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Alarming Heat Build Up Inside An RV [ATTN: PET OWNERS]

| Updated Jun 20, 2023

If you are a pet owner, you need to know the dangerous facts about heat build up inside an RV.

The temperature within an RV is a hurdle that virtually every RV owner has to face at one point or another. Whether it be while dry camping or simply parking your RV in a parking lot for an extended day trip, keeping it cool inside can be a struggle. And, in the case of dog owners, this can also be an incredibly dangerous challenge to face.

We all know that sometimes you need to leave your dog or cat unattended in the RV.

Maybe you want to go visit a museum, or you have to go into the store for some groceries, etc. Leaving the dog behind can be inevitable–but also dangerous for the pup. So, let’s talk about heat inside your RV, what it can do, and how you can regulate it.


How Fast Heat Can Build Up Inside An RV?

Have you ever left your car parked on a very hot day, and came back to it being a complete sauna inside? You can’t grip the steering wheel due to the heat, and the feeling is sweltering? Well, this is an issue that virtually everyone in warm weather areas faces throughout the spring and summer.

Let’s just talk about cars themselves for a second. A study conducted by Arizona State University tested how fast heat can build up inside a vehicle if left in the sun during a hot day. The findings were astounding, and alarming at the same time.

The researchers found that within as little as 1 hour the internal average temperature of the tested vehicle exceeded 116°f (47°c). This also had the seats themselves reaching a staggering 123°f (50°c). This of course is pretty blistering if you need to sit inside it for an extended period of time. But, the damage didn’t stop there.

Researchers also found that even when a vehicle is parked in the shade, on very hot days, the internal temperature can reach up to 100°f (37°f), within a single hour of being parked. It’s not hard to imagine how this can affect your pup if they are left to chill out inside of it. But, of course, this is done with cars themselves. So, how does this translate to RVs?

Well, the study itself didn’t test RV’s specifically. But it did find that heat buildup was slowed down slightly depending on the size of the vehicle. Larger vehicles tended to heat slower than smaller vehicles.

But, the difference in time wasn’t drastic. In truth, an average RV can get up to sweltering heat within as little as 1-2 hours. This spells danger to any pets that are left inside during that time. So, how do you deal with it?


How to Keep Your RV Cool

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doggies from RV Lifestyle Supporter Ann – thanks!

Our team here at RV Lifestyle makes it our mission to research and relay valuable information about being an RV traveler and camper.

You can find some helpful tips and tricks about staying cool in your RV on our blog already. But, we want to take the time to really dive into how to keep your RV cool for your pets specifically. This is because some of the ways you keep cool are not how they keep cool.

You see, dogs and other pets cannot sweat as humans do.

They do not have natural internal and external cooling systems. They must pant and conserve energy by sleeping in order to keep themselves from overheating. These issues quickly become deadly when they are exposed to prolonged heat of extreme temperatures. In fact, research shows that dogs can be in danger within just 6 minutes in extreme heat.

Now for those who have A/C units within their RV, you might feel like this is a non-issue. After all, you can simply regulate the temperature inside without a hitch. This, of course, is generally true. However, there is always the risk of the A/C going out while you are gone. Whether it’s through faulty components or your generator going dry.

 So, how do you keep your RV cool naturally when dealing with hot weather states or warm months?


Increase Airflow

Increasing airflow is one of the best ways that you can keep your RV cooler during the hot seasons. Now, you do not want to keep all of your windows open. This can lead to a more stagnant heat inside the RV. You in fact want to build a kind of ‘wind tunnel’ inside your RV to help air move freely.

This involves having a window in the front and the back opened for maximum intake and outtake of air throughout the RV. This is really aided by an installed ceiling fan whenever possible. Speaking of which…


Get and Use Fans

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 Ideally, you should have methods of circulating air throughout the RV in an efficient method. If you are running on solar power you can likely run your ceiling fan and circulating fans without a problem for a few hours at a time. You can read all about how we recommend you improve ventilation in your RV here.

In general, you want to have a ceiling fan, and several personal fans throughout your RV to help move air around. This reduces temperatures and keeps your RV safer inside for your dog.


Block the Windows

Have you ever seen on TV when a child (usually being a menace), uses a magnifying glass to burn anthills? This principle works by refracting the light to create intense heat. This can happen on a much larger scale within your RV. The windows themselves will act as a magnifying glass to enhance the rays of the sun and create rapidly generating heat inside.

With this in mind, it’s important to remember to keep your windows blocked when parked during a hot day. This can be through RV fabric awnings over the windows, or through purchasing actual window shields. Blocking out the sun using something like Reflectix will be a great way to keep the inside of the RV cool for you and for your puppy.


Heat Build Up inside an RV? Park in the Shade

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This is our dog Recreation Vehicle, he's a 5-year-old Coton mix rescue, we call him “RV”, for short. – Nancy, an RV Lifestyle Member


This is kind of a ‘no brainer’ but we felt like it needs to be mentioned anyway. Despite the shade not being perfect for eliminating heat buildup, it still does a bang-up job of helping to slow it. So, that is why you should always be conscious of where you are parking your RV if you are going to need to leave the dog behind.

Parking in the shade will help to cut down on the direct sunlight that your RV is exposed to. This in turn helps to slow the buildup of heat pretty well. Even in the absence of shaded parking, you should still aim to park your RV in a direction that avoids your largest windows facing the sun.

Keep your windshields and side windows oriented away from direct sunlight whenever possible.


Leave Plenty of Water

Dogs need water to stay hydrated–of course. They also use water to keep themselves cool whenever the heat gets to be a bit too much to bear. Just like with us, a nice cool drink will help cool them off as well.

 You should always leave behind 1-2 extra bowls of water for them to drink. They will get thirsty and running out of water is not a simple fix for their little paws. So, make sure you are keeping your dog hydrated with more water than you think they need. It’s better to be safe than sorry!


Avoid Traveling With Dogs During Hot Months

This may be a bit harsh, but sometimes it’s best to leave the pup behind.

This is for their own safety. If you plan on going to places that do not allow dogs, it may be best to leave your dog somewhere that they can safely be allowed. RV life tends to be quite flexible, and often you will have choices on where you go and when you go there.

This should help you plan to avoid the hottest areas and timeframes if you absolutely must travel with your dog.

Many dog owners will take their RVs to cooler destinations when traveling with a pet.

This means avoiding places like Arizona or Texas during the peak of summer. It can mean the difference between life and death for your dog. Otherwise, it may be best to find a dog-sitter while you are traveling just to be safe and sure.


Final Thoughts on Pet safety heat build up inside an RV

heat build up inside an RV
Photo by gotdaflow on Unsplash

Pets are extensions of our families, we all know that.

That is why keeping them happy and safe is always of the utmost importance for us. When it comes to living the RV lifestyle, you need to work around your pets as much as you can. They cannot keep cool and protect themselves as easily as we can.

So, always bear in mind how hot the inside of an RV can get, and do your best to keep your dog out of that heat. But if you must leave them behind, always take serious measures towards keeping the inside of your RV cool.


This question came into our RV Lifestyle Facebook Group from Dorene, who asks: “Newbie here! What do you do about leaving a dog alone in an RV for a few hours?”

ANSWER: With Bo, our Norwegian Elkhound, we use a technology tool to give us peace of mind that when Bo is in the RV and we are working out or out to dinner or taking a hike where pets are not allowed, that we can know that the temperature is safe for him. It’s called the Nimble Pet Safety Temperature Monitor. It's made for RVers who worry about leaving a dog alone in an RV. (read the full question and answer about this right here).


Thinking about your upcoming travel plans? 

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Mike Wendland

Published on 2021-02-12

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

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