Why You Never Want to Leave Your Pet in the Car
News stories about pets dying in hot cars begin appearing in the news media about this time every year. Unfortunately, some pet owners ignore these cautionary tales, assuming that something so tragic could never happen to their pets. No matter how quickly you plan to return to your vehicle, it's never a good idea to leave your pet inside.
The Interior of Your Car Heats Up Quickly
In just 10 minutes, the interior of a parked car can increase by as much as 20 degrees, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. After an hour, the temperature of your car or truck may be 40 degrees higher than the air temperature.
It's easy to underestimate how long errands will take. You never know when you'll encounter long lines in the grocery store, discover that replacing your ATM card will take much more time than you anticipated, or other inconveniences keep you from returning to your pet in a timely manner.
By the time you return to your car, your pet may be suffering from severe heat exhaustion. Signs of trouble include glazed eyes, lethargy, drooling, fever, panting, lack of coordination, vomiting, diarrhea, blue or red tongue or gums, or convulsion.
If you notice any of these signs, move your pet to an air-conditioned or shady location. Cool (not cold) moist clothes can decrease your pet's temperature, but you'll still need to make an emergency visit to the veterinarian. Without prompt treatment, your pet can suffer organ or heart damage or even die.
But What If I Crack the Window or Turn On the Air-Conditioning?
Opening the window an inch or two isn't very effective in lowering the temperature inside your vehicle, particularly if it's hot and humid outside. The interior of your car or truck can get just as hot inside whether the windows are closed or open slightly.
Keeping the engine on and running the air conditioner may seem like a good compromise, but it's not recommended. Although an air conditioner lowers both temperature and humidity, you never know when the system could malfunction. Air conditioning usually doesn't work so well when the car is idling.
Leaving the engine running also poses other risks. If your pet is loose inside the car, it could accidentally bump the gear shifter and put your car in drive or reverse. It's much easier to steal a car or a pet when the engine is running and the doors are unlocked.
Opening windows four or five inches may sound like a better solution. Unfortunately, your car can still become uncomfortably hot even if you lower the windows completely or partially. A determined dog or cat may also find a way to wiggle through the opening and escape into the street or parking lot.
Can I Leave My Pet in the Car During Other Seasons?
Outside temperatures may be lower in the spring and fall, but your car's interior temperature can still rise to dangerous levels. It's best to leave your pet at home if it's not allowed to accompany you to stores or businesses.
Winter weather poses special risks for pets. The temperature in your vehicle can quickly drop, increasing your pet's risk of developing hypothermia. Leaving your car running may not keep your pet warm enough, as heaters don't produce much heat when the car idles.
Leaving Your Pet in the Car May Be Illegal
Twenty-eight states have laws that prohibit drivers from leaving pets in hot cars, notes The Dogington Post. Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin allow concerned bystanders to break your vehicle windows or use other means to rescue your pet. Although your windows probably aren't your primary concern when you leave your dog, cat or small animal in your car, replacement costs and fines can be expensive.
Do you have a question about traveling with your pet or have a concern about your companion's health? We'll be glad to answer your questions or schedule an appointment to examine your pet.
AVMA: Pets in Vehicles
The Dogington Post: Protecting Dogs in Hot Cars: What is YOUR State’s Law?, 5/7/18
Humane Society of the United States: What to Do if You See a Pet in a Parked Car