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The Dangers Of Leaving Dogs In Cars

Updated: Jan 12, 2021

Guest Blog by : Melissa Kauffman

Regardless of the temperature outside, it’s never ok to leave a dog inside a car. Why? Deaths happen fast in cars as temperatures rise. In fact, it takes just six minutes, at most, for an animal to suffer severe heat exhaustion. This can lead to death.

Remember also that the most common way for dogs to cool themselves down is by panting making it extra hard for them to beat the heat.

The Stats

The research speaks for itself. Pets die quickly in hot cars, even with the windows cracked slightly open. In fact, it’s questionable whether open windows even help the situation, with 80% of the final temperature increase happening in the last 30 minutes.

A cracked window will not help this, the damage is already done. Internally, the temperature can reach double that outside, even on milder days, and on the hotter days, it can exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit inside a car, no matter whether you park it in the shade or how cloudy it is outside.

Even in the winter months, the internals of cars can get uncomfortably hot. It’s called the ‘greenhouse effect’ as the car traps the sun’s heat through the glass windows much like a greenhouse does.

What is Heatstroke?

Heatstroke, also known as heat stress, can occur any time throughout the year, despite many believing pets can only succumb to the condition in summer.

A state of hyperthermia, heatstroke can cause injury to the body’s tissues as the internal temperature rises above the normal range.

Despite people brushing the condition off as minor and something that can be bounced back from, heatstroke is a very serious and at times, life-threatening condition. Symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • Panting (a dog’s natural way to cool themselves down. However this can actually increase heatstroke progress).

  • Drooling

  • Agitation

  • Very red or very pale gums

  • Bright red tongue

  • Breathing distress

  • Increased heart rate

  • Vomiting

  • Signs of mental confusion

  • Dizziness or staggering

  • Lethargy or weakness

  • Collapsing and lying down

  • Seizures or muscle tremors

Do Different Breeds React Differently to Heat?

Another important thing to remember is that breeds react to heat differently. Breeds with flat faces, otherwise known as brachycephalic anatomy, are predisposed to heatstroke. Dogs such as Pugs, English Bulldogs, and French Bulldogs among others are most susceptible. Also, dogs with thick or long hair coats tend to suffer more than others.

In addition to the breed, if a dog suffers from specific pre-existing conditions such as heart or breathing problems or neurological disease, they can be more prone to suffering from heatstroke.

What to do if Your Dog is Suffering from Heatstroke?

Dogs suffering from heatstroke require immediate attention, which is why leaving them in a parked car is so problematic. Within six minutes, dogs can begin to go into distress as the temperatures rise inside. Six minutes really isn’t a long time, even for one simple errand.

If you see a dog in distress, Pete Wedderburn, BVM&S CertVR MRCVS, who is on the advisory board for We're All About Pets, gives the following advice: “Immediately remove them from the overheated environment and apply cool water onto the animal’s fur either by pouring it over the dog, draping cold wet towels over them, or getting the dog to paddle in water.. Don’t use ice-cold water though as this can worsen the problem by causing constriction of superficial blood vessels, paradoxically reducing the amount of heat lost by the overheated pet. Use air flow (e.g. an electric fan directed at the dog or an open car window as you drive to the vet) to maximize heat loss. Once the dog has calmed down, take it immediately to the nearest vet for a full check.”

Summing up

Despite the constant messaging on not leaving pets in parked cars, animal advocacy groups still receives thousands of calls about distressed animals left alone in vehicles.

Even on the cooler days, internal temperatures can rise twice as high as that outside. A Stanford University study found that even with an external temperature as low as 72 degrees Fahrenheit, a car’s internal temperature can rise to more than 110 degrees within an hour.

As a dog’s body temperature rises, there are dangers to its cells and organs. As organs begin to shut down, the animal can go into shock. Without immediate action, the dog can die.

What’s the lesson? If you think you may have to leave your dog in the car, don’t take them at all. Leave them in the comfort and safety of their own home. For dogs, playing at home, even when left alone, is much better than being stuck in a car, even for a minute.

Pets and People, Saving Each Other

HSNT’s mission is to act as an advocate on behalf of all animals and to ensure their legal, moral and ethical consideration and protection; to provide for the well-being of animals who are abandoned, injured, neglected, mistreated or otherwise in need; to promote an appreciation of animals; and to instill respect for all living things.

Information for this blog was sourced from RSPCA, Just Six Minutes, We're All About Pets, Stanford University, and Pediatrics Journal.

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