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Hot Cars: A Reminder That Pets Can’t Wait

It’s sad but true: Every year, pets die trapped inside hot cars. And it doesn’t end with the loss of life for a pet. Pet owners whose animals die in their parked cars can face criminal charges.

While most pet owners know that leaving their pet in a hot car isn’t a good idea, it’s still a prevalent problem. Some common excuses include: “It isn’t that hot out!” or, “I’m just popping in the store for a minute.” Whatever the reason, vets often need to remind pet owners to keep their pups at home or by their side.

Here are a few facts about hot cars you can share with your clients, to make sure this summer is better than the last.

The Science of Why Dogs and Cats Overheat So Quickly

Humans sweat to keep cool, but furry animals don’t have sweat glands. Dogs rely on panting to cool down — breathing out the hot air in their lungs and replacing it with cooler air from their surroundings. When cats get hot, they lick their fur, and the evaporating saliva has a similar effect to sweat. These methods help, but they’re no match for the sweltering temperatures inside a car on a spring or summer day.

Some breeds are more susceptible than others. Labrador retrievers and brachycephalic breeds, like boxers and bulldogs, have an elevated risk of heatstroke. The same goes for obese dogs, and the American Veterinary Medical Association reports that approximately 25% of American dogs are obese.

Why Cracking the Window Isn’t Enough

Cracking the windows barely affects the temperature inside the car.

The temperature inside a stopped car can go up by 20°F in just 10 minutes. And even if it’s not that hot outside, cars absorb heat — on a 70°F day, the temperature inside a car can rapidly reach over 100°F. Here’s a handy chart provided by the AVMA that shows just how much hotter it gets inside a car over a very short period of time.

Studies of military dogs have shown that a core body temperature of 105°F puts dogs at risk of heatstroke and brain damage. What’s more, humidity makes panting less effective — another strike against the stifling conditions inside of a parked car.

Ok, how about leaving the air conditioning running? Even if a pet owner feels comfortable leaving their car battery on, that’s not a safe solution. Air conditioning can easily fail, and provide a false sense of security for pet owners who are busy with their errands.

But What If I NEED My Pet to Come with Me?

Remember — dogs always think they want to come with you, but they don’t realize the long, boring wait they’re going to endure. They’d be happier at home in the air conditioning, maybe with some classical music playing (studies have shown that dogs are fancy).

  • Here’s a bit of a silver lining for pet owners: Due to the pandemic, many businesses are offering curbside service.

  • If there’s no chance of curbside services or delivery, pet owners can call ahead to ask if a business is pet friendly. There are also websites devoted to compiling handy lists of pet-friendly businesses:

  • When visiting a business that doesn’t welcome furry companions, pet owners should find a shady spot to secure their dog’s leash. But the outside has its own set of dangers. Hot asphalt can burn paws, and dog-napping is an all-too-common occurrence.

  • Make sure that pets have plenty of water to sip while they wait.

What to Do if Your Dog Gets Too Hot

Dogs that have heatstroke may walk unsteadily, throw up, collapse, or have seizures. If an animal is exhibiting any of these symptoms, they need to visit a veterinary ER right away.

Before heatstroke sets in, dogs might show signs of heat stress. Dogs who might be too hot should receive the following first aid:

  • It is essential to cool them down slowly — dogs immediately exposed to cold temperatures after overheating might go into shock.

  • If possible, they should relocate to somewhere with shade or air conditioning.

  • Towels soaked in cool, not cold, water can be applied to the back of the neck, armpits, groin, paws, and ears. Sprinkling water works in the absence of towels.

  • If there’s a fan available, owners should direct it toward the cool-water zones.

  • Sipping on water also alleviates heat stress.

  • Pet owners who are at all uncertain about their dog’s symptoms should connect with their vet. TeleTails can help pet owners get a valuable second opinion on their pet’s heat stress symptoms.

What to Do if You See a Dog or Cat in a Hot Car

As the charts and information mentioned here hopefully make clear, there is no safe amount of time to leave a pet in a car during the warmer months. Bystanders should absolutely take reasonable steps if they see dogs inside parked cars.

  • If the car is parked outside a store, go inside and ask the manager to announce the car’s license plates (and the pet stuck inside) over the loudspeaker.

  • Bystanders can also contact their local animal control, or simply dial 911 to report an animal welfare emergency.

It might feel a bit pushy or like an overstep of normal boundaries, but it’s essential to remember that hot cars put an animal’s life at risk. The more people who report pets stuck in cars, the fewer sad news reports we’ll have to see. Errands can wait, but pets can’t.

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