In late May in New York City, a 12-year-old Yorkie died after being locked in a car for an extended time.
It was still morning — not even summer — but the dog had suffered from extreme heat-related injuries and, after being freed by NYPD officers, needed to be humanely euthanized by a veterinarian.
These accidents happen too often with consequences too tragic to be ignored or written off.
And those are just the stories that made the news. Thousands of animals suffer the same painful fate every year.
Many people think this could never happen to them, so they bring their pets along on errands and leave them “for a minute” or forget about them entirely.
They don’t realize that these seemingly innocuous decisions can put their beloved companions in grave danger.
Understanding the Dangers of Pets and Hot Cars
What everyone must understand is that a car is essentially a metal box.
On an 85-degree day, interior temperatures can climb over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in only 10 minutes and can jump to 120 degrees in half an hour.
Even in cooler weather, the inside of a car may be as much as 20 degrees hotter than the outdoors — easily reaching 90 degrees on a 70-degree day.
A shady parking spot, a bowl of water or even an open window are insufficient measures to counteract the deadly effects of these temperatures.
It’s hard enough to imagine ourselves being trapped in a hot car, but pets have special challenges.
Dogs and cats cool off primarily by panting — not by sweating — and their systems can become overwhelmed quickly. The rising temperature increases their heart and respiratory rates and can cause seizures as well as harm to vital organs, resulting in permanent injury or death.
Every moment that passes and every increase in temperature dramatically decreases an animal’s chances for survival.
2 Things You Can Do to Keep Pets Safe From Hot Cars
1. Think twice before bringing your dog or cat along for a ride that includes stops and errands.
“Don’t plan to just ‘stop in’ to the drugstore or the post office with your pet in tow,” says Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, DVM, a veterinary writer for Petful.
“Don’t think you’ll find a shady spot in a parking lot,” she adds. “Don’t think when you take your pet with you on a cool summer morning that it won’t be sweltering in a few hours.”
And if you must travel with your pets, don’t leave them unattended. Consider setting up reminders of their presence, such as a leash or note in the passenger’s seat.
2. If you see a distressed animal in a vehicle, try to find the driver, call 911 and stay nearby until help arrives.
More than half of U.S. states recognize the severity of this problem and have enacted laws that prohibit leaving an animal in a vehicle in dangerous conditions — including hot weather — or that legally protect people who rescue a distressed animal from a vehicle.
Stay Vigilant When It Comes to Pets and Hot Cars
This summer, whether you’re traveling with a pet or not, please be extra alert to animals in distress — your vigilance can save a life.
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This article was written for Petful by Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Matt previously contributed to our article “Adopting an Older Pet: An Expert Guide to Senior Pet Adoptions.”