When the molten Arizona summer arrives, commuters are faced with a sauna-like swarm inside their vehicles. But with errands to run and lots of driving still to do, is it okay to leave Sparky in the car, just for a quick run inside the store?
Dr. Thomas Gus from University Animal Hospital in Tempe says no way. Not even with the windows cracked in a covered spot.
“I don’t care what precautions you’ve taken, it’s a risk and I would not advise it,” he said.
Science shows car interiors can heat up in no time. The Stanford University School of Medicine conducted a study to measure the temperature rise inside a parked car on sunny days, sampling highs ranging from 72 to 96 degrees Fahrenheit.
The results showed that the sun can heat the air trapped in a car’s interior by an average of 40 degrees within an hour, regardless of ambient temperature.
Gus said there’s too many factors to tell which temperatures might be safe for certain dogs. “An indoor pug might get heat stroke when its 85 degrees outside,” he said, “whereas a sturdy Labrador might be able to tolerate temperatures above 100.”
Precautions such as cracking a window or running the air conditioner prior to parking the car were also found to be inadequate.
Dogs can only dissipate heat through evaporation of the mouth by panting, Gus explained, and a little bit through the foot pads. “They’re not very efficient at dissipating heat, unlike people, who can use 100 percent of their body surface.”
He estimates the risk of heat stroke in a hot car can elevate in as little as 10 minutes for certain breeds.
The warning signs of heat stroke in dogs are vigorous panting, dark red or pale gums, thick saliva and tacky mucous membranes.
If a dog is suspected of suffering from heat stroke, Gus recommends moving the pet into the shade and applying cool (not freezing cold) water all over their body to gradually lower their temperature. Applying ice packs or cool towels to just the pet’s head, neck and chest can also help.
An immediate call to a veterinarian is the next step.
Leaving a pet in the car can have potential legal ramifications as well. Law enforcement officers are authorized to remove any animal left in an unattended vehicle that is exhibiting signs of heat stress by using the amount of force necessary to remove the animal, and shall not be liable for any damages reasonably related to the removal.
Animal cruelty charges are not out of the question.
Thankfully, Gus said, his office sees only about one case of heat stroke a month in the hotter Arizona months from April to September.
However, a much more common ailment is injuries to foot pads from smoldering sidewalks. Gus sees these burns almost daily in the summer, he said.
“People don’t appreciate how the black asphalt will retain heat even after the sun goes down,” he said.
Gus recommends placing a hand on the ground surface to ensure it’s comfortable.
“If it doesn’t cause you to jerk away, then it’s probably okay to walk on,” he said.