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As mercury soars, don't let your precious pooch become a hot dog

Vehicles can heat up quickly in warm weather, so keep your pet safe by leaving it at home

Amid the heat warnings for human beings across B.C. in the first week of July comes a reminder to pet owners from the BC SPCA: hot dogs in cars are not cool.

Heat and 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, even if the car is parked in the shade or has the windows cracked open. When the outside temperature is 27 C, it can take as little as 10 minutes for the interior of a vehicle to heat up to 37 C; when it's 34 C outside, the interior of a car can reach 45 C in 10 minutes, and in an hour it will be 58 C inside.

“We hear it all the time: ‘I was just running into the store, I was only gone a few minutes!’ but what many people don’t understand is that even a few minutes can have fatal effects for an animal," says Eileen Drever, senior officer for protection and stakeholder relations for the BC SPCA. "Not to mention, even the shortest trips can easily turn into a half-an-hour or more in the store while your pet suffers in the heat.

"You might think your pet wants the company of joining you on your errands. Unless you know for sure you can bring them with you into the stores you plan to visit, we encourage you to leave pets at home where the temperature is more controlled, there’s more space, and they have easy access to fresh water.”

Dogs have no sweat glands, so they can only cool themselves by panting and by releasing heat through their paws. They can only withstand high temperatures for a very short time — in some cases, just minutes — before suffering irreparable brain damage or death.

In 2023, the BC SPCA Animal Helpline received 837 calls about animals in hot cars. So far in 2024, the Animal Helpline has already received 257 calls, but that number is expected to rise with the temperatures.

While many people's instinct is to take immediate action when they see a dog in distress in a hot car, the BC SPCA reminds the public that breaking a car window to remove an animal is illegal, and dangerous for the human and the animal. “Only RCMP, local police, and BC SPCA animal protection officers have the authority to enter a vehicle lawfully to help a pet in distress," says Drever.

Pounding on the door or window of the vehicle can agitate the dog and add to its distress. If you have concerns about a dog left alone in a potentially hot car, take a note of the licence plate number, vehicle colour, make, and model and connect with nearby businesses to have the animal owner paged to return to their vehicle immediately.

If the animal is showing signs of distress (exaggerated panting or no panting at all, salivating, an anxious or staring expression, muscle tremors or lack of coordination, convulsions, vomiting, collapse), call your local animal control agency, police department or RCMP, or the BC SPCA Animal Helpline at 1-855-622-7722 as soon as possible, and listen to the instructions of the call takers.

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, your pet will be much happier — and safer — at home. On long summer road trips, plan ahead to make sure stops along the way are safe for your pet. Have someone stay with the dog outside the car while everyone else makes a rest stop or goes to get refreshments.

British Columbians who want to go the extra mile to help keep pets safe can sign up to receive a free “No Pets in Hot Cars” decal in the mail. For more pet safety information visit the BC SPCA’s website at