Today: Pets in Hot Cars


FIDO Blog | May 28, 2015

Dear Pet Travel Gurus:

I know we hear warnings about leaving your dog in the car and how things can overheat, but sometimes you just have a quick errand to do. How long is too long, and how long is okay?”  -- Julianna in La Crosse, Wisconsin

Melissa: What’s the old saying, Julianna? “A youtube video is worth a million words?” Take a look at this scorching footage. (Warning: contains footage of overheating vet.)

Sip: If you’re more the chart type, check out these numbers:

Melissa: I followed up with April Terrio-Manning, the Animal Control Officer in Somerville, Massachusetts. Even being in a pet-related industry, I had NO idea what to do if I saw a dog in a hot car. My instinct would be to smash a window.

Dr. Sip: That’s always your instinct! You and your temper!

Melissa: Shut up before I deck you, Siperstein.

April gets called to help when a pet is in a car. She told me that her department will confiscate the animal when the thermometer hits 70 degrees. She takes photos and has an officer on scene, especially since she might have to enter the car. Long-reach tools, like slim-jims and other tools will be used first if the dog isn’t unconscious, but she will smash a window if the dog is not responsive. The dog will then be brought to the city kennels or a veterinarian, depending on the state of the pet’s health.

Dr. Sip: I had no idea that’s how officers would handle that situation either. Good to know!

Melissa: 70 degrees seems to be the magic number, by the way, though other variables come into play, such as humidity, direct sun, and time of day.

Dr. Sip: That coincides with our chart. In just 10 minutes the temperature jumps nearly 20 degrees in the body of the vehicle. Now imagine wearing a fur jacket. In May, former colleagues at a veterinary hospital reported losing two dogs to heat stroke. In Massachussetts. It was less than 70 degrees out.

Melissa: Seventy is just a benchmark. It’s not a magic number.  No one intends to leave their dog in the car for long periods of time, but things happen on the way to the dry cleaner, right? And cracking a window doesn’t help, either.

Dr. Sip:  Exactly! That’s a common misconception. Just look at what happened to the overheated Dr. Ward, in our video!

It's hot in this coat! (nikoretro/flickr)

Melissa: Here’s a sad fact: More dogs than ever are being left in cars. April told me that Somerville had 12 cases of dogs in hot cars last year—a record. Most of those owners thought they were gone for “only a minute” and didn’t believe how hot it got until she physically showed them the interior temperature of the car before taking the pet. Some pets are even more susceptible than others, too.

Dr. Sip: You bet. Squish-faced dogs like pugs, Boston terriers and English bulldogs have an even harder time cooling off. A pleasant summer day outside can be brutal for such breeds, so a warm car can be way too much to handle.

Melissa: Pug or otherwise, there are laws regarding pets in cars, too. Sixteen states have state-wide laws on the books, and many more communities have their own regulations. There are fines and some states impose jail time. You can read the most recent state-wide laws here, though each community has their own regulations under the state-wide umbrella.

Dr. Sip: So, what’s a guy or gal to do, if they see a pet overheating in a Prius?

Melissa: I asked that question of April. She said to first call your local police department and ask for dispatch or animal control. Don’t call 911, unless the pet is unconscious.  Local dispatch will send someone to you quickly.

Dr. Sip: And while you’re waiting?

Melissa: Take photos and video - a thermometer or a screen-shot of a weather app would be great if you have a second phone handy. If you believe you have to break into the car, take as many photos first to cover your tuchus.

Dr. Sip: If you’re thinking of leaving your dog in a car, even for a minute-- don’t. This is one vet bill I’d love not to send.

Melissa: And I can’t train a dog not to overheat.  So, if you see something, say something, and CYA: Cover Your Affenpinscher.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One