Expert reveals how to keep a dog cool in the car this summer

Dog in car
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's that time of year again when knowing how to keep a dog cool in the car becomes super important. While it may not seem like it when you're driving along, parked cars can act like a greenhouse and trap the sun's heat. So although it may only be 23 degrees celsius outside, the interior of a stationary car can reach 47 degrees celsius in just 10 minutes.

Knowing how to travel with a dog to keep them cool, calm, and comfortable is vital for both their physical and mental wellbeing. According to canine behaviorist Anna Webb, if your dog is relaxed while you're traveling, they'll be less likely to feel hot as raised cortisol levels increase body temperature and thirst.

While learning how to cool down a dog can be incredibly helpful in the warmer months, one of the best things you can do for your dog's health is to avoid having them overheat in the first place. And to assist you in doing just that, Webb has kindly shared her top 10 tips for how to keep your dog cool in the car this summer. Let's take look...

How to keep a dog cool in the car

With the weather heating up, Webb says that it's more important than ever to be mindful of what our pets need from us in order to stay happy and healthy. 

“During a time where we will be making the most of the warmer weather, it’s important to remember that we share our homes and our cars with our pets, so we must keep their needs in mind. It can take under an hour for a dog to be pushed to the brink by extreme heat, and that time comes around so much faster when they are in a warm car. Pet owners need to be aware of the dangers so they can help protect their pups.”

To help you ensure your dog stays cool, calm, and comfortable when traveling in the car over the summer months, Webb has shared the following tips:

1. Never leave your dog in a stationary car

If you're wondering how to avoid dog heatstroke, Webb has the answer. "Never leave your dog in a stationary car, even with the windows open, or in the shade, as the car turns into a greenhouse. When it’s 22ºC outside in a stationary vehicle, without air conditioning, temperatures ‘in car’ can reach 47ºC in fewer than 10 minutes."

Your dog's size will also have an impact on how hot they feel. "A dog’s body temperature is always two degrees celsius hotter than ours, with normal levels between 38.3 – 39.2 degrees celsius," explains Webb. "Small dogs tend to run hotter as they have faster metabolisms than larger dogs."

2. Help your dog adjust to traveling in warmer weather

"De-sensitize your dog to traveling in the car before any long journey, but especially when it’s hot," Webb advises. "Signs that your dog is feeling the heat (or going hyperthermic) will be excessive panting, drooling and restlessness. A dog that’s relaxed in the car will be less likely to feel hot. Raised cortisol levels increase a dog’s body temperature and thirst."

3. Invest in the right kit

Panting French Bulldog dog wearing cooling vest harness to lower body temperature on hot summer day

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"Cooling vests and mats work to keep your dog’s underbelly nice and chilled," says Webb. "Make sure your dog is ‘carrier-trained’ for maximum comfort. Carriers should be well-ventilated and spacious enough for your pooch to turn around."

4. Use treats

"Use tasty treats to help train your dog to enjoy their cooling accessories in their carrier (or seat belt) indoors first," Webb advises. "Make the acclimatising sessions very short and always finish on a positive note. Your dog could get stressed or bored in the car and chew the cooling mat and/or the vest — becoming more stressed and even hotter.

Cooling vests should be soaked in cold water before you put them on your pet. The simple process of evaporation from the heat of the dog dries the vest, cooling them down.  They do need to be re-dampened — maybe combine this with a comfort break for the dog (or for you) at the services."

5. Create a calm atmosphere

Webb suggests combining indoor travel practice sessions with calming sounds, like the Škoda Happy Hounds’ playlist. "Association with positive experiences indoors, like this calming playlist, will help your dog relax. When you’re confident your dog is calm in their pet carrier with their cooling ‘kit’ and the playlist, transfer them to the car. Gradually extend the time with the engine off and the engine on. At the first sign of any stress, including panting or drooling, stop! Try again tomorrow…"

6. Turn the air conditioning on

"Before setting off, check that your air-conditioning is reaching the back seat," says Webb. "If not, or if your dog travels in the boot, securely attach some portable fans to encourage air circulation and cooling."

7. Make frequent stops

Dog drinking water from bottle

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"Take regular comfort breaks in the shade so your dog keeps cool," suggests Webb. "Avoid tarmac and concrete paths — both absorb heat and can burn bare paw-pads. Be mindful to park your car in a shady spot and think of windscreen sun shades to help keep your car cool."

8. Travel during cooler parts of the day

"In summer months, travel in the cooler times of the day — early morning or evening. Make sure your car is roadworthy to minimize concerns of breaking down in the heat."

9. Be prepared

"Take your dog’s drinking bowl or a portable bowl, but check your dog will drink from it before you set off!," advises Webb. "Take a cool bag with plenty of fresh bottled water and a flask of ice cubes. Simply melting an ice cube on your dog’s gums cools them very quickly, or just offering an ice cube to lick and crunch is fun on your comfort break. Keep a wet towel in your cool bag. If your dog overheats, wrap them in the cool towel and keep dampening it with cold water. Do this in the shade or in a cool room. Pouring water directly on your dog is ineffective as it simply runs off and evaporates."

10. Encourage your dog to drink up

"Frequently, an overheated dog will refuse to drink. This is their instinct kicking in as they associate drinking with peeing, which means they would lose body fluids," explains Webb. To avoid dehydration in dogs, Webb recommends packing an isotonic hydration drink especially for dogs, or some pre-packed broth, in your cool bag.  "Both contain electrolytes and minerals, along with a meaty flavour, which will get your dog drinking and hydrate them quickly."

Looking for ways to keep your dog's paws in tip-top condition over the sizzling summer months? We've got you covered in our roundup of the top five natural ways to moisturize dog paws.

Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.