Hot topic, pets face heat exhaustion in vehicles

The Daily Barometer

With the increase of summer temperatures comes an increased risk to pets experiencing heat stroke, especially when left in a car.

According to the Humane Society’s website, an 80-degree day can heat a car up to 99 degrees just ten minutes.

The average internal body temperature of a dog is somewhere between 101 to 102.5 degrees. A rise by just a few degrees can result in severe nerve damage, organ dysfunction, permanent brain damage, and even death.

Pet owners may be tempted to leave their dog in a car with the windows cracked to improve airflow, but Animal Control Officer Michelle Tracy said that does not work.

“Just cracking a window doesn’t significantly change the temperature in the car,” Tracy said.

A study conducted by Red Rover, a non-profit organization that works with animals in crisis, found exactly that—the internal temperature of a vehicle rises well above the outside temperature, even with all four windows rolled down.

According to Tracy, the misconception that cloudy days and rolled-down windows can make a car safe for pets leads to several local cases of distressed animals.

“(When it is hot out) we get calls about dogs left in cars almost on a daily basis,” Tracy said. “With the excessive heat, it’s pretty often.”

Tracy urges witnesses to a dog left in a hot car to call the local authorities.

“If you can locate the owner, that is the fastest way to liberate an animal,” Tracy said. “But if you can’t, call your local dispatch center or police department.”

Although laws regarding the liberation of animals left in hot cars vary from state to state, it is not currently legal in any state for a bystander to break a window or use force to free the animal. Instead, a call to local animal control or a non-emergency police department will allow authorities to assess the situation.

In Oregon, if the animal shows physical signs of being in distress, the proper authorities can legally use necessary force to free the animal.

“Some symptoms of heat stroke include excessive panting, dry pale gums, increased saliva, rapid pulse, confusion or weakness,” said College of Veterinary Medicine communications representative Lyn Smith.

If an animal control or police officer identifies these symptoms in an animal left in a car, they may issue a ticket to the owner of the car, resulting in fines or even jail time.

As a witness to an animal experiencing heat stroke, there are steps that can be taken to help the pet cool down.

“Put cool, wet towels over their neck, under their armpits and between their hind legs,” Smith said. “If you are outdoors, a stream or pond can be used to help them cool down.”

According to the Humane Society, submerging a dog in cold water or feeding it ice may cause its body temperature to drop too quickly, resulting in shock.

A better way to aid a pet experiencing heat stroke is to offer them a cool, wet towel, Smith said.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) have created informational flyers, urging that in these hot summer months, to leave a pet in the car for any amount of time is to risk their life.

According to the ASPCA, to keep pets safe, they should simply be left at home.

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