Hot Car Rescue at AHNA and Warm Weather Precautions

Recently, we had a scare here at Animal Hospital of North Asheville when a very careful and caring “pet mom” accidently locked her keys in the car with her dear 14-year old Papillon, Buddy, inside the car. The outside temperature was 90 degrees F. and although Buddy was not panting and was bright and alert, we knew we had to act quickly to keep him from developing heat stroke. After calling several companies and finding that they could not reach us quickly enough, we called the fire station in Beaverdam. Two firemen arrived within minutes, quickly released the locks using specialized equipment, and Buddy was rescued. We immediately brought Buddy into the cool building for an examination. Dr. Plankenhorn and her assistant, Cindy, were happy to find that all vital signs as well as the examination were normal. Due to the quick and caring actions taken by the fire department, Buddy did not suffer and went home healthy and happy. While this story has a happy ending, many pets suffer and even die in hot cars each year, so we hope this story increases awareness of the danger of hot car deaths in pets. It can happen in minutes.

Even when the family has good intentions and are “just running inside for just a minute,” the story can end in tragedy. Even when it does not seem all that hot and the windows are cracked, it can get too hot for your pet. The sun moves quickly, so a car in the shade can quickly end up being a car in the sun. The startling truth is that even in seemingly safe conditions the temperature inside your car can soar to life-threatening heights in less than ten minutes – about the time it takes to run into the post office, coffee shop, or the drug store.

Dogs and cats do not perspire as we do, so they are very vulnerable to heatstroke and possible death when the temperature rises. Since dogs and cats can only cool themselves by panting, when they take in large amounts of hot air while panting (as in a parked car), it actually raises their body temperature. Also, never depend on your car’s air conditioning system to continue to cool your idling car while you are not there. The computers in many cars today will shut off the air conditioning system or, even worse, cause it to blow hot air. Many families do not realize the hidden danger of depending on the air conditioning to protect the pets left in the car.

In a recent video, Veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward stays in a parked car on a summer day to prove how dangerous it is to leave a pet inside a car. By 5 minutes it has already reached 100 degrees. The car reaches 117 degrees within 30 minutes with all four windows opened 1 to 2 inches. This is extremely dangerous as dogs and cats don't perspire the same way humans do. The only way that Dr. Ward could have made this even more realistic is if he were wearing a coat, hat, mittens, etc. Imagine how miserable it would be to sit in a 117 degree parked car and be covered in fur; that is what pets experience. Watch the video here.

There are many other warm weather dangers that can harm your pet.  

Hot Asphalt: Even on cooler days, the sun can cause the temperature of asphalt to become so hot that it can cause painful damage to your pet’s paws. The pads on your pet’s feet are as vulnerable as your feet are to pain and burns. For example: While the temperature outside might be 77 degrees, the asphalt in the sun will be 125 degrees. You can cook an egg at 131 degrees, so image how your dog feels having to walk on that hot pavement. A quick test is to put the back of your hand against the pavement for 11 seconds. If it is uncomfortable for you then you should not make your dog walk on it. Opt for cooler times of the day and walking in the shade. Remember that it will take hours for the pavement to cool off once the outdoor temperature goes down, so the morning is the best time to walk.

Dehydration: Serious complications occur when there is not enough fluid in the body. Your pet should have access to fresh water at all times, but it is even more important when it is hot. If you cannot have water available at all times when travelling, be sure to offer fresh, cool water frequently. Also, watch your pet for signs of dehydration, which include: sunken eyes, lethargy, loss of appetite, dry mouth, depression and slow skin turgor. If you feel your pet is dehydrated, contact your veterinarian to determine the cause (a variety of serious illnesses can cause dehydration). To prevent dehydration: provide clean water at all times, monitor your pet’s water intake, and bring extra water when you are traveling or exercising with your pet.

Sunburns: Most pets have dense fur that acts as a natural sunscreen to help prevent sunburns. Cat and dogs with white hair coats are exceptions to this rule. Sun exposure can take a toll on the thinly furred skin on the ears and nose of white dogs and cats. Black dogs with short hair can also develop thermal burns on their backs if they don’t have protection from the hot sun. Sun-induced squamous cell carcinoma can be treated with surgery or radiation therapy if found early, but prevention is simple: Limit your pet’s exposure to the sun or consider some sun protection products made for dogs and cats.

Heat Stroke: When the body temperature rises to a dangerous level, death or permanent organ dysfunction can happen in a matter of minutes.

PETS IN THE MOST DANGER ARE THOSE:

  • left alone in a car
  • isolated in one area of a car that is not as cool as the “people” area
  • trying to keep up with a family member who is jogging or hiking
  • who are overweight 
  • who have a short face such as Boston Terriers, Pugs, Pekingese, English Bulldogs, etc.
  • who have thick coats
  • who are excited or ones that just exercised or overexerted
  • who have disease or are young or old
  • who are left outside with no option of an area to cool down or come inside
  • who have no access to water during warm weather
  • who are left in homes with no temperature control. If the AC or fans are turned off during the day while the family is gone, temperatures inside the house can rise to dangerous temperatures when it is hot outside.

SYMPTOMS or SIGNS:

  • frantic panting in a dog and any panting in a cat
  • dilated eyes
  • weakness, staggering, non-responsive, vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • red gums
  • body temperature above 103 degrees may mean your pet is overheating
  • collapse

TREATMENT:

If you suspect that your pet is overheated, and he or she is losing consciousness, you must act quickly. Begin to gently cool your pet even without confirming a high body temperature:

  • wet the pet down or use a tub of cool (not ice cold) water. You do not want to cool them down so quickly that it shocks the system. While cooling down, take frequent temperatures to may sure that do you not drop their temperature below the normal range of 101-102.5 degrees.
  • stop aggressive cooling of the pet when rectal temperature drops to 103 to 104 degrees F.
  • provide cool drinking water if the pet is able to drink 
  • have pet examined by a veterinarian ASAP

HEATSTROKE PREVENTION:

  • NEVER leave any pet unattended in a car or isolate them to a warmer area of your car while you are driving
  • Limit exercise on hot days. With any summer activity, remember pets overheat easily and don’t know when to stop or pace themselves
  • Have a rectal thermometer in your pet’s first aid box
  • Have fresh cool water and access to shade available at all times
  • Humidity can also affect your pet. If the humidity is high, panting is less effective for cooling, and the body temperature can skyrocket to dangerous levels.

Here are additional links with lots of helpful information on keeping your pet safe in hot weather:

Heatstroke in Dogs and Cats

Pet Travel and Car Safety

Summer Hazards and Your Cat

Car Trips and Car Safety for Dogs