Mea culpa, I let my Boston terrier hang her head out of the window when we go for short, low-speed rides to a new walking place.

It is common to see other owners letting their dogs do this, too.

As to whether it is safe for the dog depends on several things.

Before we get to that though, what do veterinarian eye specialists have to say about it?

I know a few veterinary ophthalmologists and they are great, knowledgeable people.

They have my highest respect. Most are very conservative and say unequivocally to prevent your dog from hanging its head out a car window.

The first hazard they point to is insects and flying debris that can strike the eye causing an injury.

Absolutely true and an avoidable hazard.

Some will point to the fact in virtually all jurisdictions, humans must wear eye protection on motorcycles and other open-cockpit vehicles.

Such injuries are a potential threat to a pet losing an eye and perhaps worse, the loss of their sight.

If the eye can be salvaged, the costs to do so will be high but wholly reasonable for the skill and expertise required to fix such things. If the eye is salvaged and it heals, there may be lasting damage, such as scarring in the visual field.

I suspect, but don’t know for sure, that such eye injuries may promote cataract development sooner rather than later.

The second thing DVMs will caution about is the less-traumatic damage, such as undue dryness of the eyes and contact with allergens.

People will often show up at their veterinarian’s office complaining of their pet’s increased eye drainage and tear staining. Many times, the car rides are at least partially the culprit.

All this is spot on advice. So to be safest, don’t let your dog hang its head out into a wind stream, period.

But … dogs do indeed love to hang their heads out of a moving vehicle.

Various sources say they like to scent the area they are traveling through. And for some that includes retrograde scenting that involves the air floating their jowls and entering their mouth as they travel along.

So for me, I consider the risk I take with my dog to be manageable. It may not be for lots of other people. After about 35 mph, my pooch hates having her head out and lays down on her seat.

I also watch for hazards, too. Right now, it is the seed pods falling from maple trees.

In the late summer, when we have those prodigious hatches of blue ash aphids, the windows stay up and I endure the bad looks I get from the pooch.

If you do decide to let your pet into the wind stream, by all means make sure they are secured from falling out of the vehicle.

One way that works well is to attach a strong but simple carabiner in the hole of the shoulder harness seat belt tang.

When the dog gets in, the carabiner is clipped onto their harness.

A chest harness works better than a collar even though both represent a slow-choking hazard in event of a fall; also, dogs can slip collars.

The other reason to restrain a dog in a car is to prevent them from becoming a missile in event of an accident. Even a small dog flying through the car can injure passengers and themselves.


Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service. For questions or concerns about animals you’d like to read about, email cpowell@vetmed.wsu.edu.

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