The Dangers of Leaving Your Dog in the Car

Picture of dog in a car

Fido likes to go everywhere with you, and you hate to disappoint. At the first sight of you heading for your coat, he’s right by your side, hoping to hear the familiar jangle of keys that tell him a car ride  is just minutes away. Dogs love to go on car rides, and we love to take them with us. Yet, weather can sometimes thwart the best laid plans. Is it wise to take Fido with you when you are experiencing extreme weather?  Are there times when taking Fido for a car trip could put his life at risk?

Or maybe the day started out as a cool one, and you and Fido have taken a little ride over to the park for a walk and rousing game of fetch. On your way home, your wife calls to ask if you can make a quick run to the grocery store. You check the temperature gauge in your car and see that the cool, crisp morning is rapidly progressing its way to a heat scorcher. Can you safely leave Fido in the car for ten minutes while you run into the store for some milk and eggs?

3 Reasons Why Leaving Your Dog in the Car is Dangerous

A quick perusal of the news shows the number of pet deaths due to being left in hot cars is astounding. In July 2017 in two separate incidents, the SPCA was called to investigate 26 cases of dogs being left in vehicles in extremely warm weather conditions. Of the 23 dogs left in distress, 3 of the dogs did not survive. Being trapped in a hot vehicle is an extremely dangerous situation. At best, it leads to discomfort and stress, but at the worst, it could claim the life of your beloved dog.

Here are three reasons why leaving your dog in the car during hot weather isn’t a good idea:

Parked Cars Heat up Quickly

What many owners fail to consider is that their car is made of metal, and metal attracts and holds heat. If you’re not sure this is true, try placing your bare hand against your car door on an extremely hot day. Ouch!

On warm, sunny days, we often find ourselves sticking to the leather upholstery in our vehicles, and even our hands can become slick with sweat while gripping the steaming steering wheel.

When an object attracts heat on the outside, it is magnified on the inside. Research shows that a car resting in 75 degree external heat will swell to an internal temperature of 110 degrees.  That’s hot!  Too hot for you, and certainly too hot for Fido who has no control over the situation.

But more than this, human beings bear the capability to regulate their body’s core temperature. Unfortunately, our dogs do not. The best our dogs can do to try to reduce some of the heat retained in their bodies is pant. But frequent panting increases heart rate and leads to dehydration.

When breathing becomes more difficult due to excessive heat and a dog’s inability to find relief, he becomes anxious which in turn increase his heart rate even further.  When anxiety gives way to full on panic, all symptoms are greatly exacerbated.

It’s a bad scene all the way around for a dog left in a hot car.

Open Windows Do Not Dissipate Heat Properly

Many owners mistakenly believe that leaving their car windows open will alleviate the heat in their vehicles thus making confinement in the car a safe and comfortable option for their dogs. Sadly, this is not the case.  Nor is running the air conditioning full blast for a period of time before turning off the car for a quick run in to do some shopping.

The American Academy of Pediatrics conducted a study regarding internal and external vehicle temperatures and a variety of different practices attempted to reduce internal heat to levels safe for a child or dog to remain in a parked vehicle. The study concluded that even in moderate heat with the benefit of opened windows or air conditioning prior to parking, vehicle temperatures will rise by approximately 40 degrees. Clearly, neither opened windows nor air conditioning has sufficient effect to make this a safe practice.

But more than that, opened windows pose another safety risk. When overheated and unable to regulate his temperature, your dog might take matters into his own hands and attempt to escape. In a frenzied panic, your dog may bolt and end up being hit and killed by oncoming traffic. A tragedy of a different sort, but a tragedy nonetheless.

Heatstroke Can Occur

The risk of heatstroke in dogs left in hot cars is significant. In fact, this one condition alone comprises the leading cause of death of dogs left in this circumstance.

Sadly, it takes very little time for an anxious dog to develop symptoms then ultimately succumb to heatstroke. Studies report it could happen in as little as fifteen minutes, or the amount of time it would take you to run in and buy some eggs and milk at the store.  That quick little trip could cost your dog his life.

Of course, puppies and elderly dogs are at greater risk than healthy, adult dogs in their prime; however, heatstroke is of tremendous concern for ALL dogs.

How Can You Tell If a Dog Is Experiencing Heatstroke?

Dogs in the early stages of heat stroke will appear anxious and unable to settle. This quickly progresses to laboured breathing and panting which is sometimes accompanied by vocalizations. From here, the dog’s neurological system is affected, and he becomes disoriented and unable to think clearly. In its final stages, extreme fatigue takes over, and the dog loses all ability to move.

Heatstroke in its earliest stages can be treated, but since it progresses very quickly, it is often administered too late for it to be effective. The best approach is prevention.

What Can You Do If You Need to Run an Errand and Fido Is with You?

We’ve all been there.  You’re out in town with Fido, and you need to make a quick stop before heading home.  It’s hot, but you’re busy, and it’s going to suck up too much time for you to race back home to drop Fido off THEN run your errand. What can you do?

You really only have three viable options. As a response to the alarming trend of people leaving dogs in hot cars, many stores do allow owners to bring their dogs inside with them. Lists of stores offering this service in your area are generally available online. This is your first option. Find a store that will allow Fido to join you as you shop.

Secondly, if you are travelling with a friend or family member, ask them to stay behind in the air conditioned car with Fido or to take Fido on a walk while you quickly pick up the items you need. Alternatively, you could hand your friend some money and a shopping list and assume the task of taking Fido for a stroll yourself.

Lastly, as inconvenient as it may be, your very best option may be to make the two trips. After all, wouldn’t you much rather a little bit of hassle than the grief of knowing you did something foolish that led the death of your best friend all for the sake of time?

Leaving dogs in hot cars is never a good idea. Sometimes we have to disappoint Fido in his desire to come along with us simply because it is harmful for him to be left in a vehicle that is just too warm for him.  As with many different situations involving our dogs, prevention is key. Sadly, if we do not prevent the problem, we can find ourselves without remedy for when it comes to death from heatstroke, there is no cure.



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