Just nipping into the store to buy milk? Or popping in to an empty cafe for a takeaway flat white? It may seem harmless leaving dogs in hot cars while running the briefest of errands like these, but is it safe? After all, how long is too long? How hot is too hot and at what point does safe veer into unsafe?
It’s true, most of us are fully aware that it’s not safe leaving our dogs in parked cars. But it still happens. And now that Spring is hotting up and Summer is literally round the bend, the dangers for pets in hot cars ratchet up another notch.
So while we’re thinking of beaches, basking in the sun, and the hope of the end of lockdown, let’s remind ourselves of the dangers of leaving our cats or dogs in hot cars. And why we won’t from this point on.
What happens to dogs in hot cars?
Is it really dangerous to leave dogs in hot cars? Yes! Very!
It might seem harmless because it’s ‘just for a minute or two’ – but you’re not the one in the car. And if you were, you’d have the know-how and fingers needed to open the window. Just imagine removing that choice and the situation can be nightmarish as your internal organs start to heat up…
Heatstroke and death
Dogs can easily get too hot in a locked car. Besides not being able to open a door or window, dogs also don’t sweat the way humans do. The only place they sweat and release the heat is via their paw pads. Which is a too-small surface area to regulate the build-up of heat. As a result, pets can become more heat stressed faster than humans and can die when trapped in a hot car.
And it only takes an increase of a few degrees in your dog’s body temperature to cause heatstroke. Despite owners often being aware of this risk, it can nevertheless be difficult to understand how quickly the danger can escalate. For example, when it’s 25ºC outdoors, it may feel mild to you and I. Yet, it takes just 10 minutes for the car cabin to reach about 37ºC.
Brachycephalic dogs are at high risk of overheating
A dog can only withstand a body temperature of about 41ºC briefly, after which they can suffer brain damage, followed by death. Brachycephalic dogs (like a Pug or French Bulldog that have short flat snouts) often suffer from respiratory issues.
As a result they can suffer heatstroke faster than most other dogs – and often aren’t even allowed on airlines for this reason. They are at especially high risk and should never under any circumstance be left in cars.
Is it dangerous to leave all pets in hot cars?
Being locked in a hot car can be dangerous to any pet. However, it tends to be dogs, our ever-faithful companions who eagerly accompany us on out-of-house trips. Perhaps this is why dogs are the main victim of this pet parenting mistake.
Keeping your pet’s temperature at an optimum level during the warmer months is something to be cognisant of, in and out of the car. Read about keeping your dog safe at the beach.
Spring is not safe for dogs in hot cars
Safety warnings for dogs in hot cars are usually issued in and around summer. And while you may think of spring as gentle, even mild temperatures can endanger pets in cars.
So when exactly is it ok to leave a dog in the car? As a practice, we don’t advise leaving your dog in the car ever. Rather, let them stay home, or only bring them along if you know they’ll leave the car with you.
However, if it’s above freezing but below 20ºC you may be able to leave your pet in the car for a brief period. Provided you don’t park in the sun and make these accommodations for your pet:
- Park underground or in the shade
- Use window shades and a reflective windscreen
- Open your windows and sunroof as much as possible
- Make sure there’s an open container of cool water for pets to drink
- Spray pets with cool water before leaving the car (especially their inner thighs, stomach and neck)
- Keep your car as cool as possible until you need to turn it off
- Ensure pets aren’t already hot/dehydrated before you leave them in the car
Be aware that these guidelines are not intended to promote leaving pets in cars. It’s always best not to do so. In addition, these guidelines are only for healthy adult dogs and don’t apply to puppies, older dogs, or dogs that are not in optimum health.
Whether or not it’s a cool day, we advise you don’t leave your dog or other pet in the car.
If you travel with dogs in a hot cars
The unpredictability of weather and year round temperature increases thanks to climate change mean you should always take measures to keep pets safe in cars. Even if it’s just for a drive in winter and you’re not leaving them alone in a parked car. Cars are natural insulators and on a hot day, even with the aircon on or the windows down, it can be hotter in a car than out.
If you take your pets for drives, be aware of the occasional increase on the temperature dial. Read how to pet proof your car and be sure to make some adjustments to help regulate your pet’s temperature on the drive.
If you drive with dogs in cars, here are some steps to make your car a safer space:
- Pet cooling mat. These can be as much as 10ºC cooler than room temperature
- Expandable window vent. This allows you to open your window more than usual for optimum ventilation
- The colour of your car. Light colours for the exterior and interior make things cooler than darker colours, which can absorb and retain more heat
And if for any reason you suspect you might be leaving your dogs in hot cars even for a minute, invest in a wireless remote temperature sensor. It sends alerts to your phone so you know what the temperature in your car is doing – and whether it’s getting on the wrong side of safe. It also tells you about the humidity levels, which help you know if there’s enough air in the car.
Regardless, we suggest not leaving any pet unattended in your car for any length of time.
Pet insurance for a soft landing
Whether your pet joins you on regular outings or holds the home fort, keeping them safe and healthy is necessary. Pet insurance is a purrfect way to give your pet a soft landing – and it helps your peace of mind throughout their lifetime. With our affordable, easy online pet plans, making a claim is simple and fast.
We know how fast vet bills, medication and even hospitalisation can accumulate well into the thousands. And we’re there to lend a helping paw by covering a healthy portion of these costs according to your plan.
*at the time of writing