It’s finally summer! I know I always look forward to long days in the sun and spending more time with my friends and loved ones, especially my furry family members. On the Peninsula we are blessed with a fairly temperate summer. Although we may hit a heat wave here and there, for the most part we feel that our pets are safe from soaring summer temps. This is not always the case though. Even on a 78° day the temperature in a car with the windows cracked can be upwards to 120° in a few minutes. You can only imagine that on a much warmer 90° days that the inside of your car can be more than 160° in less than 10 minutes!
In college I lived in Washington DC, a swamp town known for its muggy, hot summers. One day my little Chihuahua, Pablo, and I went for a drive on one of the notoriously hot days to find some relief from the heat in the wonderful car air conditioning. A few blocks from my apartment I realized that I had left something at home. I pulled up to the curb out front of my building and parked illegally so I could run up quick and grab my forgotten item. I made the mistake of leaving poor little Pablo in the car. I was only gone for five minutes tops. I had left all four windows open a few inches and I was parked in the shade; Pablo should have been nice and comfy during his wait for me to return. WRONG! When I came back his eyes were bulging more than they normally do, he was panting like I’d never seen him pant before, drooling everywhere, and stressed beyond belief. In those few minutes the car had heated up and began to cook my poor little guy. I couldn’t believe it. I gave him some cool water and turned the A/C on high. I immediately took him to the vet to be evaluated. Luckily, Pablo was okay and did not suffer any lasting effects, but my oversight nearly cost me my best friend.
What I did not realize at the time was that animals in a hot car can sustain brain damage or even die from heat stroke in just 15 minutes! Heatstroke symptoms include excessive panting, restlessness, thick saliva, lethargy, dark/bright red tongue and/or gums that are dry or sticky, rapid heartbeat, body temperatures above 104°, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, seizures and lack of coordination. These symptoms should be taken very seriously.
If you notice an animal with any of these symptoms, getting them out of the heat is critical and can save their life. The next step is to get the dog to a veterinarian to be assessed for heat stroke. If the dog is large and you are unable to transport them yourself, the Peninsula Humane Society Animal Control or your local animal control office can help. Contact them and let them know that it’s an emergency. If the dog is not yours, but is locked in a car on a hot summer day, contact animal control right away and let them know of the situation. If the animal is unresponsive or in bad shape, call 9-1-1 immediately. While waiting for the authorities to respond, you may choose to get the animal out of the car by any means necessary. If this is the case, find a witness who can corroborate that the dog’s life was at risk and find a way to get the dog out of the car.
While waiting for help or on the way to the veterinary hospital, begin to cool the animal down. Provide water for the animal to drink, put the A/C on high, and use cool water (not ice water) to help bring the dogs temperature down gradually. Drenching the pads of the feet and well as the abdomen, groin and chest with cool water can help bring down a high temperature. It is very easy to think that once you’ve cooled down the dog that he or she will be fine and recover from this experience, but that is not usually the case. When heat stroke occurs, the dog’s internal organs including the brain are greatly compromised. Many dogs, cats, and other animals that suffer heat stroke end up dying hours later due to organ failure, brain damage, and blood coagulation disturbances from sustaining elevated temperatures. Always be on the safe side and have your pet checked out by a veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure that your furry family member stays healthy and safe.
Even on a 70° day your car can get too hot for your dog!!
For more information check out: www.mydogiscool.com
All original content copyright Caitlin Vaughn, 2013