Every year there are reports across the country about pets dying from heatstroke after their owners accidentally leave them in a hot car.
Last year, two canine officers died after their handler mistakenly left them in his car overnight. It’s a tragic accident that can happen to anyone, but it’s also preventable.
Pets’ bodies don’t regulate temperature in the same way humans regulate heat. Because pets have fur, they can’t sweat like people. Instead, dogs and cats cool themselves by panting, which is a slower cooling process.
Some owners leave their pets in the car with a window cracked while they run a quick errand, mistakenly thinking this will keep the car cool.
In reality, this may cool the car by a few degrees but not enough to prevent their pets from heatstroke, which can quickly become fatal.
The temperature inside a vehicle can go up by 20 degrees in as few as 10 minutes. In 15 minutes, animals can sustain brain damage or even die from heatstroke.
You can keep your pets safe in the sweltering summer months – and all year round – by understanding what heatstroke is and taking steps to prevent it.
Leave your pets at home. A quick trip to the store that you thought would take a few minutes can easily turn into a longer errand, leaving your pet alone in a hot car longer than you anticipated. If you must take your pet with you, keep the car running with the air conditioning on.
Recognize the symptoms of heatstroke. If your dog stops barking, lies down, and pants heavily, it could be showing early signs of heat exhaustion or stroke. Other symptoms include restlessness, excessive thirst, thick saliva, heavy panting, lethargy, lack of appetite, a dark tongue, a rapid heartbeat, fever, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and lack of coordination. Pets can exhibit one, some or all of these symptoms during heatstroke.
Get to the nearest veterinarian or animal hospital. If you think your pet has heatstroke, the most important thing to do is get it to a vet as quickly as possible. Use your GPS to find the nearest vet or animal hospital immediately. If it’s the weekend, look for the nearest animal emergency clinic.
Be careful taking your pet outside any time in the summer. Being left in a hot car isn’t the only cause of heatstroke. Taking your dog for a walk or run in the middle of a hot day can cause heatstroke, especially in senior animals or animals with chronic illnesses. Think about pets as if they were children. If you wouldn’t take a young child out for a walk or run in the heat, you shouldn’t take your dog out either.
With the extremely hot temperatures and longer than average summers in Tampa Bay, it is critical to know how to prevent heatstroke and recognize the signs in order to keep your pet healthy.
So what do you do if you come across a pet left in a hot car? Over the years there have been many reports of people who have broken a window in order to save a pet or child. A new law passed in Florida during the recent legislative session now protects these good Samaritans.
In order to be protected by this new law, “hot car heroes” will first need to make sure that the pet, child or elderly individual is in distress. They are then advised to try opening the car doors and, if it is open, safely remove the individuals or pets trapped inside. Otherwise, they are advised to break the window and immediately contact 911.
Rizal Lopez, DVM, is the senior director of veterinary services for SPCA Tampa Bay in Largo. With more than 15 years of experience, Dr. Lopez oversees medical care for more than 10,000 animals every year.