Leaving Pets in a Hot, Parked Car Can Be a Deadly Mistake

Pets in Hot Car

With the summer months upon us, we are at the height of pet travel. With most pets traveling by car, it's time for a reminder about the dangers of leaving your pet in a parked car. The temperature inside a car can skyrocket after just a few minutes. Parking in the shade or leaving the windows cracked does very little to alleviate this pressure cooker.

On a warm, sunny day try turning your car off, cracking your windows and sitting there. It will only be a few short minutes before it becomes unbearable. Imagine how your helpless pet will feel. On an 85-degree day, for example, the temperature inside a car with the windows cracked can reach 102 degrees within only 10 minutes. After 30 minutes, the temperature will reach 120 degrees. At 110 degrees, pets are in danger of heatstroke. On hot and humid days, the temperature in a car parked in direct sunlight can rise more than 30 degrees per minute, and quickly become lethal.

Stanford University School of Medicine conducted a study to measure the temperature rise inside a parked car on sunny days with highs ranging from 72 to 96 degrees F. Their results showed that a car's interior can heat up by an average of 40 degrees F within an hour, regardless of ambient temperature. Ambient temperature doesn't matter - it's whether it's sunny out. Eighty percent of the temperature rise occurred within the first half hour. Even on a relatively cool day, the temperature inside a parked car can quickly spike to life-threatening levels if the sun is out.

Further, the researchers noted that much like the sun warms a greenhouse in winter, it also warms a parked car on cool days. In both cases, the sun heats up a mass of air trapped under glass. Precautions such as cracking a window or running the air conditioner prior to parking the car were found to be inadequate.

Pets are very susceptible to overheating as they are much less efficient at cooling themselves than people. The solution is simple:  Either travel with someone who can stay with your pet and walk them while you're away from the car, or they stay in the car with your pet WITH the AC on, OR don't bring your pet along if the place you are going does not allow pets.

Dogs are designed to conserve heat. Their sweat glands, which exist on their nose and the pads of their feet, are inadequate for cooling during hot days. Panting and drinking water help to cool them, but if they only have hot air to breathe, dogs can suffer brain and organ damage after just 15 minutes. Short-nosed breeds, young pets, seniors or pets with weight, respiratory, cardiovascular or other health problems are especially susceptible to heat-related stress.

Signs of heat stress include: heavy panting, glazed eyes, a rapid pulse, unsteadiness, a staggering gait, vomiting or a deep red or purple tongue. If a pet becomes overheated, immediately lowering his body temperature is a must.

  • Move the pet into the shade and apply cool (not cold) water all over his body to gradually lower his temperature.
  • Apply ice packs or cool towels to the pet's head, neck and chest only.
  • Allow the pet to drink small amounts of cool water or lick ice cubes.
  • Then take the pet to the nearest vet.

Animal Services Officers or other 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.  They are not liable for any damages reasonably related to the removal, and the pet owner may be charged with animal cruelty.

Creating greater awareness is the key to preventing pets from this unnecessary suffering. Below are some tips to help spread the word:

  • A good start is to let friends know about the dangers of leaving their pets in a parked car, and remind them to keep their pets at home on warm sunny days if they'll be going anywhere pets are not allowed.
  • The Humane Society of the United States has posters available for a nominal fee that store managers can post inside their windows, to remind shoppers that Leaving Your Pet in a Parked Car Can Be a Deadly Mistake. They also have similar hot car flyers.
  • Get involved. If you see a pet in a parked car during a warm sunny day, go to the nearest store and have the owner paged.  Enlist the help of a local police officer or security guard, or call the local police department or animal control office.

To learn more about safe pet travel in cars, please visit our pet travel tips page.