How hot is too hot for your best fur friend?

Posted on 4/20/2021 by
avatarBecky Lea

There's a saying around the pet community, "If it's (too hot, too cold, or unsafe) for you, then it's (too hot, too cold, or unsafe) for your pet."

Most people know they shouldn't leave their pup in a car on a hot day. But even the most well-meaning pet lover may not know how much heat is too much.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the temperature inside your vehicle can rise almost 20º F in a mere 10 minutes. After an hour, the temperature inside your car or truck can be more than 40 degrees higher than the temperature outside. This means that even on a seemingly mild 70-degree day, your dog will be left trying to cope with 110-degree heat inside your vehicle. And leaving windows cracked a few inches doesn't make much difference to a dog (or person) stuck inside a large tin can on wheels.

Most states have laws that prohibit leaving an animal in a parked motor vehicle "in a manner that endangers his health or safety." But most states also have little or no penalties attached to those laws.

Unfortunately, while there are laws in Michigan against being cruel to animals, it's not specifically illegal to leave an animal to die of heatstroke in a hot, parked car. According to the Animal Legal and Historical Table of State Laws that Protect Animals Left in Parked Vehicles Center, published in 2020 at the Michigan State University College of Law, Michigan is not included in the list of states with a law preventing/protecting animals in hot cars.

Given this lack of legal mandate, it's up to humans to do the right thing. Experts say the best action when it comes to taking your dog along in the car is to leave him safely at home most of the time. Sure there will be the occasional trip to the dog park, the groomer, or the vet, but at no time should you leave an animal unattended in a parked vehicle.

Heatstroke doesn't just happen to animals in parked cars with the windows rolled up. Your daily walk can turn into a health crisis, especially if the sun is bright and scorching. Having a dog thermometer along is a smart idea. Check his temperature if he starts showing signs of overheating, such as panting, drooling, or vomiting. Anything over 104 degrees means he's in trouble and needs vet care immediately.

"It's important to remember that it's not just the ambient temperature, but also the humidity that can affect your pet," says Dr. Barry Kellogg, VMD, of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. "Animals pant to evaporate moisture from their lungs, which takes heat away from their body. If the humidity is too high, they are unable to cool themselves, and their temperature will skyrocket to dangerous levels—very quickly."

The Humane Society of the United States suggests changing your outdoor activities' duration and intensity, depending on the temperature. On hot days, exercise with your pet in the early morning or evening hours. Take walks in the grass whenever possible, as sand or asphalt can burn your pet's paws. And always be sure you have water available to keep your pet - and yourself - hydrated.

The country is opening back up after a long pandemic response. Our four-legged companions and we need and deserve a carefree spring and summer. Let's be sure we also keep things safe for everyone.