It’s that time again… the weather is warming and we find ourselves concerned when we see pets left in cars. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), every year hundreds of pets die from heat exhaustion because they are left in parked vehicles. Many times we hear someone say, “I’ll just be a few minutes,” but what most people don’t realize is how much the temperature inside the car can rise in a very short period of time.

The temperature inside your vehicle can rise almost 20º F in just 10 minutes. In 20 minutes, it can rise almost 30º F…and after one hour, the temperature can be more than 40 degrees higher than the outside temperature. Even on a 70-degree day, that’s 110 degrees inside your vehicle!

This rise in temperature puts your pet at risk of serious illness and even death, even on a day that doesn’t seem hot to you. And, according to a first of its kind study by Stanford Medicine, parked cars get dangerously hot, even on cool days. It definitely matters if it’s sunny — much like the sun can warm a greenhouse in winter, it can warm a parked car on cool days. In both cases, the sun heats up a mass of air trapped under glass.

People may think providing a bowl of water makes it okay to leave the dog in the car, but that water is going to get warm as well and won’t be much help in cooling down the dog. Further, the study found cracking a window or running the air conditioner prior to parking the car had an insignificant effect on both the rate of heating and the final temperature after an hour.

What if you see a dog left in a hot car?

Although hearing a barking dog left in a car can be distressing, it doesn’t necessarily mean the dog is in distress. If the dog seems alert, and is standing upright, he is likely not in distress… yet.

Here are 5 signs to watch out for:

  1. Excessive panting or drooling.
  2. The dog’s tongue has turned dark purple.
  3. The animal is behaving frantically — pawing at the window, or trying to stick its nose out.
  4. Loss of bowels.
  5. Lethargic, and unresponsive behavior.

In addition, their eyes can become glazed over and you may see them trying to find a cooler place like lying on the floor.

What can you do?

First, you can go into the nearest store(s), give the license plate, make and model of the car and description of the animal so the owners can be paged to return to their vehicle ASAP.

It you’re unable to find the vehicle’s owner, you may call Animal Control — they will ask you a series of questions concerning the condition of the animal and will do their best to assist.

Although some states have passed Good Samaritan laws that protect people from being charged when they break a car window to save an animal, Wyoming is not one of them.

Officials advise against trying to get the animal out yourself, explaining that pets are considered property and you could risk being charged. Also, you could get attacked by the animal you are trying to save.

But, how should you balance the moral obligation to save a dog’s life with the legal obligation not to harm someone else’s property?  There really is no good answer that fits all situations.  For a further discussion of this topic, see https://www.thoughtco.com/about-a-dog-in-hot-car-127570.

 Cooling down the dog

If the owner has returned or you’ve managed to save the dog from the hot car, it is vital to cool them down. Unlike humans, dogs become overheated very quickly because they do not sweat through their skin. Dogs will sweat through their foot pads and also release heat through panting.

Try putting lukewarm/cool water on the dog, NO ICE!  This can actually cool them down too quickly and shock their system. Give them cool (not super cold) water to drink, being careful not to give too much, too quickly, as it could come right back up and further dehydrate them. You can also get them into an air conditioned environment, but once the dog seems better, dry them off and keep covered so they don’t lose more heat.

According to Dr. Sam Vernon, Frontier Veterinary Hospital, “One other trick, if available, is placing rubbing alcohol on the foot pads as that will assist with evaporative cooling through the pads.  External cooling should be discontinued once the body temperature is down to 103.0F to avoid over-cooling.”

And importantly, Dr. Vernon added, “If any dog is to the point where membranes are purple/blue, or they are lethargic or unresponsive, it is vital for them to be taken immediately to an emergency care facility as they often require more intensive IV care to cool the organs.”

Next steps

If you have removed the dog from the car, be sure to contact Animal Control to report the incident; they can determine if the animal needs medical attention and can handle any issues with the owner returning to the scene.

When the owner does return, chances are they will be upset or even angry – try not to be confrontational and fuel the fire. Remember it was not intentional and they likely care about their dog very much, that’s why they took them in the first place. Many people just don’t understand how much and how quickly a car can heat up. If more people do, they’re likely to leave their pets safely at home.

One thing you can do in advance is educate people – let your friends and family know, help them understand how hot a car can get – even on a cool day.

The Cheyenne Animal Shelter is offering free hang tags for your car so you can see when the temperature reaches dangerous levels.

By Cheyenne Animal Shelter Board Member, Lauri Julian