Getting Too Hot Under the (Dog) Collar

“Whew! Dahling – it’s like an oven in this car!  I can’t possibly wait for you here.”  Zsa Zsa Dogbor was indignant that her owner would even think about leaving her in the car while she went in for her hair appointment.  Summer is here and some owners forget that their pets need to stay cool!  Zsa Zsa was chatting later with her friend, Schnitzel, about this and he agreed that it is a scary time of year for dogs, especially.  “Ja, dis is da wurst time for dogs.  Sometimes, I feel like a ‘hot dog’ bratwurst in da bun”, said the little dachshund.  “Every year, dey hear da warnings, and every year, some dog owners let their pets suffer in the heat.  Why, why, why do dey do dat?” 

“Oh Dahling”, Zsa Zsa cooed, “some owners have memories that are shorter than your legs – we have to keep reminding them about the dangers of heat stress for us.  My cousin, Ilsa, almost died from being left in a car while her owner went for lunch.  Can you imagine?  She was stuck there, with no air conditioning, and no idea why she was left there or for how long.  She panicked and that made it even worse.  Here is what I learned from my PetFocus vet after they saved her…. 

“It’s Ok – I’ll only be gone five minutes.”  That’s what Ilsa’s owner said when she left her.  The human was going into Tim’s to pick up a coffee – but, she met a friend and decided to have lunch and forgot about Ilsa.  That happens so often.  Five minutes becomes twenty-five.  Honestly, I don’t know how any human could forget about me for a moment, but it happens!  The scary thing is that Ilsa started to be stressed in only 10 minutes.  Her human left all the windows open a crack and left her some water but it didn’t help.  She still suffered from heat stress. 

“How hot is too hot?”, asked Schnitzel.    

Well, even on a typical summer day at 21OC, temperatures inside a parked car can reach 38OC and on a really hot day of 32OC, they can hit a whopping 60OC!  Oh Dahling, we literally cook at those temperatures.  People don’t realize that inside temperatures can be 10–20OC higher than outdoors within minutes. Of course, Dahling, I don’t sweat!  Actually, no dogs and cats can sweat like humans and most of us have heavy fur coats. I don’t like to talk about it as it is not very ladylike, but we cool down mainly by panting and through sweat glands on our feet. The other problem, which Ilsa had, is that as it got hotter, she panicked which made things even worse.  Poor baby was barking and pacing and no one noticed.  

“Ach, nein!”  said Schnitzel.  “Dat is terrible.”  He wondered… 

How can you tell if a panting animal in a car needs immediate help?”  

Zsa Zsa explained – Oh, it is not at all ladylike – some signs of heat stroke are extreme panting, drooling, deep red or bluish tongue, trouble breathing… Ilsa threw up (how embarrassing), and she was stumbling and weak and her muscles had tremors.  When her owner finally came back, her eyes were glassy and she had a “far away” stare… it was awful, dahling.  The vet said that the next step would have been a seizure, collapse or loss of consciousness.  Even worse, after that, she might have gone into a coma or even died! 

“What if someone had seen her in the car?  What should they have done?”  asked Schnitzel.

This is a difficult question to answer – they could call 911 or the local animal control agency right away.  They should write down the license plate and a description of the car. They could also try to find the owner in nearby buildings – ask stores to page the car owner.  If they think that it is urgent, they could get another person to check too and then do whatever they can to get the poor baby out of the car.  They will need to go to the vet right away.  They should be moved to an air-conditioned car or building and they should be wetted down with “cool” (never cold or icy) water for a few minutes.  Give them some cool water to drink.  

Other things to think about in the heat are that pets can get sunburned too – Zsa Zsa said that she never sits in the sun as she is so concerned about her perfect skin but some dogs are taken places where there is no shade.  Cats, she said, are sometimes better at finding shady places and dogs need that too.  It is also important to make sure that pets don’t have to walk a long way on hot pavement – oh dahling, my poor feet. 

Don’t make excuses. Don’t take pets out for walks or runs during the hottest time of day.  Leave your pets at home if you know you will need to make any stops and NEVER leave them unattended in a parked car.  Paying attention to this may save their life.

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