RV Pet Vet: Is your pet’s crate a death trap?

RV Pet Vet: Is your pet’s crate a death trap?

Ask the RV Vet

With Dr. Deanna Tolliver, M.S., DVM
 YourRVvet@gmail.com

Dear RV Vet—We have a large dog (a Golden Retriever) and a small dog (a terrier mix) that ride with us in the truck when we are traveling. The big dog, Harley, sits in the back seat. Hank, the terrier, generally sits on one of our laps. I know this probably isn’t safe, but what would be the best way to have them ride in our truck? —Cheryl M.

Hi Cheryl—Good questions and I’m glad you asked because the sooner you change the way your dogs travel, the safer you all will be!

It’s never a good idea to let any dog of any size roam free in any vehicle, including a motorhome. I could fill this entire column with reasons why. The bottom line is that for your pet to be safe, and to keep the driver and passengers safe, any and all pets should be contained. That means either in a crate or carrier or in a special seat belt harness for dogs.

First, some definitions so we all are on the same page.

Crate: A pet container that is usually anchored in a cargo area (SUV, van) or in the back of a pickup, and usually meant for larger dogs (over 40#).

Carrier: A pet container that is usually for smaller pets, anchored by the seat belt in the back seat.

Seat belt harness: Special harness that the dog (not for cats) wears that is attached to the seat belt in the back seat.

How does your pet travel?  

In a tow vehicle, all the pets should ride in the back seat. In a collision, pets riding on laps or in carriers in the front seat will be impacted by the airbag. Not only are they likely to be injured or killed if this happens, the airbag won’t be able to protect the human sitting in the seat.

Next, use a carrier that is “crash-worthy.” In my research, I learned that MOST of the carriers you can buy are not going to protect your pet in a vehicle crash. Please—read that sentence again!

Duke, the crash test dog from Sleepypod

It was also at this point in my research that I learned about the Center for Pet Safety (CPS). The founder, Lindsey Wolko, has quite a story to tell about what led her to establish the CPS, and you can read it here. She teamed up with a Subaru crash testing facility, initially testing 12 safety harnesses for dogs, using crash test dummy dogs. And then the team watched as harness after harness failed the tests. In one test, the dummy dog was actually decapitated. None of the 12 harnesses passed the test, even though one harness was advertised as “meets or exceeds” federal crash test standards!

The CPS team went on to test carriers and crates. The news is not good, folks. Those plastic crates and carriers may CONTAIN the dog in your vehicle, but they will NOT PROTECT your dog in a collision. That harness that you bought for your big dog that attaches to the seat belt? If it hasn’t been tested by the CPS, you might not want to trust that it will keep him safe in an accident.


Pets in the News–A West Virginia airport hires dog to chase birds. Click here.


The CPS website has videos of many of the products that were crash tested, including some of those that failed. The videos are sometimes almost horrifying to watch, even though the dummy dogs aren’t real.

For smaller pets up to 20-30 pounds, the only recommended carriers are those made by Sleepypod (including the models Atom and the Mobile Pet Bed), the Gen7Pet Commuter, and the Gunner Kennel G1. If you get one for your small dog or cat, put it in the back seat and attach the seat belt. If you travel in a motorhome, secure the carrier on a couch or chair that has seat belts.

If you prefer a seat belt harness for your smaller dog, the CPS recommends the Sleepypod Clickit Harnesses (buy it on Amazon here) or the ZuGoPet Rocketeer. I have to say I was impressed by the videos of the Sleepypod seat belt harnesses for dogs up to 75 pounds. If you choose to use a harness, your dog must be “belted in” on the couch or chair in a motorhome, or the back seat of the tow vehicle. These harnesses may be a very good option for a larger dog (and less expensive than the Gunner crate; see below).

For dogs over 20 pounds, the only crates the CPS recommends are the Gunner crates SECURED TO THE FLOOR; they were tested only when they were secured to the floor. The Gunner crates seem to be marketed more toward the hunting crowd, as the name implies, where the crates are strapped down on the floor of a pickup bed. Be prepared for sticker shock: the medium-large crate, rated for a 75-pound dog, is listed at $499.99 on the Gunner kennels website (click here).

Also on the Gunner website is a video showing a 630-pound weight dropping on “the other guy’s” crates and then on the Gunner crates, mimicking the forces of a collision (see the video here). Makes for compelling viewing, especially when you imagine a dog being inside. If you were going to use a large crate for your large dog, you might consider how to strap it to the floor of your motorhome. I’m thinking along the lines of how some chairs are secured with straps bolted to the floor. 

The chances of you and your pet(s) being in a vehicle accident are small but don’t take any chances. If you choose to not get one of these pricey, crash-tested options, please use a crate or carrier or seat belt harness that you can afford. Unrestrained dogs and cats can be distractions that may harm you or your pet.

Dr. Deanna welcomes your questions. Email her at YourRVvet@gmail.com 

Dr. Deanna Tolliver has been a full-time RVer for over 3 years, although she has been an RVer for several more. She travels with a fifth wheel and a 1-ton dually truck. Her travel companions include 4 small dogs (Tootie, Chiquita, BooBoo, and Janie), and a 36-year-old Yellow-Naped Amazon Parrot named Toby. She has a BS and MS in biology and zoology, respectively, and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Missouri, Columbia. She owned a veterinary hospital for many years and recently handed over the reins to a new owner. 

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5 thoughts on “RV Pet Vet: Is your pet’s crate a death trap?

  1. Inspector Tom

    In a motorhome without airbags. Sorry our Maltese loves my wife’s lap. I believe he would end up under the dash. Even though I can fly standby, One of the reason’s we have a motorhome is to take along the dog.

  2. Jillie

    Loose in the RV while traveling down the highway. Uh huh. Smart very smart. Buckle the dogs as you would your children and yourself. I hope there becomes a law where everyone is buckled. In your lap in the front seat? Did you know that an air bag can crush poor fido? Snap goes the spine and or neck. Uh huh. Sorry folks but you really need to think before you travel. We still have a car sick dog and the xanax is finally working mixed with motion sickness pills. Yes we have a rolls of paper towel in the back seat. Still. Good luck and good nite. At least I know stupid is as stupid does is viable.

  3. Patricia Van Horn

    My camper is a 2001 dutchman never been on the road. Should I recoat the roof? Thank you

    1. Hi Patricia,
      I’m just the vet, not the RV Tech! But I can suggest that you take your rig to an RV Tech and have it looked over, or maybe a mobile RV Tech can come to it. The odds are very high that, depending on what kind of roof you have, it may need some attention. Good luck!

  4. Wolfe

    Until last year, I carried my 50lb dog in a full-body harness on the backseat and my 110lb dog in a crate bolted to the bed. The latter was more a size choice, since in case of an accident the big dog is still a pinball inside her crate. My new truck has a “flat floor” option that has allowed both dogs to have full-body harnesses secured to the floor, the safest option I could devise, but ultimately I suspect there’s no perfect option for securing dogs in a bad crash. I would CERTAINLY back you on advising NEVER leaving the dog free to be thrown in a crash even if moving around didn’t cause one.

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