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The first warm days of the summer are officially upon us! After this past winter, we are all happy to have some better weather. During this recent early heat wave I noticed several dogs sitting in parked cars in parking lots as I ran errands around town.

Dog Panting in CarThis is common in early spring as most dogs love car trips, but gets unsafe as the summer heat arrives. This observation made me realize that it may be time to remind everyone of the dangers of leaving dogs in parked cars on warmer days any time of year.

Every year hundreds of pets are seen at veterinary hospitals as a result of heat stroke. Sadly many of these pets die from these catastrophic episodes. The worst part is that these events could be easily avoided. Cabin temperature in a car can increase by as much as 20 degrees in 10 minutes, and continues to increase as time elapses.

Leaving windows open a small amount does little to slow the rise in temperature. Dogs reduce body heat primarily by panting and perspiring through their foot pads. These are inefficient for cooling in a hot, enclosed environment. Once a dog's core body temperature increases above 105 (F), it is considered a medical emergency and veterinary care is needed.

Below is a chart that estimates a car's interior temperature increase over time:

Estimated Vehicle Interior Air Temperature v. Elapsed Time
Elapsed time Outside Air Temperature (F)
70 75 80 85 90 95
0 minutes 70 75 80 85 90 95
10 minutes 89 94 99 104 109 114
20 minutes 99 104 109 114 119 124
30 minutes 104 109 114 119 124 129
40 minutes 108 113 118 123 128 133
50 minutes 111 116 121 126 131 136
60 minutes 113 118 123 128 133 138
> 1 hour 115 120 125 130 135 140

 

When you see a pet left alone in a hot car in apparent distress, there are several things you can do to help. First, take down the vehicle's make, model, and license plate number. Have the owner of the vehicle paged at the store or building associated with the parking area. If they do not respond, or the owner's location is unknown, contact local first responders for assistance.

When these situations are handled appropriately the owners will be very appreciative of your care and concern for their pet. Many times these pet owners are simply unaware of the risks associated with hot vehicles in the summer months.

As the "dog days" of summer are approaching please think of your pets' health and well-being. These are the months when "love 'em and leave 'em" at home is the safest alternative for your beloved pet. Just think how happy they will be to see you when you return!

If you have any questions or wish further information, please contact the staff at Muddy Creek Animal Care Center.

Dr. Blake Liebert is Chief of Staff at Muddy Creek Animal Care Center in Rowley, MA. He is a graduate of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.