All across North America, summer time temperatures can exceed 80, 90 or even 100 degrees in some areas. While these sunny days may be great for sunbathers and swimmers, the heat can prove deadly for our pets, especially when left inside cars. A “quick” trip to the store often results in owners finding pets suffering from heatstroke and near death.
Many pets, especially our dogs, love to go for car rides. Unfortunately, this favored activity can turn deadly when warmer temperatures arrive and when owners misjudge the amount of time they will be away from the car. Each year numerous stories of dogs dying in hot cars are reported by local media.
When confronted with the fact that their pet’s death was likely preventable, most owners will respond with statements like “I didn’t think I would be gone that long” or that they “didn’t know it was THAT warm outside”. When looking at the facts, the reality of just how quickly the inside of a car can heat up, even in mild temperatures, can produce some startling revelations for pet lovers.
It’s probably common sense to most people that hotter days cause the inside of a car to heat up faster, but few people realize that even with outside temperatures as low as 65 or 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the inside of the vehicle will warm uncomfortably in just 30 minutes. In fact, on a 75 degree day, your car’s interior will be at 100 degrees in about 10 minutes and a blistering 120 degrees in 30 minutes. Despite urban myths, cracking the windows has little effect on the rate of heating inside the car.
But, it’s not just the heat of the day that is an issue. Your pet’s overall health status and behavior can also contribute to how quickly he will overheat in the car. Veterinarians across the country have posted stories online about cases in which dogs have died when left in cars on days where the temperature never exceeded 60 degrees. Short faced breeds, like Pugs and Bulldogs, as well as obese pets, heavy coated breeds and senior animals will have less tolerance for extreme temperatures. In addition, excitable animals and those with separation anxiety issues may work themselves into a frenzy, raising their body temperature to dangerous levels.
When in doubt, it’s always best to leave your pet at home. It’s far too easy for a quick trip to become complicated and take more time than you intended.
Across the Internet, many well-intentioned people and groups will post pictures and posters that highlight the dangers of leaving pets in cars and education is a great thing. Sadly, though, the discussions on these sites about what individuals will do if they find a pet locked in a car can often turn into dangerous arenas of misinformation. People will recommend breaking into cars to save the dogs or even taking the pets away from the owner.
Currently, 14 states specifically have laws that prohibit leaving animals “unattended and confined” in a motor vehicle when physical injury or death is likely to result. While that is a great thing, it does NOT give ordinary citizens the right to smash windshields or take the pet from the car. Most of these states have included rescue provisions that empower police, peace officers, fire and rescue workers or animal control officers to use reasonable force to remove an animal in distress.
So, what should you, as an animal lover and Good Samaritan do if you come across a pet confined in a car? First, if you are in a store parking lot, consider contacting the management of the store or even security. It may be possible to page the pet’s owner and have them return to the vehicle. Next, call 911 and try to get the local authorities involved. This action will help lessen your liability if the pet is injured during the rescue attempt or happens to escape. Allow the police or legally designated person to open the vehicle. Finally, realize that not every animal in a car is actually in distress. As mentioned above, some pets may appear frantic, but others will lie quietly while waiting for their owners. It’s important to stay calm and not overreact.
Most importantly, if your pet is overheated seek veterinary attention immediately. Many lives are saved through proper medical care but waiting can be fatal.
For more information on making sure your dog stays cool, visit: www.MyDogIsCool.com
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Dr. Brenda Johansen is a licensed veterinarian and graduate of the University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Veterinary Medicine. She practices at Harmony Pet Clinic in Waukesha, WI and visits all Wisconsin Central Bark® locations monthly to provide veterinary services.