As a member of your family, it seems natural for a dog to come along for the ride – to jump into the back of the car when you run errands or head out for an excursion. Say the words, “Wanna go for a ride?” and you will likely get an exuberant response to further justify your decision. Car rides are fine for dogs, as long as you don’t plan to make any stops where your dog has to remain inside the vehicle, even for 10 minutes.
While heat and humidity are certainly unpleasant, maybe even unbearable, for humans, it still doesn’t compare to the fate that may befall our furry friends. It takes a very short time for a car to heat up, even with cracked windows on a warm or mild day. On a 70-degree day, the temperature inside a car can hit 89 degrees in just 10 minutes, and 104 in a half hour. If the outside temperate is 80 degrees, a car can get up to 99 degrees in 10 minutes and 114 in 30 minutes. Dogs sweat in VERY small areas like paw pads and noses and they cool themselves primarily through panting. And when your dog is only breathing hot air, they cannot cool down, putting them at the risk of heat stroke. Additionally, the ability to self-cool varies among breeds. Short-snouted breeds like bulldogs or pugs cannot cool themselves as easily through panting. And dogs with cold climate origins, such as huskies and malamutes have a more difficult time adapting to the heat.
Currently, in 22 states, it is illegal to leave a dog unattended in a parked vehicle, and/or citizens are empowered to free a dog without penalty if there’s an overt risk of injury or death to the animal. Some laws spell out that it’s unlawful to leave a pet in car in extreme hot or cold temperatures, and some are vaguer in their language in what conditions are consider unsafe. In most states without laws about pets left in cars, there are city ordinances that address the issue. Penalties range from fines and/or jail time to having your pet taken away. Laws notwithstanding, it is cruel to leave your pet in hot and cold temperatures, even for a short time.
If you see someone else’s dog in a car, take down the vehicle’s model, make, color, and license plate number. First, try to have the owner paged, by going into the closest building or office, and asking a manager to make an announcement. If you can’t find the owner, call the police’s non-emergency line or the animal control department. Do not leave the scene. Try to find someone to watch the animal while you try to locate the owner, and be aware of signs of heatstroke, which include restlessness, excessive thirst, heavy panting, dark tongue, rapid heartbeat, fever, vomiting and lack of coordination. If you truly believe the dog is at risk and/or showing these signs, and the owner or the authorities haven’t arrived, find a witness to back you up, and remove the dog from the heat immediately. Get them into air conditioning as soon as possible to start the cooling process, pour cool water on their paw pads and give them lots of cool water to drink.
Be heat aware. If you are going out in your car and it involves any stops where you leave the car, maybe Fido should sit this trip out.