Whether you see your pet as a member of the family, your best friend or simply a nice companion for your kids, chances are it's going to be your travel buddy at some point in time.
Traveling by car with your pet no longer means simply letting that four-legged friend hang out in the hatchback; the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association estimates pet owners will spend more than $38 billion this year on food, care, and supplies for their animals, and a chunk of it will go toward things like car seats, seat belts, and other automotive accessories designed for pets.
Flexi-Mat is one company getting in on the act with several products intended to make traveling with pets easier. Brent Miller, the company's head of marketing and sales, says that's only partly because of what he calls the humanization of pets; much of it, he says, is a safety issue.
"Every year, 1.5 million accidents are caused by distraction, and pets are the third biggest distraction in cars," he said.
Several states, including California and Florida, have laws on the books that require pets in cars to be restrained, and other states are working to pass similar laws.
"States want to keep people from using cell phones in cars; it's the same thing," Miller said. "They want to restrict people from not keeping pets restrained."
There are several options for doing that, ranging from simple solutions for owners to luxurious digs for dogs.
Flexi-Mat sells a Pet Stow-Away, a multi purpose product that serves as a car seat, suitcase, and pet bed. As a car seat, the Stow-Away is hooked to the vehicle's seat belt and has a safety hook inside that attaches to the animal's harness. While it hasn't been crash tested, it acts as a restraint that elevates pets 10 inches, allowing them to see where they're going. It retails for $89 at fleximat.com.
A less glamorous option is a backseat hammock, which usually attaches to a car's front and rear headrests, keeping pets in the backseat and off the vehicle's floor. Flexi-Mat sells a hammock for $66 that features zippered openings for the vehicle's seat belts and a front compartment for storage. Similar products are available from other retailers, including PetSmart, whose Pet Travel Hammock retails for about $50.
While these kinds of products are geared toward the comfort-and-luxury crowd, other companies have safety first in mind. Colorado-based Ruff Rider offers a vehicle restraint harness for dogs, the Roadie, which was rated the best in the industry by Tufts University's School of Veterinary Medicine in 2000.
"My harness is orthopedically sound and ergonomically correct," said Carl Goldberg, Roadie creator and Ruff Rider owner.
The Roadie attaches to a vehicle's seat belt system and includes a built-in short walking lead. Goldberg said it exceeds federal standards for human seat belts, enduring more than 6,500 pounds of force before breaking. The standard for a combined lap and shoulder belt is 3,000 pounds.
The basic Roadie sells for $29.95, while a restraint with sheepskin lining goes for $59.95. Pet restraints are available from several other companies as well, starting as low as $10.
If you're looking to create a separate space for your pet, vehicle partitions for SUVs will do the trick. These go behind the last row of seats and extend to the vehicle's ceiling, creating an enclosed space for pets. Partitions start at about $75 on tripswithpets.com, and add-on pieces to adjust their size cost about $35.
Other automotive-themed pet accessories include window vents that help keep cars secure while giving pets fresh air. These cost between $5 and $10 and are available from several vendors online.