Well summer is officially here and so is the heat that cranks up to accompany it. That old expression about being 90 in the shade certainly applies here in Orlando and other hot spots across the country. So what does that mean for your furry four-legged friends as they transition into the hottest time of the year?
For Orange County Animal Services (Florida), it is a critical time for “. . . aggressively cracking down on pets left unattended in cars.”
Last year, the Los Angeles County (California) district attorney’s office launched a campaign “. . . to educate the public about the dangers of leaving pets unattended in hot cars . . . using decidedly strong imagery to illustrate the point. In the campaign’s poster, a dog named Bilby is shown apparently about to roast in an oven alongside the text ‘Hot Oven, Hot Car…It’s the Same Thing.'”
While that may seem to be using extreme imagery to make their point it’s not. The reality is your furry best friend could die if left unattended in a hot car. According to The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), temperatures inside a vehicle on a warm day can rise rapidly to dangerous levels. For example, on an 85 degree day “. . . the temperature inside a car with the windows opened slightly can reach 102 degrees within 10 minutes. After 30 minutes, the temperature will reach 120 degrees. Your pet may suffer irreversible organ damage or die. If you see an animal in distress in a parked car, contact the nearest animal shelter or police.”
You would think applying a little bit of common sense would tell you this, but apparently for some people that isn’t the case. Already this year Orange County Animal Services has responded to several calls for “. . . dogs left inside unattended vehicles. Even before temperatures climbed to what they are today, a dog died in a theme park parking lot after being locked in a hot car for hours. But this is not an isolated incident. Cases similar to this happen all too frequently.”
Orange County Animal Services also recommends every pet owner be familiar with the following dangers of leaving a pet inside a hot car and take precautions:
- It takes only minutes for a pet left in a vehicle on a warm day to succumb to heatstroke and suffocation. Temperatures inside a car easily reach more than 160 degrees if parked in the Florida sun.
- Even when the outside air temperature is in the 60s, temperatures inside some vehicles can reach dangerous temperatures on bright, sunny days. Many experts recommend not leaving pets in parked cars even for short periods if the temperature is in the 60s or higher.
- Rolling down a window or parking in the shade does not guarantee protection either, since temperatures can still climb. If the window is rolled down sufficiently, the pet can escape. Plus, if a passer-by claims he or she was bitten through the car window, the pet owner may be held responsible.
- Animals are not able to sweat like humans. Dogs cool themselves by panting and by releasing heat through their paws. If they have only overheated air to breathe, animals can collapse, suffer brain damage and possibly die of heatstroke. Less than 15 minutes can be enough for an animal’s body temperature to climb from a normal 102.5 to deadly levels that will damage the nervous and cardiovascular systems, often leaving the animal comatose, dehydrated and at-risk of permanent impairment or death.
- Leave your pets at home during warm days. However, HSUS also cautions that anytime your pet is outside make sure he or she is protected from heat and sun (a doghouse does not provide relief from heat) and has plenty of fresh, cool water.
- Do not run errands with your pet. If an unexpected stop occurs, do not leave your pet unattended in the car. What’s more, the organization Partnership for Animal Welfare (PAW) in Maryland makes the point that leaving your dog in the car with the air-conditioning running can lead to tragedy too. They cite, for example, that “. . . in 2003, a police dog in Texas died after the air-conditioning in the patrol car shut down and began blowing hot air. The air system’s compressor kicked off because the engine got too hot. Many cars, including modern models with computerized functions, are prone to the same problem. In August 2004, a North Carolina couple lost two of their beloved dogs and nearly lost their third . . . as result of a similar failure.” It is best to take your pet home or to a safe location before making any stops.
- On trips with your pet, bring plenty of fresh drinking water and a bowl.
- Signs of heatstroke include: restlessness, excessive thirst, heavy panting, lethargy, dark tongue, rapid pulse, fever, vomiting, glazed eyes, dizziness or lack of coordination.
- If you see signs of heat exhaustion take the dog into the shade, an air conditioned area or directly to your veterinarian.
- To lower body temperature, gradually give the animal water to drink, place a cold towel or ice pack on the head, neck and chest, and/or immerse the dog in cool (not cold) water.
Moreover, HSUS advises to take care when exercising your furry friend on hot days. You should adjust the intensity and duration of exercise in accordance with the temperature. On very hot days, limit exercise to early morning or evening hours; especially with pets who have white-colored ears, who are more susceptible to skin cancer, and short-nosed pets who, because of their short noses, “typically” have difficulty breathing. They note as well that asphalt gets very hot and can burn your pet’s paws. If possible, walk your dog on the grass.
Orange County Code Sec. 5-43 states it is against the law to leave a dog, cat or other animal unattended in a parked vehicle with inadequate or no ventilation. The owner or keeper can face a civil citation for neglect in the amount of $265.00 and additional criminal charges by law enforcement. If you see a pet in a vehicle on a hot day, take immediate action:
- Note the car make, model, color and tag number, then go to the nearest store and ask the managers to page the vehicle owner.
- Call the police, they will alert Animal Services. The police have the capability to enter the vehicle and rescue the pet.
Reminded Katherine Lockett, Orange County Animal Services Division Manager, “Leaving a pet unattended with a vehicle, even while running a ‘short’ errand is a dangerous practice. Citizens should take action and contact law enforcement immediately if they see a pet left inside a vehicle. Minutes can save a life.”
So start your own campaign about the dangers of leaving your furry friends unattended in cars. Remember, if you see an animal left unattended in a vehicle report it immediately.
Animal Services has also issued an appeal to pet owners to vaccinate against contagious diseases. They have seen multiple cases of Canine Parvovirus (Parvo) in dogs that have been dropped off in their after-hours pavilion and note that young puppies are “particularly” vulnerable to Parvo.
Said Lockett, “The importance of vaccinating all pets against contagious diseases cannot be stressed enough. Industry studies have shown vaccination is an animal’s best defense to fight attacks on its immune system, which the stress of being brought into the shelter exaggerates. We’re doing everything we can to keep our shelter pets healthy, but pet owners need to do their part, too.”
Be responsible in protecting your furry friend and make sure he or she is given the best chance to be healthy, happy and a permanent part of your life. It’s what we do for family and our four-legged friends are certainly valued members of our family dynamic.