Take precautions when pets ride in cars

Abbie is recovering from a broken femur after falling out of the window of her owner’s car.

Abbie is a 12-month-old Labrador retriever. You could say the moon and stars have aligned pretty well for her.

First of all she, is beloved by her family. She lives inside, has a fenced yard and loves to go for a ride in the car.

She has a household of servants, who believe they own her, attending to her every need, pays nothing for health care or education, and has a job for life as a personal companion. She will never have to “work like a dog.”

To me, that’s part of the joy of owning a dog. As I (Henri Bianucci) seem to be, at times, consumed by worry, about my family, cases, business and the future in general, I derive a real sense of peace from constructing a safe and worry-free bubble for my pets to exist in.

I actually envy their lives, as they are blissfully unaware of their own mortality, or any threats at all, to their existence as they know it.

It’s funny that to create that sense of peace, we must assume more worries because we know that it is completely our responsibility to shield them from harm.

Being a veterinarian, I see that there are many threats, which could be easily avoided, that injure or kill dogs and cats, but the owners weren’t even aware that they presented a risk.

When real harm results, there is often a sense of shock and surprise. So many times I’ve heard owners exclaim that they had no idea that raisins, or sugar-free gum, or sago palms were dangerous to pets.

Too many times we have seen the tormented face of an owner who didn’t realize how easy it is to lose track of time after leaving a pet in a car on a day that “didn’t seem that hot,” with a lethal result. Avoiding an accidental injury, or death, for a pet can be as simple as being aware of the risks in the first place.

Abbie was enjoying a morning spin about town. The windows were half open, which seemed to provide for the vaunted head out the window maneuver, while high enough up to contain her in the car.

But a turn of the wheel, a slight push from another dog in the car, and a little jump was enough to let Sir Isaac Newton dictate the rest.

The physics equation resulted in her vaulting out the window and onto the road. I don’t know why it is, but the physics also always seem to dictate that the femur will be fractured. Literally, every time I have treated a fracture resulting from a fall from a car, whether out the window or out of the pickup truck bed, it’s the femur that has taken the hit.

True to the stats, Abbie was brought in with a fractured femur and a distraught owner who felt terrible about the whole thing and was surprised that it could have happened. It can be surprising, but if they can easily fit their head out the window, it’s likely that their body could squeeze through as well.

Falling out of the window is not the only danger that riding in the car presents. Airbags can be lethal to dogs. Imagine a small dog on your lap as the airbag explodes. These can kill a dog instantly.

This is one reason that dogs should only ride in the back seat. When riding in the car, it is best to use pet safety belts or restraints.

Recently, a pug was brought into our emergency clinic, with a severe spinal injury.

He was riding in the front seat and the owner stopped suddenly to avoid a collision.

The accident was avoided, but the dog was thrown with sufficient force to fracture his spine, paralyzing him instantly. The damage was so severe that the dog was euthanized.

The idea of a safety harness may sound silly, but they are widely available and highly recommended for dogs riding in cars.

We have seen many cases in our hospitals that would have had a vastly better outcome had they been in use. We would not dream of allowing our children to ride unrestrained, yet our pets are subject to the same laws of physics as our kids. The harness also would prevent them from going out the window.

Finally, no discussion on car safety would be complete without a reminder about the dangers of leaving your pet in the car. It is just too easy to lose track of time and the heat will build to intolerable levels faster than most would imagine.

So, keep the window openings narrow enough to keep the head in the car. Do not allow pets in the front seat, and use restraints on all passengers.

Finally, only bring your dog if you never intend to leave the car, or if the dog will get out of the car at each destination. I hate to be a killjoy, but these are minor precautions that can prevent devastating incidents.

By the way, Abbie had a successful repair of her femur, and is expected to make a full recovery.

Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to petdocs@postandcourier.com.