class — it’s the only product that has earned a dual certification, says Wolko. It has double-wall construction that provides impact protection for your pet, according to the brand. It also has a reversible door design that lets you open the crate from either side, and the door is reinforced with an aluminum frame that can keep your dog safely contained in case of a car crash, according to Gunner. It comes in four sizes: small, medium, intermediate and large. Though the crate doesn’t provide exact size and weight guidelines for dogs, the brand does offer a size guide that gives recommendations based on your dog’s weight and length and the size of your vehicle.
Pet weight: Varies based on crate size | Water-resistant: Yes | Washable: Yes, exterior | Dimensions: 24.5 in. L x 18.625 in. W x 19 in. H (small), 29.5 in. L x 20.5 in. W x 23.5 in. H (medium), 34 in. L x 23 in. W x 28.5 in. H (intermediate), 40.25 in. L x 28 in. W x 33.25 in. H (large)
The Lucky Kennel can be a worthwhile option if you’re traveling with larger dogs. It has reversible doors and ventilation holes to keep air flowing on hot days, and it comes in two sizes (intermediate and large). If you have more than one pet, you can stack multiple Lucky Kennels on top of each other. The brand also offers a comfort pad that fits inside the crate and gives your dog a layer of cushion for the ride.
Pet weight: Up to 75 lbs (intermediate) and 110 lbs (large) | Water-resistant: N/A | Washable: N/A | Dimensions: 32.5 in. L x 22.5 in. W x 24.5 in. H (intermediate), 38 in. L x 24 in. W x 29 in. H (large)
This durable crate has an aluminum metal frame and comes in four sizes: medium, large, XL and XXL. It has a lockable door latch and secondary latches to prevent dogs from escaping, according to the brand. You can stack multiple of these crates on top of each other, and it comes in seven colors, including white, blue, pink and green. For dogs with crate anxiety who might escape, the brand also offers a door guard to add another layer of protection. Though the brand does not provide specific weight requirements for each size, Rock Creek does offer a size guide with pet height recommendations. Keep in mind this is the heaviest option on our list, weighing 38 pounds for the medium size and 79 pounds for the XXL size.
Pet weight: Varies based on crate size and pet height | Water-resistant: N/A | Washable: N/A | Dimensions: 30.5 in. L x 20 in. W x 22.5 in. H (medium), 36.5 in. L x 23.5 in. W x 27.75 in. H (large), 42.5 in. L x 28.5 in. W x 32.5 in. H (XL), 48 in. L x 32.25 in. W x 35 in. H (XXL)
Best crash-tested harnesses
This safety harness from Sleepypod is certified crash-tested by the CPS for dogs up to 110 pounds and has a three-point design, which secures your dog’s torso to the seat using your car’s seat belt system. It also has shock-absorbing sleeves and a padded vest for additional security and comfort, according to the brand. While it’s designed for car safety, it also doubles as a walking harness. It comes in four sizes ranging from small to XL. Keep in mind that Sleepypod harnesses may not provide a safe or proper fit for certain breeds like Greyhounds, Whippets, Salukis, Afghan Hounds and Borzoi due to their unique body types, according to the brand.
Pet weight: From 18 lbs up to 110 lbs | Water-resistant: N/A | Washable: N/A | Chest size: 20.5-25.5 in.(small), 25.5-28 in. (medium), 28-31 in. (large), 31-41.5 in. (XL)
Lightweight and designed for everyday use, the Sleepypod Click-It Sport also passed the CPS crash test for dogs up to 90 pounds. Like the Click-It Terrain, this option comes in four sizes — small, medium, large and XL — and has three points of contact to attach to the seat belt and reduce forward and side-to-side movement, according to the brand. It also doubles as a walking harness and has a padded vest with reflective strips to help you see your pup better at night.
Pet weight: From 18 lbs up to 90 lbs | Water-resistant: N/A | Washable: N/A | Chest size: 16.5-22 in.(small), 22.5-28 in. (medium), 28.5-34 in. (large), 34.5-40 in. (XL)
Other dog travel essentials
A travel water bottle to ensure your dog is getting ample water during road trips is always important, especially during hot weather and long trips, according to our experts. The Kong Water Bottle is a Select Best for Your Pet award winner thanks to its lid which acts as a bowl. Its small handle and shape made it easy to pour, according to Select social commerce editor Sadhana Daruvuri, who uses this bottle to keep her dog Bandit hydrated while on the go. The bottle is made of stainless steel and it comes in two sizes and four colors.
Wolko recommends taking a pet-friendly first aid kit while traveling in case of an emergency. This 50-piece option includes cotton swabs, antiseptic towelettes, gauze pads, sting relief pads and more, all inside a functional multi-compartment pack. In addition to a first aid kit, our experts recommend researching an emergency vet at your destination and having their contact number handy.
No matter where you travel with your dog, waste bags are an essential item to take to avoid leaving messes behind. I use this option from Earth Rated for my dog Bella every time we come back from walks, and I love that they’re durable and don’t rip when I’m wiping the rougher parts of her paws. The bags come in either a 120-pack or a 270-pack, and you can choose to purchase either fragrance-free or lavender-scented bags. These bags block odors and prevent leaking, according to the brand.
Pet wipes can serve multiple purposes on a trip, from cleaning up dog-related messes to wiping their paws or faces whenever they get dirty. One of our favorite at-home grooming products, these wipes include plant-based ingredients like aloe vera, cucumber extract and coconut to moisturize and soothe the skin, according to the brand. They’re also a Select staff favorite: I use them to wipe Bella’s paws every time we come home from a walk, and Select associate updates editor Zoe Malin says they smell great and are super gentle, so they don’t irritate her dog Chance’s sensitive skin.
What kind of car restraint is best for your dog?
Much like humans wearing seat belts in case of a crash, dogs should be properly strapped into a crash-tested restraint, whether that’s an enclosed pet carrier or a travel safety harness. This not only reduces the chance of serious injury to your dog during an accident but can also keep them from escaping inside the car and distracting the driver. “Dogs often don’t realize the dangers of interfering with a driver, so many may try to climb on the driver or get in their lap — especially if they are anxious,” says Dr. Wendy Mandese, a veterinarian and clinical associate professor at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.
There are four main types of car restraints for pets: carriers, crates, travel harnesses and car seats or boosters. Below, we list the differences between each type and how to use them properly. Though these all have their unique pros and cons, our experts agree that they should be independently crash-tested by the CPS to make sure it’s safe outside of brand claims.
Pet carriers and crates
Carriers are covered enclosures that can be strapped in using a seat belt or ISOFIX/LATCH anchors, which are connected to the vehicle’s seat and designed for installing children’s car seats without using a seat belt. “There are two types of carriers: those that only prevent distraction and those that offer crash protection,” says Wolko. You can prevent this by keeping carriers connected to the seat and closed while the car is moving.
Crates, on the other hand, are typically larger and heavier than carriers. “Crash protection crates have anchor straps that are used to secure the kennel to the vehicle via the available connections in the cargo area,” says Wolko.
“Carriers and crates are the preferred options for safe travel because they confine the pet,” says Dr. Christina Carlo, a veterinarian and the medical director at VCA Avondale Veterinary Hospital. Hard-sided crates and carriers specifically are the safest option for your pet because they provide the most protection against impact, according to Dr. Dana Varble, chief veterinary officer at the North American Veterinary Community.
While carriers usually go in the back seat, crates typically go in the cargo area of an SUV. “They’re typically larger in size and heavier, [and] therefore they should not be secured on the rear seat of the vehicle,” said Wolko.
Like all other pet travel products, carriers and crates should be independently crash-tested by the CPS to ensure safety outside of brand claims.
Travel harnesses connect to the vehicle’s seat belt system, which can safely keep your pet secured in your car. “Harnesses with seat belt clips are a great choice as they allow some freedom for your pet to sit up or lay down and experience the fun of a car ride without the risk of being loose,” says Varble. Make sure the harness properly fits your dog — it shouldn’t feel loose and it should fit snugly on their body and chest — and has a handle that can securely attach to a seat belt strap, says Carlo. And just like crates and carriers, these harnesses need to be CPS crash-tested to ensure they meet safety standards.
Car seats or booster seats
Car seats serve as open-air suspended seats or booster seats, and some can be anchored by the seat belt. Others may look like a catcher’s mitt.
Because car seats are typically open, they can serve as a good way to let your dog look out of the window and reduce car sickness, which is common in puppies, according to Mandese. You should always pair a car seat with a safety harness to ensure your dog is secure and prevent them from flying out of their seat in case of a crash.
However, there are a few safety concerns surrounding car seats, and neither our experts nor CPS recommend them to pet owners. Many use the vehicle’s seat belt system to stay secure, but you should only use this system to secure your dog’s travel harness, according to Wolko.
If you do use a booster seat, it should be in conjunction with a travel harness, which reduces the risk of injury in case of a crash since it anchors them down. “Boosters are not safe in an accident because they are open and the only strap controlling the pet is usually small and connected to a collar around the neck unless the pet is wearing a harness,” says Carlo. You should also only secure the seat using the car’s ISOFIX/LATCH anchors. “This will allow the seat belt system to be used independently to secure the harness the pet will need to wear,” Wolko says.
Some car seats may require you to connect them directly to the seat, but these connections are usually very weak and will not prevent injury, according to Wolko. Other pet travel seats connect to the console between the driver and passenger seats, which is both unsteady and unsafe, she says. You should also opt for a rear-facing car seat and avoid forward-facing options since your pet can fly out during a crash, according to Dr. Kristen Nelson, a veterinarian and author of “Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life.”
How to safely travel with your dog
Though car restraints may vary in type and effectiveness, one thing remains consistent among all of our experts: You should never place pets and carriers, harnesses, car seats or any other restraint in the front seat of your car because the airbags can seriously hurt your pet. You should securely place restraints and enclosures in the rear seat or the cargo area of the vehicle, according to Nelson.
Never let your dog ride in the back of an open truck because it can lead to severe injuries, and you should avoid letting your dog ride with their head sticking out of an open window since that can lead to eye injuries from road debris, according to Mandese.
When it comes to keeping your dog secure, tightening seat belts is key. “The most common mistake is leaving the seat belts loose to make the pet more comfortable,” says Nelson. “Unfortunately, the extra room lets them fly during a crash.” However, you should never connect the internal tether of the carrier or the seat belt to your pet’s collar since it can result in neck fractures or airway damage if you were to brake suddenly, says Mandese.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Wendy Hauser is a veterinarian and the founder of Peak Veterinary Consulting. She is also the special advisor to ASPCA Pet Health Insurance.
- Lindsey Wolko is the founder of the Center for Pet Safety, a registered nonprofit and advocacy organization that crash-tests car restraints and containment devices for pets.
- Dr. Wendy Mandese is a veterinarian and clinical associate professor at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.
- Dr. Christina Carlo is a veterinarian and the medical director at VCA Avondale Veterinary Hospital.
- Dr. Dana Varble is the chief veterinary officer at the North American Veterinary Community.
- Dr. Kristen Nelson is a veterinarian and author of “Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life.”
Why trust Select?
Mili Godio is an editor at Select who covers a variety of pet topics, including dog food, beds, treats, toys and more. For this article, Godio spoke to six veterinarians and pet safety experts about how to safely travel in a car with your dog. She also compiled their recommendations for the best crash-tested carriers, crates and harnesses to consider and researched dozens of options on the market based on the experts’ guidance.