Leaving a dog in the car in summer, even for a very short period, is potentially fatal yet it is still the most common cause of heatstroke in pets.
“It’s a scenario we are all familiar with,” says Country Animal Clinic veterinarian Dr Ingrid de Wet. “Holiday traffic is a nightmare, you have the dog in the car but you really need to stock up on bread and milk. You spot a parking bay outside the supermarket, leave the dog in the car with the windows cracked open for air and dash inside. You’ll only be gone for five minutes, you tell yourself. But those five minutes endanger your pet’s life.”
Even with the windows opened a few centimetres, the temperature inside the car on a hot day rises rapidly and for fur-covered pets the danger of over-heating and suffering heatstroke is substantial.
Watch out for
Excessive panting and signs of discomfort or sudden collapse and weakness. Always be aware of the ambient temperature and take appropriate preventative measures. Any hot environment can cause heatstroke, but the most common cause is careless actions such as leaving a dog in a car on a hot day or forgetting to provide shade to an animal kept outdoors. Remember to schedule walks and exercise early in the morning and late afternoon when it is cooler.
Dogs with thick fur (e.g Huskies), short noses (Bulldogs and Pekinese), working dogs like Labradors or Springer Spaniels or those suffering from medical conditions such as obesity or heart disease are predisposed to heatstroke and should always be closely monitored on hot days.
What to do
If you suspect heatstroke, remove the dog from the hot environment immediately. If it is unconscious, make sure no water enters the nose or mouth. Do NOT give it aspirin to lower its temperature; this can lead to other problems.
- Put the dog in the bath tub or a tub of cool water.
- Run a cool (not cold) shower over the dog’s entire body but especially the back of the head and neck.
- Allow the water to fill up the bathtub as you shower the dog. Keep the head elevated to prevent aspiration pneumonia.
- If getting the dog into the tub is impractical, use a garden hose to cool the dog or place him in a pool of cool water.
- Apply a cold pack to the dog’s head to help lower his body temperature — a packet of frozen vegetables works fine.
- Massage the legs. A vigorous rubbing helps the dog’s circulation and reduces the risks of shock.
- Let the dog drink as much cool or cold water as it wants. Adding a pinch of salt to the water bowl will help the dog replace the minerals it lost through panting.
- Get immediate veterinary attention. Heatstroke can cause unseen problems, such as swelling of the brain, kidney failure, and abnormal clotting of blood. On the way to the veterinarian, travel with the windows open and the air conditioner on. Veterinary treatment will consist mostly of replacing lost fluids and minerals but may include identifying and treating secondary conditions.
Never ever leave the dog in the car with the windows closed, or even cracked open a few centimetres, even if parked in the shade. Remember that the metal of the car turns its interior into a hot box on hot days, no matter how breezy or shady outside.