Beating the Summer Heat
September 2, 2016
Summer is coming to an end, but we probably have some hot weather yet to come. You’ve probably read many articles about the dangers of dogs in hot cars, and it is absolutely best to leave your pet at home while running every day errands on a hot day. But there are circumstances where leaving a dog in the car for brief periods can be done safely. For example, I often travel alone with my dogs and need to leave them to get gas, food, or take bathroom breaks. I’d like to give an overview of strategies and products that can help keep a dog cool in this situation. I keep most of these in my car at all times.
The most basic precautions you can take are simple: Shade and water. Leave your pet with plenty of fresh, cold water and try to park in the shade; if you cannot find a shady spot, there are sun shields available in many different materials and sizes to shade your car.
This is the windshield-sized cover I use; it has suction cups to help keep it in place so it won’t blow off and I can attach it to the inside or outside of any window depending on what direction the sun is coming from. This particular model is available at www.cleanrun.com.
I also have a full sized shade tarp that fits over the entire van. Despite its mesh-like design, the reflective material of this tarp does an excellent job of keeping the interior of the car cool. The largest sizes can be draped over a full sized SUV or minivan and has eyelets along the edges and corners to help secure it in place on a windy day. I purchased mine at www.leerburg.com.
One of the things that allows cars to get so hot is lack of air circulation; we don’t want our dogs to escape or people to get in through open windows, so we close them. There are several products that help safely allow and promote air circulation in your car.
A variety of window vents are available at online retailers, both custom- and ready-made products. These allow you to leave windows partially rolled down while preventing a loose dog from escaping or strangers from reaching into your vehicle.
A particular problem of SUVs and minivans is that they do not all have side windows that open, which reduces air circulation in the cargo area where many dogs ride. An ingenious device called a vent lock allows you to leave the back gate partially opened, but locked, by attaching to both the latch and the locking mechanism. This allows air to circulate through the vehicle from the front windows through the back gate.
Vent locks are available in lengths from 4 to 24 inches; mine is 12 inches. Because my dogs are kenneled in the van, I do not have to worry about them slipping through the gap and even this size is too small for a person to wiggle into the van through. If your dog rides loose, you will need to get a shorter vent lock so the gap is smaller. I purchased my vent lock at www.leerburg.com.
Portable, battery-powered fans are widely available and often used for camping. They are a great option for either creating a breeze directly on your pet or promoting air flow throughout your vehicle. You can find them almost anywhere.
Another option for moving AND cooling air is an evaporative cooler, sometimes called a swamp cooler. A container (usually a cooler) is filled with cold water or ice, and a small motor (usually 12 volt) powers a fan that draws cold air out of the container and blows it out of a tube. You can purchase a pre-made unit, a pre-assembled foam cover that trims to fit on any cooler, or you can DIY your own cover if you are handy. I purchased a cover that trimmed to fit a cooler I already had, a very economical option, from www.kooleraire.com. Swamp coolers do NOT air condition a space, but unlike a regular fan they cool the air that blows on you or your pet. When using in a car, they can be plugged into the cigarette lighter or to a pre-charged portable battery unit (as pictured).
I would like to make a final comment about leaving the car running with the air conditioning on, which seems like the simplest solution. There have been numerous cases of air conditioning failing, which leaves a pet in an enclosed car without any way to mitigate the temperature, so if you do this be sure you are either checking very frequently or get a temperature sensor for your vehicle; there are many models that will automatically send an alarm to your smart phone if the temperature exceeds a pre-set limit.
Also, if I leave my pets in the car I always leave a note saying “We’re ok! We have (whatever I’m using that day) to keep us cool while our owner is gone for a few minutes. If you’re worried, call (my cell number)!” I would much rather get a false alarm from someone concerned about my dogs than have them try to break in, possibly injuring themselves or my dogs or allowing my dogs to escape. This also reassures passersby that you have taken precautions and can help prevent angry (and unnecessary) confrontations and accusations.
Again, I’d like to stress that in hot weather it’s really best to leave your pet at home rather than bring them along on errands where they have to sit in the car. But if you find yourself traveling, moving across country, unexpectedly broken down by the side of the road, camping, at a dog sports trial where you need to kennel in the car, or other circumstances, there are tools to keep your dogs out of danger.
Karen Christopherson, DVM CVA