Common sense tells most people that leaving their pet inside a parked vehicle on a hot, summer day could be dangerous after an extended period of time.
But most people don't realize that the temperature can skyrocket after just a few minutes. Parking in the shade or leaving the windows cracked does little to alleviate this pressure cooker.
A study by the Stanford University School of Medicine showed that temperatures inside cars can rise dramatically even on mild days. With outside temperatures as low as 72 degrees, researchers found that a car's interior temperature can heat up by an average of 40 degrees within an hour, with 80 percent of that increase in the first 30 minutes. A cracked window provides little relief from this oven effect. The Stanford researchers found that a cracked window had an insignificant effect on both the rate of heating and the final temperature after an hour.
On a warm, sunny day windows collect light, trapping heat inside the vehicle, and pushing the temperature inside to dangerous levels. On an 85-degree Fahrenheit day, for example, the temperature inside a car with the windows opened slightly can reach 102 degrees within ten minutes. After 30 minutes, the temperature will reach 120 degrees. At 110 degrees, pets are in danger of heatstroke. On hot and humid days, the temperature in a car parked in direct sunlight can rise more than 30 degrees per minute, and quickly become lethal.
Pets, more so than humans, are susceptible to overheating. While people can roll down windows, turn on the air conditioner or exit the vehicle when they become too hot, pets cannot. And pets are much less efficient at cooling themselves than people are.
Dogs, for example, are designed to conserve heat. Their sweat glands, which exist on their nose and the pads of their feet, are inadequate for cooling during hot days. Panting and drinking water helps cool them, but if they only have overheated air to breathe, dogs can suffer brain and organ damage after just 15 minutes. Short-nosed breeds, like pugs and bulldogs, young pets, seniors or pets with weight, respiratory, cardiovascular or other health problems are especially susceptible to heat-related stress.
Your pet’s foot pads contain sweat glands that help keep him cool, and the feet are particularly vulnerable to hot surfaces. Sidewalks, pavements, sand, and especially black asphalt can reach blistering temperatures in direct sunlight and cause nasty burns on your pet’s feet.
Signs of burned foot pads include:
• Limping or refusing to walk
• Foot pads appearing darker in color than usual
• Raw, red or blistered foot pads
• Licking or chewing on the feet
Take preventative measures and protect your pet’s feet by walking your pet earlier in the day before the sun heats things up. You can also walk on grassy paths or shady areas. Water play is refreshing in the summer but tender foot pads softened from prolonged water exposure can burn more easily. Dog owners should take extra care to protect dogs’ feet from hot surfaces after water play.
A dog’s normal body temperature ranges from 101 to 102.5 degrees. Dogs can withstand a body temperature of 107 to 108 degrees for only a very short period of time before suffering brain damage — or even death.
Remember that if your buddy has a shorter nose, like a Persian cat, a Pug or a Bulldog, he or she is more susceptible to heatstroke than breeds with longer noses. If you suspect your pet has become over heated, seek veterinary care immediately.
Signs of heat stroke include:
• Body temperatures of 104-110F degrees
• Excessive panting
• Dark or bright red tongue and gums
• Staggering or stupor
• Bloody diarrhea
At home consider your pet's housing. If they are kept outdoors, make sure they have shade and fresh water access at all times. If you live in a warm climate, it is a good idea to hose down the dog before work, at lunch or whenever you can to provide extra cooling.
If you suspect that your pet has suffered from a heat stroke, seek veterinary attention immediately. Use cool water, not ice water, to cool your pet (very cold water will cause constriction of the blood vessels and impede cooling). If your animal “appears” cooled, do not assume everything is fine. Internal organs such as liver, kidneys, brain, etc., are definitely affected by the body temperature elevation, and blood tests and veterinary examination are needed to assess this.
Source: HSUS, Seattle Humane Society