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The dangers of leaving pets in hot cars

Leaving pets in parked cars is dangerous

We know the excuses and may have made them before: “It’ll be just a few minutes, it can’t get hot that fast. If I leave the window cracked, he won’t be that hot. She’ll be okay…

These excuses do not justify the hundred of pets that die or become seriously ill from heat exhaustion because they are left in a vehicle. The temperature inside a car can rise almost 20°F in just 10 minutes. For perspective, that temperature change is similar to the difference in climate temperature between the Inland Empire (~100°F) and the Beach Cities (~75°F).

Like a home in the desert without an AC, pets confined to cars have no method of cooling themselves. Unlike humans, dogs and cats do not have sweat glands distributed across their skin. The dog’s only patch of sweat glands is located on their paw pads and is not sufficient to cool themselves. Dogs primarily rely on panting to thermoregulate their body temperature, which works by evaporating moisture from their lungs that takes heat away from their body. Yet when the external temperature reaches their internal temperature of 98-102°F, this method is not sufficient. On a 70-degree day, the internal temperature of a car can reach 110°F in 40 minutes.

Elapsed time Temperature rise inside vehicle
10 minutes ⇒ 19°F
20 minutes ⇒ 29°F
30 minutes ⇒ 34°F
60 minutes ⇒ 43°F
1 to 2 hours ⇒ 45-50°F

The Humane Society of the United States, strongly advises against leaving pets inside parked cars, irregardless of the time. Even if you think you will only be at the store for 10 minutes, there is a multitude of distractions that can make us lose track of time. While we are preoccupied, your furry friend’s body temperature may become dangerously high and could cause heat stroke.

Heatstroke refers to an elevated body temperature greater than 104°F. Some signs of heat stroke include heavy panting, glazed eyes, a rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst, lethargy, fever, dizziness, lack of coordination, profuse salivation, vomiting, a deep red or purple tongue, seizure and unconsciousness. Animals that are at particular risk for heat stroke include the very young, old, overweight and those with heart or respiratory diseases. Breeds of dogs with short snouts (brachycephalics) such as French Bulldogs, Boxers, Shih Tzus, Boston Terriers, Pugs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel among others, already have a hard time breathing and breathing in the heat is even harder for them.
If your pet is suffering from heat stroke, move them into the shade or an air-conditioned area. Apply ice packs or cold towels to their head, neck or chest and allow them to drink small amounts of cool water. It is recommended to take your pet directly to a veterinarian as blood abnormalities and internal organ dysfunction can occur as a result of heat stroke.

The best way to avoid heatstroke is to decrease your pet’s exposure to excessive temperatures- like the internal temperature in parked cars. Pets would much rather be lounging in a cool AC conditioned home than inside a scorching parked car.

If you would like more information about heat stroke in pets, the AVMA has several resources including videos, posters and other educational information about the dangers of leaving pets unattended in vehicles.

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