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In the dog days of summer, a vehicle is no place for pets

When the mercury soars, your pet will be happier and safer at home
Who’s a good boy then? Your dog is, and he’ll feel a lot better if you leave him at home during hot weather. (Photo credit: BC SPCA)

Summer has arrived with a bang, bringing with it record high temperatures, and the BC SPCA is reminding pet owners that both the heat and the bright sunlight can quickly turn vehicles into an oven, endangering pets that are left in the car for even a few minutes. Heat exhaustion—and in some cases death—can be the result.

“We can’t stress strongly enough how dangerous it is to leave your pet in a hot car,” says Lorie Chortyk, general manager of communications for the BC SPCA.

“Last year, the BC SPCA responded to more then 800 calls about animals in distress in hot cars. The temperature in a parked car, even in the shade with windows partially open, can rapidly reach a level that can seriously harm or even kill a pet.”

The advice is simple: unless you’re going straight to somewhere to do something with your dog, leave your pet at home. An animal left in a hot car can overheat in less than 10 minutes. If you are just running a few errands, even early in the day when it’s cooler, it’s safest not to bring Rover.

Dogs have a hard time cooling off: they wear a fur coat they can’t remove, and they don’t perspire. They can only cool themselves off by panting, and by releasing heat through their paws, which means they can only withstand high temperatures for a very short time—in some cases minutes—before suffering irreparable brain damage or even death.

Increased awareness around the subject of dogs left in hot cars has led to an increase in confrontations between would-be rescuers and pet owners. Not every dog in every car needs to be rescued, so onlookers need to act responsibly and assess the situation.

Exaggerated panting (or the sudden stopping of panting); salivation; an anxious or staring expression; weakness or muscle tremors; convulsion or vomiting; and being unresponsive to a gentle tapping at the window could all indicate an animal in distress.

Do not agitate the dog by pounding on the window or vehicle or by yelling. Instead, go into the nearest store or business and ask someone to make an announcement, giving the description and licence number of the vehicle. This reduces the risk of a confrontation.

If the animal is in distress and the owner cannot be located, call the BC SPCA (between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. on weekdays, and between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekends) at 1-855-622-7222. Staff will troubleshoot and help connect you with your local animal control agency or the police. In an emergency, call 9-1-1 for RCMP attendance.

Do not take the situation into your own hands; instead, let the proper authorities deal with it. Remember that it is illegal for members of the public to break a window to access the vehicle themselves; only RCMP and special provincial constables of the BC SPCA can lawfully enter a vehicle.

Keep emergency supplies—bottled water, a small bowl, a towel that can be soaked in water—in your car so you can help hydrate an animal (if a window has been left open) while you wait for emergency response. A battery-powered fan from a dollar store can also be handy to circulate air.

If your dog shows symptoms of heatstroke, immediately move the animal to a cool, shady place. Wet the dog with cool water, and fan vigorously to promote evaporation. This will cool the blood, which reduces the animal’s core temperature.

Do not apply ice, as this constricts blood flow and will inhibit cooling. Allow the animal to drink some cool water, or lick ice cream if no water is available, and take the animal to a veterinarian as soon as possible for further treatment.

While you might feel guilty leaving your dog at home, particularly if you are used to having it accompany you everywhere, it’s best not to bring them along. “If you will need to leave them in a parked vehicle, even for a few minutes, don’t take them,” says Chortyk. “Your dog will be much happier — and safer — at home, with shade and plenty of fresh cool water.”

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