By Lindsay Pollard-Post
The dog days of summer are here, and many people are traveling with their canine companions or driving them to fun places like the beach or the dog park. But unfortunately for dogs, a joyride can quickly turn into a death sentence if their guardians leave them in a parked car, even for a minute or two. It doesn’t take much time for disaster to strike, and it does not help if the windows are cracked or there is water in the car. It’s simply too hot for Spot.
Every year, PETA hears about gruesome cases involving dogs who have literally been cooked to death inside parked vehicles. In a recent USA Today column by Sharon Peters, Plano, Texas, veterinarian Shawn Messonnier described what happens to animals who are left in hot cars. As the car heats up, dogs try to cool themselves the only way they can—by panting. But with only hot air to breathe, panting doesn’t work, and many dogs panic and try to escape the stiflingly hot vehicle by clawing at the windows or digging at the floor or seats.
Their desperation only increases their body temperature, and some dogs have heart attacks as a result. Without intervention, trapped dogs collapse, vomit and have diarrhea and soon lose consciousness as their organs begin to die. Death quickly follows. According to Dr. Messonnier, “When you do an autopsy on a dog [who] died this way, the organs are soupy.” Most people wouldn’t wish such terrible suffering on their worst enemy—let alone “man’s best friend.”
Countless dogs have suffered this terrible fate after their guardians wrongly assumed that it was safe to leave them in a parked car “just for a minute” with the windows cracked or the air conditioner running. But even on a moderately warm day, it only takes a couple of minutes for a dog trapped in a car to suffer and die from heatstroke.
On a 78°F day, the temperature inside a shaded car is 90°F, while the inside of a car parked in the sun can reach 160°F in minutes. And the unexpected can happen. Air conditioning can fail or the car can stall. That “quick trip” could take longer than expected if you get stuck in line or run into an old friend.
Some lucky dogs have been rescued in the nick of time after caring passersby called 911, insisted that a store page the dogs’ guardians or even, as a last resort, broke into vehicles to release overheating dogs. But many dogs who do survive terrifying ordeals in hot vehicles sustain kidney or liver damage and require extensive, costly veterinary treatment.
No dog deserves to go through this. If you see a dog who has been left alone in a car, note the car’s color, model, make and license plate number and have the owner paged inside the store, or call local animal control authorities or police immediately—every second counts, and that dog depends on you. Don’t let your discomfort prevent you from doing the right thing.
If a dog is showing signs of heatstroke—restlessness, excessive thirst, heavy panting, lethargy, lack of appetite and coordination, dark tongue and vomiting—don’t waste a second. Get him or her into the shade immediately and call 911. Lower the animal’s body temperature gradually by providing water to drink; applying a cold towel or ice pack to the head, neck and chest; or immersing the dog in lukewarm (not cold) water. Rush the dog to a veterinarian.
And please, don’t take any chances with your canine companions. If you’re on the road with Rover and are tempted to stop to mail a letter, cash a check or pick up a loaf of bread—don’t. Drop off your dog at home first, where he or she will be cool, comfortable and safe. You’ll be glad you did when you return home to your best friend’s wagging tail.
Lindsay Pollard-Post is a research specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA.