By Tracie Korol
The kind folks at the Beaufort County Shelter asked me to dedicate an article to the perils of a Lowcountry summer, dogs in cars and the terrible demise of our dog friends due to heatstroke.
Recently, I was asked by a seemingly smart person, “It’s OK to leave my dog in the if I leave the A/C on, right?” No, it’s not OK to leave your dog unattended in a car in this county, ever. Ever. Not in the winter. Not under a tree with the windows cracked and not in an idling car with the air conditioning running. It’s against the law. The penalty? A fine of upwards onto $1,000 plus the shame of having done something really stupid to your Best Friend.
Let’s talk about summer. Common sense check: if you’re hot, your dog is hot, too. If it’s too hot for you to sit in a car without air conditioning, it’s too hot for your dog. If it’s too hot for you to walk barefoot across a parking lot or the sand, it’s too hot for your dog to walk there, too. If you’re sweaty and thirsty, your dog is too. He’s wearing fur and he can’t sweat.
The unattended dog-in-car is very common in Beaufort culture when seemingly caring people will leave their dog in the car while they do a bit of shopping or dining. People are fooling themselves if they believe that their dog is having a good time, along for the adventure. Even though your dog may enjoy a ride in the car, sitting in extreme heat anxiously awaiting your return is not fun at all, even if it’s just for 5 minutes. In another ten minutes, while you chat with the store clerk, he could be approaching death from heat stroke.
Even in the shade, and especially in humid conditions, dogs need to inhale air cooler than their normal body temperature of 100 degrees to be able to stay alive. Dogs confined in cars where the ambient temperature and humidity are above tolerable levels will begin to acquire heat from the environment faster than they can dissipate it. Overheated humans begin to sweat which evaporates and cools the skin dissipating heat buildup. Dogs, remember — fur-covered — have very few sweat glands to begin with and can only dissipate excess body heat via panting. Movement of air over a moist tongue and airway surfaces increases evaporative cooling somewhat. However, panting actually generates heat due to the muscle activity involved. Keep in mind that as a dog pants 100 percent humidity into his confined space, the ambient temperature and humidity of the car increases. It’s science.
Signs of heat stroke are intense rapid panting, wide eyes, salivating, staggering and weakness. Advanced heat stroke victims will collapse and become unconscious. The gums will appear pale and dry. If heat stroke is suspected and you can take the animal’s temperature rectally, any temperature above 106 degrees is dangerous. The longer the temperature remains at or above 106 degrees the more serious the situation. If you return to your car and find your dog seems to be highly agitated, wide-eyed and panting uncontrollably, start for the nearest animal hospital right away with the air conditioning going at full blast.
Even if heroic measures are taken, he may die from massive intravascular clotting, hemorrhaging, cerebral edema and kidney failure. Really.
Heat stroke is a dire emergency and one from which many pets do not recover. And it’s an ugly death. It occurs so quickly that your only response should be to get to the nearest animal hospital immediately — don’t even call first. Just GO!
Short-faced (brachycephalic) breeds such as Boxers, Pekingese and Pugs and dogs with heavy coats are at greater risk for heat stroke than some other breeds. Also, age and physical condition (heart problems, obesity) lessens a dog’s efficiency in dissipating heat buildup in the body. All it takes to avoid this serious problem is diligence and common sense. No, it’s not OK to leave your dog in the car.