Dear Dr. Sip and Melissa,
I know that I shouldn’t keep my dog in a hot car, even for a minute. I have seen the scary videos and the warnings on social media. However, there have been some outdoor agility competitions in my neck of the woods. It’s fun to watch the dogs compete, but then I see the dogs loaded back into the cars and trucks after they run and it seems dangerous! How is this safe? Is it recommended?
Delilah in Bar Harbor
Dr. Sip: Yes - in the past we have waxed on and on about how unsafe it is to keep a dog in a car when the temperatures start to rise for all the many reasons you’ve seen on social media, heard on the news, or read from us.
Melissa: We still stand by the simple fact that if you are leaving your pet, any pet, alone in a car as the sun and temperatures rise, your pet is at risk of dehydration, heat stroke, or death.
Dr. Sip: But we do also recognize that those warnings are targeted to the average dog owner running in for Grande Half-Caf Slurpy that nearly always takes longer than expected, and the dog suffers. Sometimes fatally.
Melissa: There are people all over this country (I used to be one of them!) who compete in canine athletic competitions with their pets, and yes - those pets are sometimes kept in cars.
Dr. Sip: In the summer.
Dr. Sip: From a medical standpoint, if there is a safe method to keeping dogs cool in a car, then the problems with heat stroke, dehydration, etc. are all minimized.
Melissa: From a trainer’s perspective, keeping a dog crated in a car that has been safely cooled off is actually preferred, if the alternative is more stressful for the dog. Some dogs don't appreciate strangers popping over to say hi, or are easily set off by dogs barking in nearby tents.
Dr. Sip: Again, we have to stress that what we are about to describe are techniques that sports handlers and competitors use to keep their dogs and cars at a cooler temperature.
Melissa: Much like our friends Patrolman Swartz and Blitz of the Taunton Police Department, their circumstances require specialized equipment. If you are using this equipment, you probably aren’t (or at least, shouldn't be) running into Walmart for a quick trip.You are parked in the shade, and have spent upto thirty minutes setting up your protective gear, and you plan to be there all day. Officer Swartz’s words bear repeating:
“I want to stress that these systems are a back-up to (my) vigilance. The best protection we provide for our K9 partners is to always monitor the car ourselves."
Dr. Sip: Nine times out of ten you wouldn’t leave your vehicle unlocked, doors open, windows down with this stuff if you were running errands in suburbia.
Melissa: Case in point: My friend Tracy Ehrenberg has used this set up many times to keep her dogs cool at competitions, but you wouldn't break this out in the Trader Joe's parking lot.
Dr. Sip: I have seen the giant tin foil-like blankets similar to the ones marathoners get, but for a Nissan.
Melissa: The Aluminet is very popular with agility trainers. CleanRun.com is a great website dedicated to agility and competitive sports and they sell many kinds of shade cloths for cars.
Dr. Sip: The key here is that all the windows are fully down. Not a crack. Not an inch. Down all the way, which allows for maximum airflow. Shade cloths reflect the sunlight away from the car, which keeps the interior of the car much cooler.
Melissa: In addition to the shade cloth, trainer Liz Shaw also uses a double crate from TransK9. It’s a lockable crate that’s custom fit to the inside of her car. This prevents people from stealing the dogs. She can keep the hatch open and there is an escape hatch in the event of an accident. She has a mountable fan but she mentioned she hasn’t had to use it because with the shade cloth, windows down, and crate, the dogs are plenty cool.
Dr. Sip: One other thing that both Liz and Tracy mentioned to us, that I find particularly important, is the dogs are not put back in the car “hot.” They cool the dogs off with a walk after their event, offer plenty of water and many competitors even use a pool or cooling vest to bring the dog’s temperature down before putting them back in the car. The car with the windows down, parked in the shade, with a reflective car blanket.
Melissa: All the competitors we asked said the same thing: Park in the shade, keep windows down, and get a shade cloth.
Dr. Sip: So what's the moral?
Melissa: We will always recommend you should leave your pet at home instead of in a hot vehicle, even for a minute...
Sip: unless you are fully prepared with fancy schmancy equipment, which is is pretty expensive...
Melissa: ...And unless, you are in a place where you can keep your windows all the way down.
Dr. Sip: Which means your pet is in a crate in the car so they don’t jump out, kill the interior of your car, or take your hatchback out for a joyride.
Melissa: In short:
- Dog is in a crate
- Windows are FULLY down and hatchback door is wide open
- The car is parked in the shade
- Shade cloths are in use for the windows and dashboard
- There is plenty of water to drink, and even an option for the dogs to cool off in a pool or trough
- The dog is never put in the car without cooling him or her down first
- Consider mounted fans
Dr. Sip: Even with all these precautions, it’s critical to know the signs of heat stroke and what to do with your pet in the event of an emergency. And know where the nearest animal hospital is at all times.
Melissa: For more ideas, the Dog Sport Vehicle Ideas on Facebook is a great resource.
Thank you to all the sports enthusiasts and competitors that helped us out with this piece! Liz Shaw with Breton and Jura compete in herding trials in the Northeast; Tracy with Q compete in disc dogs around the country; Judy Wu with Rowan are agility superstars in the Pacific Northwest; Chris Magruder competes in disc dogs and dock diving with Harper and Mojo. Thank you SO much for your contributions!
More about Dr. Sip (who is a practicing veterinarian in Berkeley, CA) and Trainer Melissa (who wrote “Considerations for the City Dog”) and can be found here. We love questions! If you have one, ask away!