By Kimberly Blaker
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, hundreds of dogs die each year as a result of being left in parked cars. This often occurs when dog owners make a stop with the intent of only being gone a few minutes. Many a dog owner has said to themselves, “Oh, there's no need to worry. I won't let anything get me sidetracked.” But the fact is, getting sidetracked or delayed can happen to anyone. Unfortunately, unforeseen circumstances can and do arise, such as having to wait in a long line, running into someone and getting tied up in a conversation or any number of other scenarios. It takes only a few minutes for a car to heat up to dangerous temperatures.
Many dog owners also believe a car can't get too hot for their dog with the windows cracked open or on a cloudy day. Sadly, these mistaken notions have resulted in countless dog emergencies and deaths.
Car interiors heat up quickly
Studies have found that within only 10 minutes, car interiors can heat up by nearly 20° Fahrenheit. The more time that lapses, the hotter a car gets. At 60 minutes, the car cabin temperature can increase by 45 degrees.
Contrary to popular belief, a study by Lynn I. Gibbs, et al., appearing in the Journal of the Louisiana State Medical Society found there's little difference in the temperature rise between a light-grey minivan with partially opened windows and a dark-colored sedan with the windows closed. In the study, both vehicles heated up by 20° within the first 10 minutes and at one hour had only a 2° temperature difference.
Most charts that show the rise in car cabin temperature start at 70° days. But even a 50° or 60° day can have temperature increases with similar increments. For many dog breeds, particularly those with thick or long hair or short snouts, a car can still heat up enough on these cooler days to cause hyperthermia or heat stroke.
Even for those smart dog owners who would never leave their dog in the car on a warm day, there's still the potential for danger. There have been many documented cases where a dog owner has unintentionally left a dog in the car because the dog is sleeping quietly in the back. To prevent such an incident, always place your dog's leash on top of your purse or in a conspicuous place so when you get out of the car, you're reminded Felix or Fido is in the vehicle.
Exercise in hot or sunny weather poses increased risk
Dogs are also particularly prone to heat exhaustion or heatstroke when they're overexercised, especially during hot weather but also on mild, sunny days. As mentioned above, certain breeds are particularly prone. Always monitor your dog's behavior. If it begins to pant or drool or wants to stop, don't push it. Give your dog the rest and shade it needs.
Signs of hyperthermia or heatstroke in dogs and cats
The signs of heatstroke or hyperthermia are similar in both dogs and cats. A dog doesn't have to experience all the symptoms to be in danger. Any one or more symptoms can be a sign your dog is in distress. The result if not caught and treated quickly could be coma or death.
● excessive drooling
● pale gums
● bright red tongue
● difficulty breathing
● increased heart rate
● irregular heart beat
● little to no urination
● fever, 103° Fahrenheit or more
● heartbeat or breathing stops
● muscle tremors
What to do if your dog overheats
If your dog is experiencing heat exhaustion or shows signs of heatstroke or hyperthermia, you should get your dog out of the heat and sun immediately. Move your dog into some shade or preferably air conditioning.
In addition for dogs, you can use a hose or put the dog in a tub of tepid but not cold water. Since most cats hate baths, instead try just dipping your cat's feet in a sink of tepid water. You can also wet a towel and rub your cat or dog down concentrating especially on the head, neck, and underside of the legs. Although it might sound helpful to feed your dog ice or icy cold water, it's dangerous to cool down an overheated animal in this manner.
What to do if you see a dog left in a hot car
In the United States, there are 13 states with laws about dogs being left in vehicles. The laws vary by state but are in place in Arizona, California, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina. Dog owners should be aware of their state's laws or any state they may be traveling to.
Even in states where laws are not in place, good samaritans can take action to protect or save the life of an animal left in a hot vehicle. If you see a dog left in a parked car in temperatures that could easily escalate inside the cabin, or if an animal shows signs of distress, call 911. Also, you can go into the store where the car is parked and ask that the owner of the vehicle be paged over the store intercom.