Written by Lacy M, Pack Leader
In part one of our heat safety blog series we discussed how heat affects dogs, how their bodies’ cooling process works, and some ways to keep your pets safe in toasty weather. In this post, we’ll tell you what to do about a dog locked in a hot car, the signs and symptoms of heat stroke, and the importance of knowing how to administer first aid to an overheated pet.
Leave them at home – not in the car!
Most of us know how incredibly dangerous it is to leave a pet in the car during hot or even warm weather. Not leaving a pet in a hot car for any length of time is one of the easiest ways to keep them out of harm’s way. But still, hundreds of pets die or become seriously ill after being left in a car while their owner runs an errand.
“I’ll just be a couple minutes” or “I left the windows cracked” are excuses commonly given to rationalize these decisions.
Never, EVER leave a dog in a car in warm weather, even if the windows are cracked or down, even in the shade, even if you leave a dish of water – there is no justification for it. The air inside a vehicle heats up far too quickly and your dog can become overheated and die within minutes – and it is not a peaceful or painless death for your pet. Even if the dog survives, heat stroke is costly to treat and can cause irreparable internal damage. You may also be subject to fines or criminal prosecution for animal cruelty, depending on your county.
What should I do if I see a dog left in a car in hot weather?
If you see a dog inside a car in warm or hot weather, try to assess the situation before reacting. Is the owner near? Is there someone in the car with them? Is the car running? If there is a cause for worry, as per the recommendation of DMV.org, dial 911 or law enforcement immediately to let them handle the situation. However if the dog appears to be in distress then you should take action to remove him/her from the vehicle right away even if it means breaking a window – every second counts!
Important note: Beware that a dog in distress can become reactive to help. If you see the animal becoming aggressive while you’re trying to help, DO NOT stress them out further by continuing to try to help. Step back and wait for law enforcement to assist.
A recently enacted Florida law provides good Samaritans with immunity from civil liability if they need to forcibly enter a vehicle to rescue a domestic animal or vulnerable person. In accordance with the Pets in Motor Vehicles Provision: 768.139 under Florida’s anti-cruelty laws, you will not get in trouble for breaking into the vehicle or any damage that results from that action as long as you follow these simple guidelines:
- Check that the vehicle is in fact locked and there is no other reasonable method of getting in to get the vulnerable pet out.
- Make a judgment call: based on the known circumstances, determine whether entry into the vehicle is necessary due to the pet being in immediate danger or suffering harm.
- Call 911 or law enforcement before entering the vehicle or immediately after.
- Do not use more force than is necessary to enter the vehicle and remove the pet.
- Remain with the pet in a safe location, reasonably close to the vehicle, until law enforcement or other first responder arrives.
To learn the signs of what an overheated dog looks like and what steps you should take to ensure its survival, we cover it in the next section of this blog – so keep reading!
You may have seen the photo above making its rounds on social media. While it certainly is cute, and we do understand that emergency situations can happen where you have absolutely no other choice, we highly discourage you from practicing this with your own pet. If you find yourself in a situation like this, proceed with extreme caution. Engines and A/C systems can fail, and it only takes minutes for heat stroke and death to occur in the right conditions.
There have also been terrible stories in recent years where owners with good intentions left the car running with a pet inside while they ran into a gas station or store, only to have their car stolen and their dog go missing or found dead. It’s just not worth it. Some hardware stores and drugstores allow pets inside, and many restaurants have pet-friendly patios. Call a friend to come stand outside with your dog while you do what you have to do. If you need to run errands, take your dog home first, or leave them at home to begin with.
What does an overheated dog look like?
As we mentioned in part one of this series, heat can be incredibly dangerous for dogs even outside of cars, especially in places where it can get very hot and humid like Florida. Many of us know how bad it is to leave a dog in a hot car, but it’s easy for us humans to take for granted our own bodies’ ability to cool down while performing normal activities. Staying cool just doesn’t work the same way for dogs and other animals.
Let’s get familiar with the signs of overheating to keep things from progressing to a serious or life-threatening stage. Again, this is applicable for having your dog outside on a hot day, if you’re in a non-air conditioned space (like after a hurricane), or if you see a dog in a car on a hot day. Pay close attention to your pet and watch for the symptoms of distress listed below:
- Excessive panting or difficulty breathing
- Dehydration: Dry nose, visible tiredness, excessive panting, sunken eyes.
- Excessive drooling
- Fever: If your dog’s nose is dry and hot instead of wet and cool, they could have a fever. A body temperature above 103°F is considered abnormal
- Bright red, gray, purple, or bluish gums
- Lack of urine
- Rapid pulse: Click here to learn how to measure their heart rate and respiratory rate.
- Muscle tremors
- Lethargy or weakness
- Vomiting or diarrhea
Keep in mind: Elderly and overweight pets and breeds that are genetically predisposed to airway issues like brachycephalic (short-snouted) types (Bulldogs, Boxers, Pugs, Shih Tzus, Persian cats etc.) are all at increased risk of overheating. Be extra careful with them! If you have a working dog, we encourage you to make sure they are getting adequate shade, water, and rest.
What do I do if my dog is overheated?
In a previous blog post of ours, “Preparing Your Pet’s First Aid Kit”, we talked about how the normal range for a dog’s temperature falls within the range of 100 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (about 38 to 39.2 degrees Celsius), and the importance of having a rectal thermometer on hand. If your dog has been in hot conditions and you suspect heat exhaustion or heat stroke, take his temperature. A temperature of 104 degrees or higher is an emergency, and you need to seek medical attention immediately. Once the dog’s temperature reaches 107°, damage to the body’s cellular system and organs may become irreversible.
If your dog is moderately overheated with a temperature of 104 degrees or higher, there is great cause for concern and you should begin first aid right away to cool your dog down:
- Call your veterinarian or the nearest emergency animal clinic and tell them you are on your way!
- Move your dog out of the heat/sun and into an air-conditioned space if possible
- Use cool water (or lukewarm if your dog is small) to soak your dog and/or place cool compresses on your dog’s belly and paws; do not use very cold water, ice, or ice water. Submerging a dog in ice water will actually cause blood vessels to constrict, leading to a rise in body temperature rather than cooling down. Furthermore, cooling an overheated dog down too quickly can lead to shock. You want to get their body temperature down swiftly, but gently.
- Place the wet animal in front of a fan to circulate cool air. Important Note: Although fans alone will not work to cool down a dry dog or prevent overheating in hot weather or a hot room, the air moving over the dog’s wet body in this case will help, mimicking the evaporative process involved when humans sweat.
- Allow free access to water. Don’t attempt to force feed your dog fluids, as he or she may choke.
- Rectal temperature should be taken every 5 minutes; once the dog’s temperature reaches 103, cease cooling methods. Dry your dog off and cover him to prevent his temperature from dropping too much.
Even if your dog seems to be recovering, you should take him to your veterinarian to be checked out for complications related to heat stroke. It is also important for you to know that once your dog has had an incidence of heat stroke, he/she may be more susceptible to overheating in the future. Be sure to take extra precautions in hot and humid weather to keep your dog cool.
We hope that these blog posts have helped open your eyes to how significantly hot weather or environments can affect our beloved pets and how preventable heat-related tragedies are. Leashed pets are always welcome in the shop, and if you forgot your leash, just ask and we’ll let your borrow one while you shop. We never want any of our customers sitting in hot cars!