Summer heat – Dogs in Cars

Summer heat – Dogs in Cars

dog in carMost dog owners have left their dogs in the car while they run into a store for milk, or a coffee.  Often your dog will be begging to go on that ride as you leave your house.  However, leaving your dog in a car in summer even for a short period of time is irresponsible and puts your dog’s life in real danger. I recently read of a case in Naples, Florida, where a dog died after being left in a hot car. Two hours after being removed from the car by police the dog’s body temperature was still 110 F. The dog’s owner had left the window cracked, but this simply isn’t enough to cool a parked car in hot weather.

Susceptible to Heat Stroke

Coping with extreme heat is extra tough for dogs for a number of reasons. First, their normal body temperature is higher than ours: 101.0 – 102.5! Secondly,  they can only cool themselves by panting and this is not very efficient if they are already in a hot car!  Lastly, people use the largest organ in the body to cool ourselves – our skin!  This is a very efficient cooling system that employs millions of sweat glands.  Dogs have very few sweat glands (only on their pads) and as mentioned, cool themselves somewhat inefficiently by panting through a very small “biscuit hole” (their mouth).   If your dog has been left in excessive temperatures, watch for symptoms such as restlessness, excessive thirst, heavy panting, lethargy, lack of appetite, dark tongue, rapid heartbeat, fever, vomiting, or lack of coordination.

If your dog shows any of these symptoms, hose down or immerse your pet in cool water, get him/her into the shade immediately and TRANSPORT to your veterinarian as soon as possible. If they are able, provide a very small amount of water to drink, apply a cold towel or ice pack to the head, neck, and chest, and again, get to a veterinarian ASAP.

How hot does it have to be?

On a mild 73ºF day, the temperature inside a car can reach 120ºF in 30 minutes. On a 90ºF day, the interior of a vehicle can reach 160ºF in a few minutes.

One of our esteemed colleagues, Dr. Ernie Ward sat in a hot car with window’s cracked for 30 minutes and took a video log of the internal temperature of the car. Even within a few minutes he was drenched in sweat (a cooling action that dogs do not have). The video of his experiment is linked here. The message of the video is don’t leave your dog in a parked car.

Be Vigilent

Every year numerous dogs die from overheating in cars. If you see a dog in a car take a look to see of the dog looks in distress, take down the car’s color, model, make, and license-plate number, have the owner paged inside nearby stores, and call local humane authorities or police. Have someone keep an eye on the dog. If police are unresponsive or too slow and the dog’s life appears to be in imminent danger, secure some individuals who will witness for you and back your assessment, and take steps to remove the suffering animal, and then wait for authorities to arrive.


This article was written by Laird Goodman, owner of Murrayhill Vet Hospital, an AAHA accredited Beaverton Pet Hospital 

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