Many dogs love car rides – and what’s not to love? The fresh, cool breeze of an open window, the people, the sights, and the smells! As humans, we love the companionship our dogs bring, and thus enjoy bringing our furry co-pilots along for the ride.
This is the time of year when awareness campaigns kick off to warn people about the dangers of pets in hot vehicles. Warm temperatures in Canada begin in early spring, and grow increasingly warmer as we move into the summertime.
Did you know? On a breezy 10 degree day, temperatures inside a vehicle can become dangerous in less than thirty minutes.
In the summer, with temperatures reaching highs from 20C to over 30C, it is best to leave your furry friend at home unless you are heading to the park or trail. Inside a vehicle, heat stroke can develop in as little as 5-10 minutes.
On hot days, putting your window down or parking under a shady tree will generally not make a worthwhile difference. Vehicles are temperature conductors that amplify the outdoor temperature, making a 25-degree Celsius day feel more like 41 degrees in mere minutes. In fact, a vehicle parked in the shade will increase its inside temperature by approximately 10 degrees every ten minutes, and can become lethal in less than a half an hour.
If you need to run errands during the day, it is best to leave your dog at home in a cool and safe environment. You can always drop them off at a friend’s house, or even try out a local doggy daycare.
Taking a long drive with your dog will mean that at some point, inevitability, you will have to leave the vehicle to use the bathroom; leaving your pet in a warm vehicle for even five minutes can be five minutes too long.
Dogs sweat through panting, a process that brings small amounts of air into the lungs to aid it in cooling the body. Dogs can develop heat stroke more quickly than most species because dogs lack sweat glands that allow the skin and body to cool itself down.
The optimal body temperature for a dog is around 38.5C and it takes very little to begin the process of heat stroke.
The Stages of Heat Stroke in Dogs:
- Once the car temperature reaches 41C it prevents a dog from regulating its own body temperature. The air in the car is now very hot and the dog begins to pant, but instead of taking in cold air, it is now inhaling hot air into the lungs causing a rise of body temperature.
- Protein structures begin to fail and are unable to do the work they were designed to do.
- The dog may begin to pant harder, which in turn speeds up the process.
- Blood vessels, specifically the lining, are exposed. One of the key functions of the lining is to keep blood in its liquid state. The damaged lining is now unable to do that and the dog now develops blood clots in many different tissues.
- The heart, liver, kidney, gastrointestinal tract – all organs that are in constant need of oxygen and fresh fuel – begin to fail.
- The dog may begin to vomit or have diarrhea.
- Brain damage will then occur and the dog could now have a seizure and slip into a coma.
- The end result is a painful, gruesome death.
If you are travelling with your dog and he or she shows signs of distress, put the air conditioning on, spray your dog down with water or stop and go for a swim to lower their body temperature as soon as possible and get to a cool environment. Seek veterinary care as soon as possible.
If you do have to leave your dog in your vehicle, never leave them alone. Leave the air conditioning on, and have someone sit with them to monitor the entire time.
What to do if you see a dog in distress
- If you see a dog in serious distress inside a hot vehicle, record the car’s make, model, and licence plate. Ask someone inside the business to help track down the owner.
- If you cannot find the owner or if he or she is ignoring the problem, contact authorities by dialing 911 or call 1-833-9-ANIMAL
You should not attempt to enter the vehicle in these situations.
Ontario is the first jurisdiction in Canada to implement a full provincial government-based animal welfare enforcement system.
PAWS (Provincial animal welfare services) came into effect January 1, 2020, and allows police, First Nations constables, and provincial animal welfare inspectors to enter motor vehicles to help pets in distress. The Ontario legislation also has the strongest penalties in the country for people who violate animal welfare laws, including causing distress to animals.
Signs of heatstroke in a dog include being dull, not as responsive as usual, bloodshot eyes, and in severe circumstances, vomiting and diarrhea.
It is a sad reality that, even with all this common knowledge about the dangers of pets in hot vehicles, many pets will still suffer and die from heat-related medical emergencies. Let’s all do our part to help educate others about the real dangers about pets in hot vehicles, and hopefully we can help save lives in the process.
Brandon Forder, known as The Pet Expert, is vice-president of Canadian Pet Connection, an industry leader in healthy pet lifestyles. Brandon is certified in pet nutrition, and has more than twenty-five years’ experience specializing in pet health and behaviour. He has written hundreds of informative pet-related articles for newspapers, magazines, radio, and the popular Ask the Pet Expert Blog. Brandon is highly skilled in pet problem solving, and enjoys teaching others about smart and responsible pet ownership. To learn more, visit www.CanadianPetConnection.ca.