Each year, hundreds of pets are dying in parked vehicles because they’re left suffering with heat exhaustion. Many owners think that since they’ll only be gone for a few minutes, their pet should be ok – but this isn’t always the case. Nipping away from your car for a short amount of time, or cracking the windows open slightly for them are excuses that don’t amount to much if your beloved pet becomes ill, or worse after, being left in a vehicle.
In fact, the temperature inside your car or van can rise to almost 20°F in just ten minutes. This increases to a sweltering 30°F in twenty minutes, and the longer you leave your pet, the hotter it will be. After an hour, the temperature in your vehicle can rise to over forty degrees higher than the outside temperature. On a 70° day, that’s an eye-watering 110° inside your car!
So, what does this mean for your pet? Simply put, it means that even on a day that doesn’t seem that hot to you, leaving your pet in a vehicle on their own puts them at serious risk of illness and even death. And, cracking open the windows doesn’t make as much of a difference as you may think, so it’s best to avoid it altogether.
In fact, an independent study found that the interior temperatures of vehicles parked in outside temperatures from 72-96° steadily rise as time goes on. Another study which was carried out by the Louisiana Office of Public Health found that temperatures in dark-colored vehicles parked on a hot, yet cloudy day rose to more than 125°F within just twenty minutes. The study also found that cracking open the windows had very little effect on the rising temperature inside of the car. So, please leave your pets at home when you can, if there’s no chance that you’re going to be able to take them out of the car with you. This way, you can rest assured that they’ll be safe and happy waiting for you to return.
The many risks involved with having your pet in the car go much further than simply heatstroke. Similar to always wearing your seatbelt to make sure that you’re protected in the event of an accident, your pet should always be properly restrained when traveling. Using a secure pet harness or a carrier is a must; letting your pet roam around the car freely as you’re driving is putting both of you at risk. Your pet could get themselves into a dangerous situation whilst you drive or cause a distraction for you which could end up in a serious accident. So, don’t take the risk and make sure that your pet is secured if you need to take them along for the ride.
A small pet allowed to roam freely around the car could easily crawl down into the footwell, interfering with your use of the accelerator or brake pedals. Some pets are nervous in cars, but putting them in your lap when you drive to calm them down is never a good idea. A small pet sitting in your lap in either the driver’s or passenger’s seat could be crushed between your body and the airbag in the event of a collision. On the other hand, a larger pet left to roam around the car can quickly get in the way of your view of the road. Unrestrained pets of any size can be seriously injured in the event of a crash by being thrown through the windshield or windows. So, it’s vital to get your pet used to being restrained in the car from as early on as possible.
Even though seeing a dog’s happy face peeking out of the window loving the ride and the smells wafting in the breeze is a nice sight, this means that the pet is unlikely to be correctly restrained and therefore at a much higher risk of harm in the event of an accident. In addition, allowing your dog to hang their head out of the window as you drive means that you are putting them at a much larger risk of eye, ear, face and mouth injuries from airborne objects such as debris in the road or from passing vehicles. It also massively increases the risk of your dog being thrown out of the window in the event of an accident, or even falling out of the window due to loss of balance during an abrupt turn or maneuver.
Below you will find a great experiment that was performed by a vet in a car, highly recommend you check it out.
So, before you put your dog in the car with you, ask yourself, do you really need to take them along? More often than not, leaving them at home is a much safer option. And if you have no choice but to take them along for the ride, make sure that they are properly and safety restrained for the entire journey.
What Happens When a Dog is Left in a Hot Car:
Unlike humans, dogs are unable to let the heat out by sweating. For your pooch, this means that they need to pant to cool down – you’ve probably seen your doggie with their tongue lolled out, panting heavily on a warm day and finding some shade to cool down in. Dogs such as Greyhounds and German Shepherds have more nasal surface area and are therefore more efficient at dispelling heat, but this still doesn’t mean it’s safer to leave them alone in a warm car. Dogs with less nasal surface area, such as Pugs and Bulldogs, are more prone to overheating due to their shorter nasal passages.
Dogs can also lose heat through the dilation of blood vessels of the skin and increase cardiac output, but this tends to only be effective in hairless areas of their body, such as ear flaps, feet and bellies in some dog breeds.
When a dog is left alone in a car on a hot day, panting becomes much more important for cooling down as the temperature increases and the dog approaches core body temperature. However, when the ambient humidity is also increased, which is always the case when your dog is locked in a car, the panting becomes far less efficient and it becomes increasingly more difficult for your dog to effectively regulate their body temperature.
The normal temperature for a dog ranges from around 100.5-102.5°F. Heatstroke is defined as a state of extreme temperature, with body temperatures ranging from 106-109°F, which results in thermal damage to the body tissue. The initial stages of heat stress see the heart rate increasing blood flow in an attempt to dissipate heat on the body’s surface. However, your dog’s core blood pressure drops when these superficial blood vessels begin to dilate. Decreased circulating blood volume due to lower blood pressure and loss of fluids from panting results in the failure of heat loss mechanisms and further elevations in body temperature.
Finally, global thermal injury leads to multiorgan failure when the dog’s body temperature reaches 109°F or above. This is due to a large decrease in the blood and oxygen supply to the body’s tissues.
What Happens to the Circulatory System?
Thermal damage to blood vessel linings means that vessels begin to initiate clotting in an attempt to try and repair those vessels. But, extensive cell damage to multiple organs begins to simultaneously lead to increased consumption of clotting factors throughout their body. As a result, these effects and more cause the body to be unsure as to whether to bleed or clot, leading to further blood loss and a decrease in clotting ability. This is associated with an increased mortality rate.
What Happens to the Kidneys?
Damage to the lining of the kidney tubules is caused by direct thermal injury. In addition, a decrease in blood flow to the kidneys along with the formation of micro-clots may cause further damage. Along with increased production of toxins in other damage tissues, these factors can quickly lead to renal failure which is most commonly associated with a worse prognosis.
What Happens to the Liver?
Damage occurring to liver tissue is very similar to that in the kidneys. Decreased perfusion, direct thermal damage, and micro-clotting tends to occur. Additionally, the elevation of liver enzymes occurs in the majority of patients with heatstroke, and hypoglycemia can also occur, either as a direct result of damage to the liver or the increased use of glucose in a hyperthermic dog.
What Happens to the GI Tract?
Similar to both liver and kidney damage, a decrease in perfusion, micro-clotting, and general thermal injury all occur in the cells that line the GI tract. As a result, blood loss can occur through bloody vomit, diarrhea, gastric ulceration, and even sloughing of the GI tract lining itself in serious cases. Since the intestinal lining is a vital barrier to gut bacteria, compromising this barrier due to thermal damage and the resulting effects means that bacteria from the gut is able to easily find its way into the circulatory system, leading to a higher risk of systemic infection.
What Happens to the Central Nervous System?
Dogs with heatstroke often present with an altered mental state. This can range from mild dizziness and disorientation to more serious issues such as severe depression, seizures, muscle tremors and even coma. Damage to the central nervous system occurs as a result of low cerebral perfusion and direct thermal injury to nervous system cells.
What to Do if You’ve Left Your Dog in a Hot Car:
Imagine this – you’ve left your dog in the car for just a few minutes, thinking that he’ll be OK. You’ve cracked the windows open and made sure he’s comfortable, but when you return you find him on his side laying down in the back seat, breathing heavily and unresponsive. His eyes are rolled back in his head and his gums have turned a purple shade. You reach out to pat him, and he’s burning up. What do you do?
First of all, it’s important to remember not to apply ice. This might seem like a logical option for cooling your dog down, but since it causes the body temperature to change to abruptly, it can lead to further complications for your dog’s health. Instead, apply tepid water, turn on the air conditioning in your car, and most importantly, put your foot down and get him to the nearest veterinary surgery as quickly as you possibly can. It can also be helpful to apply rubbing alcohol to the belly, inner ears and foot pads – this can help increase the rate of heat expulsion and enable your dog to safely cool down at a faster rate. However, the main priority is to get him to the vet as fast as you can.
What to Expect at the Vets:
Since morality from heatstroke is approximately 50% and this gets worse with every single wasted second, you can expect the vet to jump into action straight away. Aggressive cooling techniques, immediate fluid replacement, circulatory support, oxygen therapy and organ system monitoring will be started as soon as you get there.
You can expect your dog to be in the veterinary hospital for a minimum of 24-48 hours, depending on the severity of the case. That is, of course, if he survives the ordeal. Expect your vet bills to quickly climb to thousands of dollars, with zero guarantee of the outcome. So, don’t risk it – leave your dog at home rather than leaving them in the car alone, even if the weather outside doesn’t seem that hot to you.
In addition to risking your pet’s health and their life, you could also be breaking the law if you leave your pet in a hot car. Although many states do not have any hard and fast laws regarding the legality of leaving a dog in a car or van unattended, bear in mind that it could still land you in trouble with animal cruelty charges. Of course, you love your pet and would never deliberately harm them, so avoid being dubbed as an animal abuser and leave them at home if you can’t take them out of the car with you once you arrive.
In fact, sixteen states do have specific laws regarding leaving your dog in an unattended vehicle. These include:
If you live in Arizona, expect to get in trouble if you leave your dog unattended in a car at a hot time of the year. The law here states that it is illegal to leave any animal unattended and confined in a vehicle, when physical injury to or death of the animal is a likely result.
Californians, don’t get caught breaking the law by leaving your pet unattended in your car. As one of the hottest US states, it’s safe to say that leaving your dog alone in your car is best avoided at any time of the year in this state. Here, it’s illegal to leave or confine an animal on their own in a vehicle in conditions that put their health at risk, whether it’s heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or lack of food and water.
The law in Maine states that a window can legally be broken if an animal’s health, safety or well-being appears to be at immediate risk. This could be from extreme heat, cold, a lack of proper ventilation or other circumstances.
In Maryland, it’s illegal to leave a dog or cat in a parked vehicle in a manner that puts their health or safety in danger.
The laws in Minnesota are similar to those of Maryland – don’t leave your dog or cat in a parked car!
If you live in North Carolina, it’s illegal to leave an animal in a vehicle where it’s confined under conditions that are likely to cause injury, suffering or death. This applies whether it’s due to heat, cold, inadequate ventilation, or any other endangering condition.
The laws regarding unattended animals in cars here are the same as those in North Carolina.
In New Hampshire, leaving your animal confined in a car or other enclosed space where the temperature is so high or so low as to cause serious harm, is automatically classed as animal cruelty.
In New Jersey, it’s considered inhumane to leave any living animal or creature unattended in a vehicle in conditions that are averse to their health or welfare.
The law in Rhode Island states that no owner or person should confine any animal in a vehicle when it places the animal in a situation that poses a threat to their life or health.
The law is also the same in Illinois, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia. But, even if you live outside of these states, don’t leave your dog in a hot car. It’s seriously not worth the risk when it comes to their health, and you don’t want to live with the knowledge that you put their life in danger.