There is nothing worse than getting into your car in the dead of summer, for both humans and dogs. The car is hot and it takes a little while to cool down, as sweat drips off of you and your dog pants away. We know never to leave a dog in a car unattended — especially in extreme weather (hot or cold!) — but let’s discuss some other hot car safety for dogs that could help humans feel more comfortable, too.
I know we dog people obsess about keeping the interiors of our cars clean and to that end prefer dark interior upholstery. Bad on our end. According to dog parent Tom Norkiewicz, Engineering Group Manager for Vehicle Development and Traffic Safety for GMC, and his team, the darker your car’s interior, the hotter your car will get. (This goes for exterior too.) The difference can be about +/- 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re worried about keeping the interior clean, get a seat cover!
“Keep upholstery covered when not in use with blankets or by parking your car under the shade,” recommends Amanda Landis-Hannah, DVM, Sr. Manager, Veterinary Outreach, PetSmart Charities. “I live in Phoenix, where the sun is out and strong nearly 300 days a year. I like to keep two large white beach towels in my car at all times. These are great for draping over the interior of the car to keep the upholstery shaded from the hot sun. Always remember to test the area where your dog will be sitting with your bare hand prior to letting them into the car. If the interior is too hot for your hand, it is too hot for your dog. Get the air conditioning going to cool the vehicle, then let your dog inside.”
If you’ve got the money, invest in new tech. Cool your car down by starting your car and its air conditioning by remote before you even get in it. GMC not only has a myGMC app for that, but it also has a Rear Seat Reminder to remind you to check your back seat before exiting the car.
Make your dog-inclusive travel plans in the morning or evening when the temperature isn’t as high.
Shade is your friend: Clean out that garage so that you can actually park your car in it. Don’t have a garage but have a home? Put in a carport. According to HomeAdvisor.com, carports cost an average of $6,658. If you’re renting an apartment, look for one with covered parking, particularly if you live in a part of the country where it’s hot most of the year.
Taking a little extra time to put a reflective sunshade over your interior front window will minimize heat coming through the glass and getting trapped, according to Tom and his team.
Get your dog a nice cooling pad and put it on the car seat before your dog gets in the car. Look for one that is lightweight, easy to clean and has a lasting cooling effect, especially if you are going on a long trip. A cooling jacket and/or bandana can also be used.
This can be a little tricky. You need to keep your dog hydrated, but you don’t want to create a mess in the back seat and have your pet get sick. There are plenty of great travel water dishes out there. We use one that has a little ball on the end, like the water bottle you uses for rabbits and hamsters. If your dog gets car sick, then limit his food and water intake before he gets in the car. Same if your dog has a bladder control issue. Your best bet is to make a few stops if you have a long car ride and keep your dog hydrated with short water and potty breaks.
The biggest takeaway is that no matter how hot it is outside, it can be much hotter in your car. According to GMC, when the temperature rises above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, interior vehicle temperatures can hit up to 175 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lisa Darling, DVM, on-staff veterinarian for PetSmart reminds those that often take their dogs with them when traveling in the summer heat to “park under shaded areas, keep the windows cracked when the car isn’t running and, of course, have cool water available for pups to enjoy during the ride. Prior to getting into the car, make sure your dog does not expend a lot of energy as this will increase his or her temperature in an already-hot vehicle.”
First, assess the situation. Is the dog showing signs of heatstroke or that he’s in critical condition (see below)? Get the car’s information, take a photo of the situation and immediately contact the authorities. You want to use the non-emergency number or call the local animal control or police. (Always store these numbers in your phone.)
In some states, it is legal to rescue a pet in visible distress. If it is legal in your state, remove the dog from the car if you can and get him into air conditioning with cool water to drink. For some states, it is legal for law enforcement to break into the car to rescue the dog, so you need a law enforcement officer on the scene. (See list of states at Animal Legal Defense Fund’s website.)
If the dog is not in critical condition, take down the car’s information (license plate, make and model), take a photo of the situation and look for the owner of the vehicle. If you are in the parking lot of a specific business, find the manager and ask them to page the owner of the car. Wait by the car and monitor the dog until someone comes. If you can’t find the driver in a short amount of time, call the non-emergency number for the police or the local animal control.
Thumbnail: Touch the seat before placing your dog in the car to see how hot the seat is. Ensure your dog’s safety by using a crash-tested and approved car harness to buckle him in the back seat. Photography courtesy of GMC.
Read more about keeping dogs cool this summer on Dogster.com:
Melissa Kauffman is the executive editor of Dogster. Her dogs often go in the car with her, even during North Carolina’s hot summer days. She’ll be using every one of these tips.