As a responsible dog owner, I’d never leave my precious pooch unattended in a parked car. Even when it’s not high summer, temperatures can soar quickly and dogs can quickly become uncomfortable. An outside temperature of just 70F can soar to over 100F in just 30 minutes, which can be life-threatening for furry friends. According to the American Kennel Club, you should never leave a dog alone in the car, even with the windows cracked. In some states, it’s even illegal.
With my Springer Spaniel Olly, though, I found myself facing a slightly different problem – what happens when the car is not stationary but travelling and your pooch is still getting too hot? I might pack plenty of dog treats for journeys, but what about keeping the poor fella cool?
Surviving long journeys
I’m lucky enough to live partly in France, and regularly take the 15-hour drive from the north of the UK to the south of France over a couple of days. Olly has always accompanied me. In fact, the trips wouldn’t be the same without him! He travels in the trunk with a dog guard in place. There’s plenty of room back there and he can stretch out and snooze the journey away.
There’s one problem, though – when we travel in the summer and sit on the highway for hours, the sun beats down through the rear windshield and turns the back of the car into a greenhouse. Even when we have the air con on full blast, it doesn’t always carry through to the rear of the car as we have lots of bags on the rear seat which can block the airflow.
We even started carrying a thermometer in the rear linked to a phone app – and although the temperature never rose dangerously high, it did get borderline uncomfortable.
What the experts say
Dogs don’t sweat in the same way that humans do to cool themselves. The only options for hot dogs to keep cool are to pant or release heat through their nose or paw pads, which are not nearly as effective. Breeds with thick, shaggy coats like Olly’s are more at risk, too.
A top tip from the Blue Cross is to consider having dogs groomed at the start of the summer season as regular grooming and a tangle-free coat help your dog to regulate his own temperature. The experts at the UK's Battersea Dogs Home also advise that you should try and cool your car down and have the air conditioning on before putting your dog in. Avoid traveling at hotter times of the day and consider traveling when there is less traffic, so you don’t get stuck for long periods of time.
Despite following all this expert advice, the car journey had become a worry and one that had started even before we got Olly. We trialed a range of solutions, some of which were more efficient than others. Here’s what we found worked for us to keep a dog cool in the car when the heat is on.
My five car cooling essentials
We invested in a small battery-operated clip-on fan, which attached to the side of the rear headrest and directed a cooling draught into the trunk. Both Monty and latterly Olly have loved this, and would sit twisting their heads into the draught and letting their ears blow back in the breeze. Both my dogs were mature adults by the time we introduced this, though, and it wouldn’t be advisable for a nosy or nibbly puppy. The blades do have a safety cover, but the unit itself is chewable!
Neither of our dogs have been very interested in cool mats in the house, but both have been happy to lie on them in the car. These mats are activated by pressure and the cool feeling lasts up to three hours. They’re non-toxic and safe to leave with your pet. As the space in the trunk is generous, we tend to choose a mat size that will cover half the area because then Olly has the option not to lie on the mat if he doesn’t want to.
If you haven’t heard of cool bandanas, they’re on exactly the same lines as cool coats. They’re made of a special material which, when wetted, holds the water and cools via evaporation. We decided not to go for a full-on cool coat, as it would be less comfortable to wear for longer periods, would make the back of the car soggy and would potentially be tricker to reactivate on journeys.
Cool bandanas, which fit around the dog’s neck, can be efficient as they cool the blood in the two large arteries at the side of the neck. It’s vital not to let them dry out, though. In fact, once dry, they’ll actually have a warming effect! We find it easy to stop every hour or so and just top it up from a small water bottle. We also don’t leave it on for hours at a time.
Hydration is a must, and a good quality travel water bowl is essential for any canine explorer. We found out from experience that it’s worth investing in a non-spill model that’s specifically designed for journeys, or you’ll end up with a wet trunk and a thirsty dog! The best ones have a heavy base and floating inner disk, which stops water slopping over the edge. Remember to carry a spare bottle of water for top-ups.
Here’s a budget option – wet towels. On particularly hot days, we roll wet towels in a plastic bag with a few ice cubes. When we stop, we drape them over Olly for 10 minutes to cool him down before continuing. This only really works for one day because as soon as the towels warm up or dry out they’re no good, but it’s a simple and efficient system that doesn’t cost anything.
As we travel so much we also invested in having the rear windshield tinted to help block out the sun. For a temporary solution, you could use stick-on blinds.
We also tried adding ice to the water bowl and giving frozen treats, but neither of our dogs have been interested in those. They may work for other adventurous canines! These days, we’re much happier with Olly’s travelling conditions and confident that he’ll arrive at his destination cool, rested and ready to go – which is more than we are!
Are you sure you can spot the signs of heatstroke in dogs? Take a look at our vet’s guide on how to cool a dog down for advice.
Get the best advice, tips and top tech for your beloved Pets
Sara is a freelance journalist and copywriter of many years’ experience with a lifelong love of animals. She’s written for a range of magazines and websites on subjects varying from pet care to travel. A horse rider since the age of five, she’s currently a full time pet slave to horse Blue and gorgeous, goofy English Springer Spaniel Olly. Adorable Olly has a huge sense of adventure and no sense of direction, keeping Sara on her toes.