Medical professionals can sound like broken records. Physicians preach to their patients about having a healthy lifestyle. My doctor reminds everyone to buckle up. Dentists continually tell patients to brush, floss and visit twice a year. Veterinarians talk about responsible pet ownership all the time.
We should not have to continually remind clients to practice good animal stewardship.
Every summer, however, veterinarians have to remind pet owners to not exercise pets in the heat and NEVER leave pets in a hot car.
Pets suffer in the heat. Always wearing a fur coat and not being able to sweat except through their foot pads, pets pant to cool themselves. If left in a hot car even with the windows open they can become overheated quickly and die in minutes.
The Motor Vehicle Extreme Heat Protection Act has been introduced in the Pennsylvania Legislature by Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-Chester, and Reps. Frank Farry, R-Bucks, and Dom Costa, D-Stanton Heights.
The legislation would make it a summary offense to jeopardize a pet’s health in a hot car. A police officer, humane officer or other public safety professional could open a car if the pet is in danger. Members of this group would be protected from liability and damages to the car.
Pets removed from the car would be transported to a veterinarian for evaluation.
Some otherwise decent pet owners feel that it is acceptable to leave a pet in a car for a short time. This is only true if the car is running and the air conditioner is on. Even air conditioning can be disastrous if the car is low on gas. Heatstroke can happen in minutes. Once a pet succumbs to heat stress, brain, nerve and liver damage precede both agony and death.
Don’t be fooled by the shade; temperatures in a car can still skyrocket quickly. Once a car heats up and pets start to pant, the situation becomes dangerous quickly. Even a short errand can have an unanticipated delay with fatal results. Occasionally we hear reports of police canines that have died after being left in a hot squad car accidentally.
Even those who might report about such incidents can make bad judgment calls.
In mid-June, KDKA-TV reporter Andy Sheehan posted an apology on his Facebook after a concerned passer-by broke his car window to free his dog, Bentley, who had been left in his car longer than he intended. He said he was on his way to the park with his dog on June 15 when he stopped in Bloomfield to drop off a phone to be repaired. “I have no one to blame but myself,” Mr. Sheehan wrote. “I want you to know I take full responsibility for this thoughtless mistake.” He said his dog “is a prized member of our family, and I am sickened to think I could have harmed him in any way. I am relieved to report that he is fine.”
He added: “Perhaps, if some good can come of this, my bad judgment can be a teachable moment for others to leave their dogs home when doing tasks that don’t involve them. I know I will.”
Exercise can also stress dogs when temperatures heat up. Jogging and even a long walk in the heat can be uncomfortable for dogs. Some older dogs will collapse in the heat. Dogs develop airway difficulty when stressed. Pugs, bulldogs and even some Labradors and many other breeds can have respiratory difficulties. Even in a warm apartment without air conditioning, a fan is mandatory.
Summer heat is hard on everyone, and pets are particularly sensitive to high temperatures. Always take precautions to prevent heatstroke and the potentially deadly consequences.
Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org; include name and municipality or neighborhood.