Pet Talk: Hot Cars Can Kill

Now that summer has officially arrived I would like to remind everyone how dangerous it is to leave dogs unattended in parked cars during the day. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that hundreds of animals suffer and die each year from heat exhaustion because they are left in parked vehicles with no way out.

Most people know not to leave a dog in a parked car when temperatures climb into the 90s. But what if the temperature outside is 70? Surely the dog will be fine inside your car with the windows cracked while you dash into the store to pick up a needed item.

Wrong. In fact, potentially dead wrong.

Cars are like greenhouses and heat up more than you think. Sunlight entering through the glass is absorbed and heats up various objects like the dashboard and steering wheel. Then the warmed objects heat the air inside the car. The heat can’t escape easily because it has difficulty passing through the glass and is trapped inside. This is why greenhouses work so well in cold winter months to grow fruit and vegetables.

Your vehicle can quickly reach a temperature that puts your pet at risk of serious illness or death, even on a day that doesn’t seem hot to you, and cracking the windows makes little difference.

Multiple studies have shown how rapidly the temperature can rise in a parked car, even with the windows partially opened on mild days. These are numbers that everyone should be aware of and keep in mind when taking their pets in the car.

The temperature inside your car can rise almost 20 degrees in just 10 minutes. In 20 minutes it can rise almost 30 degrees and the longer you wait the higher it goes.

At 60 minutes the temperature in your car can be 40 degrees higher than the outside temperature. Even on a 70-degree day that’s 110 degrees inside your car.

Having a higher body temperature and being built to conserve heat rather than release it, canines heat up faster than people. We have sweat glands all over our bodies to help cool off. Dogs only sweat through their noses and the pads of their feet, and this isn’t sufficient for cooling them down.

A dog that is heating up in a car can only normalize his body temperature through panting, which doesn’t get the job done if he only has hot air to breathe. As his body temperature rises he will pant and drool excessively. He may begin to bark or whine and pace as he begins to panic from being in the heat, seeking out shady spots under the dash or seats. He may claw at the windows, dash and seats or try sticking his head out of the cracked window, all in an attempt to escape.

As symptoms progress he may vomit or have diarrhea, become disoriented and weak. If he continues to overheat, breathing efforts become slowed and seizures or coma can occur, leading to death. He can suffer brain and organ damage after just 15 minutes. If you see any of these signs in your pet, get him out of the heat, preferably into an air-conditioned vehicle, and then off to the veterinarian.

If he is conscious offer him water to drink and apply cool water to the inner thighs and stomach as well as the footpads to help alleviate the condition until you get to the veterinarian’s office.

Wisconsin is now one of a handful of states that has a Good Samaritan Law protecting people from being sued for breaking into a vehicle to rescue a pet or child from the heat. Below is a summary of the law.

This Wisconsin law enacted in 2015 makes a person immune from civil liability for property damage or injury resulting from his or her forcible entry into a vehicle to rescue an animal or person. Immunity is provided only if certain conditions were met. The person must have a “good faith belief” that the person or domestic animal was in imminent danger of suffering bodily harm and used no more force than necessary to remove the person or animal. That person must have first determined the vehicle was locked and forcible entry was necessary, and that person must have dialed 911 or other emergency services prior to this action. In addition, the person must have waited with the person or animal until emergency services arrived or left information on the vehicle’s windshield that included his or her name, telephone number, and mailing address, the reason he or she entered the vehicle, and the location, if known, of the person or domestic animal when he or she left the scene.

Heat stroke is a devastating emergency and a horrible thing for a pet and the people who love them to suffer. Fortunately it is easily preventable by not leaving your furry friend in a parked car alone on a warm day, not even for a few minutes.


Sally Salopek is the owner and operator of Attend-A-Pet pet sitting services in northern Door County. She has also worked professionally with animals in health care, pet grooming, training, wildlife rehab and rescue. Send your pet-related questions to her at [email protected].


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