According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, hundreds of pets die each year as a result of being left in parked cars. This often occurs when pet owners make a stop with the intent of only being gone a few minutes. Many a pet 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. Not to mention, it takes only a few minutes for a car to heat up to dangerous temperatures.
Many pet owners also believe a car can't get too hot for their pet with the windows cracked open or on a cloudy day. Sadly, these mistaken notions have resulted in countless pet emergencies and deaths.
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.
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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 pet owners who would never leave their pet in the car on a warm day, there's still the potential for danger. There have been many documented cases where a pet owner has unintentionally left a pet in the car because the pet is sleeping quietly in the back. To prevent such an incident, always place your pet'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.
Dogs are also particularly prone to heat exhaustion or heatstroke when they're overexercised, especially during hot weather or even 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.
The signs of heatstroke or hyperthermia are similar in both dogs and cats. A pet doesn't have to experience all the symptoms to be in danger. Any one or more symptoms can be a sign your pet is in distress. The result, if not caught and treated quickly could be coma or death.
- 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
If your pet is experiencing heat exhaustion or shows signs of heatstroke or hyperthermia, you should get your pet out of the heat and sun immediately. Move your pet into some shade or preferably air conditioning.
In addition, for a dog, 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 pet ice or icy cold water, it's dangerous to cool down an overheated animal in this manner.
In the United States, there are 13 states with laws about pets 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. Pet 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 pet 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.