How can dogs die in hot cars?
We read about it every summer, we shake our heads, we feel sad, we feel angry, and then we go about our day. We think to ourselves, “Of course you can’t leave your dog in the car on a hot day, those idiots.” What many of us don’t realize is that it doesn’t take a “hot day” for your dog to die in a car.
Your car gets hot because it is basically a greenhouse on wheels. If you travel back for a moment to some fundamental physics, you’ll recall that glass allows heat to travel between areas easily. Combine this fact with the insulating nature and relatively small area of a parked car’s interior, and you have a recipe for disaster.
How hot does it get in a car?
It seems counterintuitive, but even on a relatively breezy 72-degree day, your dog can still die in a hot car. A common, duplicable study showed that on a 72-degree day, the interior of a car took about an hour to reach 116 degrees. That’s hot enough to do permanent damage to, or even kill a dog! It’s also been shown that open car windows do little to cool a hot car, and just leaving them cracked does next to nothing. Most of these tragedies don’t befall horrible, neglectful families; they befall people who are simply busy or who are unaware that they are driving around in a small greenhouse.
How long does it take for a dog to overheat in a car?
It only takes a few minutes for a dog to overheat in a car. Dogs, along with many non-human mammals, don’t have the biological ability to sweat. (They do have sweat glands in their paw pads, but these don’t offer any real relief). The only true defense they have against the heat is panting, and panting is actually pretty inefficient. Remember 15 minutes in a hot car has killed small children and children have a better capacity to cool themselves than dogs. Watch for these signs that a dog is overheating:
- A body that is warm to the touch
- Excessive panting
- Red-colored gums or red/flushed skin on the tummy, muzzle, or ears
- Thick or ropey saliva
If I see a dog in a hot car, do I break the window?
Now that you have the facts, let’s imagine that you do notice a dog trapped in a car on a hot day- Should you break the window? Most people are screaming “Yes!” right now- Just remember that not all state laws support breaking the window of a hot car when a dog is trapped inside. If you decide not to break the window immediately, remember it is still, most likely, an emergency and you should watch for the car owner while you call emergency services. Chances are the person who owns the car and loves the dog will be grateful in the long term. You can also petition your legislature for better laws on the matter.