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keeping dog cool in car

How to Keep Your Dog Cool in the Car on Cross-Country Adventures!

With summer upon us, many dog owners are excited to get their dogs out and about more.

Whether you’re looking forward to afternoons on the water, evening strolls around parks, or Sunday picnics, summer is a time where many of us take our dogs out and about much more often than in the colder winter months.

Unfortunately, extra travel with our dogs often means we might have to leave our dogs in the car on occasion. How do you keep a dog cool in the car?

Leaving Your Dog in the Car is Risky Business

No matter what gadgets you buy to keep your dog cool in the car, you need to be careful. Temperatures in your car can rise quickly and be dangerous for your pup.

There aren’t any well-collected statistics out there about how many dogs die per year in hot cars, but at least 46 police K-9s died inside hot cars between 2011 and 2015. Keep that in mind – these dogs generally had hi-tech AC systems and temperature alerts that failed.

A few stark statistics regarding dogs in hot cars include:

  • If a dog’s core temperature reaches 106 degrees Fahrenheit, heat stroke can occur and is quickly fatal
  • When it’s 72 degrees Fahrenheit outside, the temperature inside your car can heat up to 116 degrees Fahrenheit within an hour.
  • When it’s 80 degrees Fahrenheit outside, the temperature inside your car can heat up to 99 degrees Fahrenheit within 10 minutes.
  • Temperatures can rise by 40 degrees Fahrenheit inside of a car within just one hour, easily reaching deadly levels of heat even if it’s only 60 or 70 degrees Fahrenheit outside
  • Interestingly, one study by the American Association of Pediatrics suggested that the interior color of your vehicle is the biggest factor – not whether or not you crack the windows. Light-colored interiors are much better for hot days than dark interiors.

You also need to consider the laws in your area.

Some states have made it illegal to leave your dog in your car after tragic stories of dogs dying in the heat. Other states make it legal for people to break your windows to rescue your dog.

All of these laws are well-intentioned, and you need to be aware of them to protect yourself from smashed windows and expensive tickets!

keeping-dog-in-car

If you’re worried about someone else’s dog inside a car, look for notes, cooling devices, and thermometers inside the car. If you’re still worried:

  1. Take down the license plate number and information about the car.
  2. Go into any nearby businesses and ask the employees to make an announcement looking for the owner.
  3. If you can’t find the owner or if the dog is showing signs of distress, call the local non-emergency police number for help.
  4. If the situation is dire and your state allows it, consider breaking into the car to rescue the dog. This should be your last resort.

If the windows of a car are cracked open, make sure to never attempt to pet a dog or give it food or water through the windows. Many dogs are easily overwhelmed when they feel cornered, and it’s easy to scare a dog or get bitten doing this. There are better ways to get help for a dog in a hot car.

So… I Should Never Leave My Dog in the Car, Right?

Leaving your dog in a car should always be a last resort option – especially in the summer.

The easiest solution is to simply never bring your dog in the car during the summer if there’s even a small chance you’ll have to leave your pooch in the vehicle

However, even if you don’t plan on leaving your dog in the car, the unexpected can happen on occasion.

The fact of the matter is, it’s nearly impossible to go on a summer road trip with your pup without leaving her in the car at some point, even if you’re just pumping gas. Luckily, there are plenty of precautions you can take and strategies you can use to keep your dog cool in the car.

dog chilling in car

I live out of my car these days, traveling around the North and South American continents and working as a freelance writer. This means that I spend a lot more time in the car than your average American.

Some situations where I’ve had to leave my dog in the car include:

  • Pumping gas and taking a bathroom break
  • Stopping for lunch during a full day of driving
  • Waiting outside during a Nosework trial, agility class, or herding lesson
  • Filling out permits and paperwork to go hiking or backpacking
  • Waiting for our appointment outside of a veterinary clinic that doesn’t allow animals in the waiting room to reduce the stress of patients

In short, while we do everything we can to avoid leaving our dogs in the car, sometimes it’s unavoidable.

Remember that taking your dog out of the car should always be your first option if at all possible. Also, remember that there are many factors that can affect how hot your car gets. It’s best to always err on the side of caution and assume that it’s going to be too hot.

Some Dogs Are At Greater Risk Than Others

Not all dogs tolerate heat the same way.

It’s fairly obvious that a super-fluffy Siberian Husky, bred for the Arctic, won’t do as well in the heat as a Mexican Hairless dog.

Also remember that short-nosed dogs like Pugs, Bulldogs of all sizes, Boxers, and Pekingese aren’t able to cool themselves off with panting as well as other dogs.

Be extra-careful in the heat if your dog is long-haired, short-nosed, or both!

When Is It Way Too Hot For Your Dog To Be in the Car?

As a good rule of thumb, remember that your car’s temperature will rise by 19 degrees Fahrenheit in just 10 minutes, and by 43 degrees Fahrenheit in 60 minutes, according to a study by the American Association for Pediatrics.

This test was done with a small blue sedan parked in 72 to 96 degree Fahrenheit days. The graphs from this study are very helpful (see below).

cracked-vs-closed-windows

temperature-rise-over-time

 

We made a handy reference for caring for your pup in the car.

You’ll Probably Be OK When:

  • Under five minute absence
  • You can park in the shade
  • Your dog has water
  • Moderate temperatures (under 80 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Take extra care with any dogs that are long-haired or short-nosed, as these dogs can’t cool themselves off as well.

Examples of this situation include:

  • Gassing up on a road trip
  • Bathroom breaks while driving
  • Waiting outside the vet’s office if you can’t be in the waiting room
  • Filling out paperwork for a camping or hiking permit

Make Frequent Check-Ins and Use Cooling Devices When:

  • You’ll be gone between five and twenty minutes per absence and temperatures are below 90 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s cooler, your car is in the shade, and you have cooling devices, you can push the check-in frequency closer to every twenty or thirty minutes
  • You can easily check in on your dog
  • You can park in the shade
  • Your dog has water

Examples of this situation include:

  • Getting fast road food during a road trip (do the drive-through if you can, instead)
  • Waiting outside of a dogsport competition

Find Another Way (AKA Don’t Leave Your Dog in a Car) When:

  • Ambient temperature is over 90 degrees Fahrenheit
  • There’s no shade available
  • Your car is dark on the outside and/or inside
  • You’re going to be gone for more than five to ten minutes

Examples of times where it’s unacceptable to leave your dog in the car include:

  • Leaving your dog in the car while you’re shopping or running errands. Just leave your dog at home instead.
  • Leaving your dog in the car while you’re eating a sit-down meal
  • Any time where your dark car will be in full sun, no matter how cool it is outside

Many all-day dog sport competitions also require that your dog can wait in the car because having dogs that aren’t competing inside the ring is very distracting for the dogs competing. Only one dog is competing in a given area at a time.

If you’re competing in multiple rounds or have more than one dog to compete with, you’ll have to find a place for your dog that is not inside the ring. The good news is, companies that work with dog professionals have recognized that there’s a need for gadgets that keep dogs cool and safe in the car in specific situations.

Your first line of defense for keeping your dog cool in the car is to avoid leaving your dog in the car in the first place.

This is kind of an obvious one, but yes – your best option is to simply not leave your dog alone in the car at all!

This might mean having your partner walk the dog while you take a bathroom break or go shopping. You can also attempt to make lunch stops at dog-friendly outdoor cafes, or grab a quick drive-through meal.

But let’s say you’re alone and none of the above options are possible. What next?

Basic Strategies To Keep Your Dog Cool in the Car

Before going out and spending hundreds of dollars on cooling gadgets, you need to cover your basic methods of cooling down your car and keeping your pup safe.

If you know that you’ll need to leave your dog in the car, even for a very brief period of time, ensure that you have these basics:

Provide Plenty of Water. Giving your pup water won’t technically cool her off, but keeping your pup hydrated will keep her safer. Since your pup cools herself by panting, and panting loses a lot of water, your pup needs to have water available if she’s hot! Just remember that dehydration and heat stroke are not the same thing, and your pup can suffer from heat stroke even if she’s drinking plenty of water!

I keep a one-gallon jug of water and a Ruffwear collapsible water bowl in my car at all times. They’re a lifesaver when my dog is thirsty after a hike or if I need to leave him in the car while I go to the bathroom!

Open Windows. We all know that cracking our windows can help our pups out a bit. If there’s a breeze, this is even better. The more you can open your windows, the better. That said, according to a study by the American Association of Pediatrics, rolled-down windows have been shown to have little effect on the temperature inside of cars.

dog-inside-the-car

Window Shades. Getting a reflective windshield shade can help keep your car cooler if you’re unable to park your car in full shade.

Exterior Shade. Parking in the shade is far better than getting a reflective windshield shade. Whenever possible, park your car in the full shade of a tree or building. If this means walking the extra block or two, it’s worth it! Especially if you’re in drier parts of the country, parking in the shade can make a huge difference in temperature.

Check on Your Dog Frequently. There is no substitute for checking on your dog regularly. Even if you spend thousands of dollars on gadgets to keep your dog cool in the car, you need to check in on your pup regularly and minimize the time that your pup is left in the car.

Tinted Windows. They can help keep your pup a bit cooler by reflecting more light away. That said, it’s not cheap to tint your windows after purchase ($100-$400 for your car depending on size of your car and quality of the tint), and each state has a different rule on how tinted your windows can be. Tinting your windows with a highly heat-reflective tint can save you a few degrees in the sun, but this won’t be enough on its own.

Leave the AC On. If you live in a safe area, leave your car running with your AC on and car unlocked. If you’re not comfortable with that, leave your car running with a steering wheel lock on. A final option is that some new cars allow you to lock the car and leave the AC on with the help of an app. Check into your options for leaving your AC on. This option is likely much more reliable than external AC systems.

Leave a Note. While this won’t help keep your pup cool, a note that states the time you left your dog and the time you’ll be back will help calm onlooker’s worries. You can even mention the cooling gadget that you’re using and leave your cell phone number so that Good Samaritans can reach out to you if they’re worried.

Include Visible Car Thermometer. Leaving a visible car thermometer will help soothe worried passers-by that your pup is doing ok, especially if paired with an informative note. At the same time, this visible thermometer can also help let an onlooker know that your pup is not ok in the event of failed cooling systems, allowing them to save your dog in case of emergency.

If you are considering purchasing a car and know that you have a lifestyle where your dog might be in the car a lot (like I do), consider purchasing a white car. I’m constantly surprised how cool my white Saturn Vue stays in the cool compared to my old black Honda Civic.

A study done on car colors in relation to heating found that white cars remain as much as 18 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than black cars (with an average of more like 7 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit).

white car

This option is far from free, and I’m not saying that you should go out and trade in your car tomorrow. But if you’re looking at a new car anyway, the temperature difference between car color is staggering.

Gadgets to Help Keep Your Dog Cool in the Car

When I first left my apartment in Denver to drive to South America with my Border Collie, I quickly realized that I needed more than the basics to keep him cool in the car. We just kept running into hiccups along the road where Barley would be left in the car for up to an hour in Las Vegas or Memphis.

No matter why you need to leave your dog alone in the car, it’s smart to look at different options. Here are our top picks for gadgets to keep your dog cool in the car:

Gadget 1: Monnit Wireless Temperature Sensor

While technically not a way to keep your pup cool in the car, this temperature sensor is a great way to keep track of your pup’s temperature in the car. You can set up temperature parameters and get a text to your phone if the temperature exceeds a certain threshold.

This is great if you’re not sure whether or not your cooling mechanisms are up to the task on a hot day. It’s not cheap, but a temperature monitor is a great way to keep your pup safe and give you peace of mind.

Gadget 2: BreezeGuard Vehicle Window Screens

A great low-tech option is the BreezeGuard Window Screen. This welded half-inch screen is sold in pairs, allowing you to create a crosswind for your dog. Leave your windows fully rolled down without fear of your dog escaping or people reaching their hands into the vehicle.

While they’re not cheap, the BreezeGuard is less likely to break or malfunction than any other option on this list. That said, if it’s an extra hot day with no breeze, the BreezeGuard is unlikely to help much.

Gadget 3: Cool Puppy Aluminum Shade Cloth Panel

One of your most affordable options for keeping your dog cool in the car is the Cool Puppy Aluminum Shade.

This shade comes in a variety of sizes, allowing you to fit the shape of your car. Though it’s big enough to cover your car, it also folds down like a blanket and isn’t very big, which allows you to just keep it in your trunk. It will keep the interior of your car as much as twenty degrees cooler than the outside of your car.

You can use paracord to secure the shade, as it comes with brass grommets every foot. Manufacturers recommend using a stuff sack to keep the Cool Puppy Aluminum Shade from snagging and ripping when you’re not using it.

Keep in mind that not all aluminum panels are the same – ensure that you’re purchasing a shade panel specifically made to keep your car cool!

Gadget 4: The Green Pet Shop Cooling Pad

This cooling pad will keep your pup cool for up to four hours with pressure activated gel technology.

This mat rolls up and is great for crates or sitting on the car seat. It’s perfect for 30 to 50 pound dogs. The mat holds up surprisingly well and is easy to wipe clean if needed.

Buyers noted that the gel inside of the cooling pad will shrink and harden over time, so you may need to purchase a new mat every year or so. That said, this mat is a much smaller upfront cost than many other options on the list, so it’s a valid solution to consider.

Gadget 5: Ruffwear Swamp Cooler Cooling Vest

Similar to the cooling pad above, the Ruffwear Swamp Cooler works using gel technology to keep your pup cool.

Rather than expecting your dog to lie in one place, the Ruffwear Swamp Cooler straps onto your dog’s chest, keeping her cool no matter where she sits. Keep in mind that this vest works best if you pour water on it, so don’t use this if you don’t want to have a damp dog in the car!

As a bonus, the Ruffwear Swamp Cooler is a great way to keep your pup cool on hikes or walks in the summer. It’s fully compatible with other Ruffwear harnesses and has a reflective strip. I’d say this is your best multi-purpose option for keeping a canine cool.

***

There are some other options out there as far as external air conditioner units for your car and solar-powered fans, but my research showed that none of these methods are highly rated by users.

Do your research carefully before spending your money on those gadgets – nothing is more disappointing than spending big bucks on a cooling solution only to have it fail you.

How do you keep your dog cool in the car? Do you have any certain rules or practices when it comes to dogs and cars? We want to hear your tips and tricks!

Disclaimer: All of these methods for cooling your dog can fail. K9 of Mine never recommends leaving your dog unattended in a car, even if the ambient temperatures appear moderate. This article is written based off of personal experiences and discussions and is not meant to be a definitive safety guide. K9 of Mine and Kayla Fratt do not take responsibility for any harm or danger that may come to a dog based off of the information in this article.

Last update on 2018-12-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

About the Author Kayla Fratt

Kayla Fratt is an Associate Certified Dog Behavior Consultant through the IAABC and works as a professional dog trainer through the use of positive reinforcement methods. She also has experience working as a Behavior Technician at Denver Dumb Friends League rehabilitating fearful and reactive dogs.

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