Have you ever popped to the supermarket and parked next to a car containing a dog? Was the dog panting right up against the partially open window and looking very distressed? It's dangerous to leave a dog in a hot car – they really can DIE.
Cars act like greenhouses in the hot weather and the temperature inside can increase dramatically in a very short space of time. It may be 25°C outside, but it can be more than 2-3 times hotter inside. Dogs cannot sweat like us and they lose most of their heat through panting. They also lose water through panting. The more they pant, the quicker they will dehydrate. As the temperature inside the car rises, the dog’s physiological ability to maintain its core body temperature fails and once that starts to happen, hyperthermia sets in.
Hyperthermia can cause the animal to become very lethargic. It will then become confused and unable to co-ordinate itself, as if it was drunk. This can then lead to seizure, then a coma then death. The brain is literally boiled as the body’s temperature soars.
Being shut in a car is the most common cause of hyperthermia in dogs, especially as it occurs so rapidly. This condition can also happen by just sitting in the garden for too long, or if the animal has an untreated infection or suffers a prolonged epileptic fit – obviously these last causes affect all species.
If you are concerned that your pet has become overheated, contact your vet immediately. The animal should be placed in a cold bath and then transferred to the vets as quickly as possible covered in cold towels and ice cubes.
On arrival, your vet will assess the situation. Sometimes the animal just needs to be hosed down or put in another cold bath. If your animal is fitting it will need intravenous fluids and sedatives to make the brain go to sleep until the body’s core temperature has returned to normal. Unfortunately, sometimes the body temperature is too high and brain damage has occurred so there may be nothing more that your vet can do, other than put your pet to sleep.
So remember, dogs can become distressed or die, even if left for a few minutes. If you are going to leave your dog for a short time, then park in the shade with the windows half open or better still, leave your dog at home.