Dogs Die in Hot Cars [Infographic]

Here at Ignitionline, we usually place the focus on repairing or doing up your car. However, as summer finally seems to be here, we thought we'd highlight a different issue entirely. Hundreds of dogs needlessly die each year by being left in cars during hot weather. We all know we shouldn't do it, yet many still think that leaving the dog in the car as they nip to the shops is OK, but even this short amount of time is enough for a dog to die.

This infographic explores why dogs suffer from the heat so much, how hot a car can get, and what you should do if you see a dog trapped in a hot car. Following the infographic is a more in-depth article with input from TV vet and animal welfare champion Marc Abraham.

Dogs die in hot cars infographic

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For many dog owners, it’s something that is just inconceivable, and yet it still happens every year. We see warnings about leaving dogs in hot cars, and surely we all know the dangers, but then we see the tragic reports of dogs having lost their lives for that very reason.

Is it ignorance? Is it because some dog owners think it just won’t happen to their dog? Perhaps they think that because they’re only popping into the shops for a few minutes, it’s OK. But it’s not.

Here are the effects leaving a dog in a hot car can have and what you should do if you see a trapped dog. We also spoke with vet and animal welfare campaigner Marc Abraham for his advice on the topic...

Why can’t you leave a dog in a hot car?

When we get hot, we sweat. That’s our body’s way of attempting to lower its temperature. But dogs can’t sweat in the same way we do. In fact, they can barely sweat at all.

They can only sweat a very small amount through the pads on their paws, so the primary way they try and cool down is by panting. They can also lose heat slightly through the moisture on their nose. If they can’t cool down fast enough, then they can develop heatstroke, and this can happen very quickly, literally within a few minutes.

If you’ve ever had heatstroke then you’ll know it’s not particularly nice, but the effects are even worse for dogs. We spoke with animal charity Wood Green about heatstroke in dogs. They said: "It can be uncomfortable for humans but for dogs, the effects can be life threatening. All animals can suffer the effects of heatstroke, which can be fatal if not recognised and treated early on. Signs and symptoms include: heavy panting, red gums and tongue, lethargy, lack of coordination, difficulty standing up, vomiting and diarrhoea".

However, as Marc points out, the effects can get dramatically worse: “Their bodies literally go into meltdown. They go into a coma, have seizures and often inevitably die. And they die very quickly because they go into organ failure. It’s incredibly sad.

“And then you get this sort of vicious circle. As the dog gets hot it pants more, generating more heat and energy, so it actually speeds up the temperature inside the car even more. The golden rule is just don’t do it.”

They can also develop diarrhoea which can include their stomach lining, and some vets, having performed autopsies on dogs that have died in such a fashion, have described their organs as “soupy”. It sounds horrendous, and that’s because it is.

The long and short of it is that a dog can die in less than 15 minutes of being left in a hot car. And sometimes it can be even less than that.

Some dogs are more susceptible to heatstroke than others, such as older dogs and those on medication. Brachycephalic (short nosed) dogs, such as pugs, are also in greater danger as they have a smaller surface area on their nose through which to lose heat.

On a different, but related, note, Marc also warned against leaving dogs in the car for another reason - theft.

“There’s a hell of a lot of dog theft happening at the moment,” he remarked. “It’s just so easy for someone to walk past a car, smash the window and grab the dog before anyone’s noticed.”


How hot can a car get?

So just how hot can a car get when it’s hot. Well, ‘very’ is the short answer, but if we dig a little deeper into the reality, it’s really quite shocking. The graph below, produced by HeatKills.org based on research by San Fransisco State University, shows just how quickly a car can heat up.
Rise in temperature in a hot car
This is in fahrenheit, but it clearly shows how fast the temperature inside a car can rise. In British money, this equates as the following:

Outside the car °C

Inside the car °C

 

After 10 mins

After 30 mins

19

29

38

21

31

40

24

34.5

43

26.5

37

45.5

29

43

51

35

45.5

54


The average temperature in the UK is around 19 degrees celsius, so after just half an hour, the temperature inside the car can reach a sweltering 38 degrees. In the summer, it’s not uncommon for temperatures to reach 30 degrees celsius, which means the temperature inside the car could be over 50°C. Just to put that into perspective, the average temperature of Death Valley and the Sahara Desert is around 40°C.

As Marc succinctly puts it: “In a matter of moments, your car can become an oven and your dog will start to cook.”

Can you imagine sitting in that heat? Well American Football player Tyrann Mathieu did just that, forcing himself to sit in his car on a hot day to highlight the effects. He lasted just eight minutes before having to get out of the car. Take a look at the video below…



Some people think that leaving a window slightly open or parking in the shade can mitigate the effects, but in reality it has very little difference to the temperature in the car, and will still more than likely lead to heatstroke.


What to do if you see a dog trapped in a hot car

So you’re walking down the road on a summer’s day and you see a dog locked in a car. What should you do?

Well you obviously need to try and get the dog out as soon as possible, so try and locate the owner if they’re nearby. This could involve shouting for help or nipping into nearby shops to see if the owner is around. You could even ask the shops to put an announcement out over the speakers.

Your next step should be to call the police. You could also call the RSPCA (or animal control if you’re in the US), but their advice is to call the police as they’re likely to be able to get there a lot quicker. You should then stay with the dog until help arrives.


Should you break into the car?

Now this is a somewhat thorny issue. If you see a clearly distressed dog in a car and the owners are nowhere to be found, it may well be tempting to smash the window to free it.

However, this could actually be classed as criminal damage unless the owners agree it was necessary under the circumstances. That’s a decision you’d have to make, but if you do decide to smash the window, make sure you call the police beforehand and inform them of the issue, and get photo or video evidence of the dog in distress.

Earlier this year, a man was filmed smashing the window of a car in order to free a dog. The owners apparently didn’t return for nearly another hour and thought the fact they’d left the window slightly open was enough. Check the video below…

A video posted by Will Costa (@lifewithwill) on


Marc seems to be in no doubt about what he would do in such a situation: “If the dog is in real distress, then the temptation is to smash the window, and if it’s life or death and done properly then that’s the only option. I think most people would rather live with the consequences than see a dog die.”

He also hopes that this itself would act as some kind of deterrent for dog owners: “People these days are a lot more vigilante than they used to be, so if they see a dog in your car, they’ll just smash the window or report you to the police.

“Whilst it’s not an actual offence in itself to leave a dog in a hot car, it goes against the animal welfare act if the conditions promote heatstroke as the animal isn’t free from suffering.”

How to treat a dog suffering from heatstroke

So you’ve managed to free a dog from a hot car in way or another, but how should you treat it if it’s suffering from heatstroke. Here are a few basic first aid tips that should help:

  • Move the dog to a shaded/cool area.
  • Pour small amounts of room temperature water onto the dog’s body. If the water is too cold, the dog could go into shock.
  • If possible, use wet towels or a fan to cool the dog down.
  • Allow the dog to drink small amounts of cool water. Do not pour the water in the dog’s mouth.
  • The dog should be then taken to the vet to be checked over, even if it appears to have returned to normal.

Tips for travelling with dogs in hot weather

Many people will be heading on holiday this summer, and some will no doubt be taking their canine companions along with them. But as we’ve just established, dogs and hot cars don’t mix, so here are some tips for travelling with dogs in hot weather:

  • Pop the air conditioning on to ensure the car stays cool.
  • Stop regularly to give your dog the chance to cool down, stretch it legs and go to the toilet.
  • Ensure the dog has access to clean, fresh water.
  • Ensure the dog is secure not able to freely move around the car.
  • If you think the journey is too far for the dog in hot weather, then it might be best to rethink whether it’s the right thing to do.
When it comes to dogs dying from being left in a hot car, Marc thinks that the most depressing thing of all is the simple fact that it just doesn’t have to happen: “The worst thing about this is that it’s entirely unnecessary and preventable. People just need to use a bit of common sense.

“So this summer, be aware of spotting dogs that are locked in cars and then do something about it.”

Wood Green's advice is similarly important: "Our advice is to leave your pet pooch at home if you can't keep him with you once you’ve parked - it simply isn't worth taking the risk".

To find out more about Marc Abraham, his animal welfare work and his books, visit his website. To learn more about looking after and rehoming animals, visit Wood Green.
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