Most people know better than to leave their dogs inside parked vehicles when the temperatures climb above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Each minute that passes means increased danger for your dog, who can become overheated and suffer from heat stroke in a matter of minutes. Untreated, he can go into cardiac arrest and die.
But what if the temperature outside is in the 70s? Surely, your dog will be fine inside your vehicle with the windows cracked while you dash inside a store to complete a must-do errand, right?
Wrong. In fact, potentially dead wrong. Cars heat up more than you think.
Temperatures Rise Quickly
On an 85 degree day, it only takes 10 minutes for the inside of a car to reach 102 degrees Fahrenheit — even if the windows are cracked, according to the ASPCA. On cooler 70 degree days, the temperature inside a car still can be as much as 20 degrees hotter.
To see how hot a parked car can be for a dog inside even when the temperatures are in the 70s, check out this short video produced by the safety-conscious folks at Mydogiscool.com:
Heat Exposure Hazards
Sadly, veterinarians throughout the country expect to be treating far too many dogs for heat-related conditions during the summer and early fall. Signs of heat stroke include excessive panting, agitation, vomiting, weakness and collapse.
I sought insight and advice from seasoned veterinarian Rob Martin, DVM, whose practice is located in an area with a hot climate year-round: South Florida.
“Most dogs in South Florida live indoors and are used to living in environments between 72 and 74 degrees,” says Martin, owner of Colonial Animal Hospital and the Colonial Gateway Veterinary Center, both in Boynton Beach, Florida. “They have no heat tolerance, and they definitely should never be left in a parked car, even for a few minutes while their owner stops in a store to run a quick errand.”
It’s also important to note that dogs can suffer from heat stroke inside a moving car during a hot day. Take the case of a 5-year-old French Bulldog who was visiting Boynton Beach from Naples last summer. During the drive across the state, his owner glanced in his rearview mirror and discovered that his beloved dog was not moving. He steered his car directly into the parking lot at Martin’s animal hospital.
“When this dog entered our clinic, he had a 107-degree fever (100.5 to 102.5 is the range for a healthy dog) and was suffering from shock and severe heatstroke,” recalls Martin.
“Most people know about not leaving a dog inside a closed car in parking lot — even with the windows cracked — but this was a case of a dog overheating in a moving car with the windows down in the heat of the summer,” he says. “This was not an uncaring or neglect owner, but it demonstrates just how quickly a pet can overheat.”
Fortunately, this French Bulldog survived. He underwent intensive, life-saving care at Martin’s clinic. He was cooled down upon arrival and received intravenous fluids to combat the shock and heatstroke he suffered during the car ride. He was rehydrated and his electrolyte imbalance was corrected. The next day, he was reunited with his owner.
What To Do If Your Dog Shows Signs Of Heat Exhaustion
Seek immediate veterinary care if your pet displays any or all of these signs of heat exhaustion:
- Bright red gums
- Excessive salivation
- Dilated pupils with a panicked look on the face
- Excessive panting and difficulty breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Collapsing or convulsing
- Vomiting and diarrhea
“Dogs cool themselves through breathing (panting), and they only sweat through their feet,” Martin explains. “They can get sick in a real hurry from heat exposure.”
If your dog shows signs of being overheated, do not jolt their systems by putting them in icy water. Instead, place their paws in cool water and wrap their bodies in wet, cool towels en route to a veterinary clinic.
“If you try to cool them too quickly with ice, you can cause shock,” Martin warns.
Any dog can suffer from heat stroke inside a parked car, but these dogs are at greater risk:
- Very young dogs
- Senior dogs
- Breeds that have shorter noses like Pugs Shi Tzus, Pekingese, Bulldogs and Boxers (typically cannot handle the heat as effectively as dogs with long muzzles)
What To Do If You See A Dog In A Hot Car
Now comes the big decision time. What can you do legally if you see a dog inside a parked vehicle on a hot day? At least one state — Tennessee — protects citizens who break into a car to save an animal. However, in most places, only specific people, such as police, public safety employees, animal control officers or fire rescue members, can use “reasonable” force to rescue a dog overheating inside a parked vehicle.
Be aware that if you break the window to free the dog, you may have saved his life, but the owner can hold you liable for the damages to his vehicle.
So, here is a recommended strategy:
- First, attempt to contact the local police, animal shelter or animal protection agency.
- Provide the precise location, vehicle model and license plate.
- Go quickly inside the store and ask the manager to make an announcement to alert the dog’s owner.
If help doesn’t arrive in a timely matter and you believe the dog will die, it is your call as to whether or not to smash the window to rescue the dog.