You have your dog with you running errands, and decide to go into the grocery store real quick. You end up getting a few extra things and then when you get to the checkout there is one line and 8 people in front of you. But your dog is in the car. She's all alone. Will she be ok? Lets see.
A dog is left alone in a car for 30+ minutes on a hot, humid day and panting isn't working to cool her. Want to guess what happens next?
She's panting as hard as she can, is sprawled out trying to distribute her heat out across the seat to keep cool. She's drooling and her heart is racing. She's very lethargic, so there's no way she's going to stand up and bark at the person putting away groceries in the car next to her. After all, she knows you'll be back soon, you always do come back. She may have vomited a couple times by now, but that hasn't helped at all. It's just her body's natural response to overheating. If you could open the door right now and see her, her gums would be dark red and she would be unresponsive to your voice saying her name. She would be staring off into the distance with an anxious expression on her face. Pretty soon, her organs will start to shut down- liver, kidneys, heart and brain. If you were to open the door now and rush her to a veterinarian, she might be saved, but may have lingering complications. Once organs completely shut down though, it's really, really tough to start them back up again.
This is Jake- He has never died of heat stroke, because he has responsible pet parents.
He wants you to know that it's flippin' hot out there, though.
This is my first summer back on the Eastern Shore after a few years living in upstate New York and I have been recently reminded of the heat here in the summer. July is the hottest month on average, with temperatures averaging 87 degrees and humidity generally hovering at 80% or more. The hottest recorded temperature of 103 degrees was in July 2011. Humidity is important because it helps you calculate the heat index. The heat index is a measure of how hot it feels when you add in the humidity, you can check out the NOAA's website to see for yourself how much of a difference it makes. Here's a quick example though: with a temperature of 88 degrees and humidity at 80%, it feels like 106 degrees out there. It feels different because we rely on sweating to cool our bodies- sweat sits on our skin and when they evaporate, a little bit of our body heat is essentially escaping and you feel more cool. When it's humid though, the sweat can't really evaporate. Now, dogs do have a few little sweat glands to help cool them, but they mostly rely on panting to cool their bodies. By panting, they are still relying on evaporation to cool their bodies, it's just the saliva in their mouth that's evaporating and cooling their bodies. It's actually not the most effective method of cooling, but it works pretty well most of the time.
Why does all this matter?
Because you love your dog and don't want her to die. You also don't want your car broken into be local law enforcement when your car with a dog locked inside is reported. Did you know that there are only 14 states that have a law against leaving an animal unattended in a vehicle? 14 out of 50 states in this country have a law against letting your dog die in a car. Ugh.
That's not my point today.
My point today is that it gets hot in cars. After 10 minutes, the temperature in a car can be 20 degrees hotter than outside. After 20 minutes it can be 30 degrees hotter and after an hour, it can be over 40 degrees hotter in your vehicle than it is outside. That means that on a 70 degree day, it can be 110 degrees in your car. Not to mention the fact that with no airflow or at best, limited airflow from a cracked window, your dog will have a tough time cooling off by panting.
Oh, did you know that there are actually some dogs who are more predisposed to heat stroke? brachycephalic breeds (boxers, bulldogs, pugs, shih tzu's, pekingese) have more trouble cooling off anyway, so be especially careful when it's hot. Their noses are shorter, so they can't pant as effectively as other breeds. Also, especially old and especially young dogs, or any with heart or respiratory disease are more susceptible.
Check out the links where I got the numbers:
If you see a dog (or any other pet) in a car on a hot day, get the make, model and license plate and notify nearby businesses so they can page patrons, or if it seems like you don't have time- call the police or animal control. If you are within the city limits in Salisbury, animal control is under the police department, and the number is 410-548-3165 otherwise call 410-749-1070 for the county. In Ocean City. My rule is that if it seems like an emergency- canine or human- you should call 911 and if necessary they will direct you the correct animal control/humane authorities. I'm not one to condone tying up the lines for 911, but if a life is in danger... that's kind of the reason for the number.