Protecting Your Pooch

Car Safety for Dogs

Imagine this scenario: you drive to the park with your Golden Retriever, play fetch, let him romp around in the park, and get back into your car to drive home. You remember that you need a few things at the store, so you decide to stop on the way home. You park your car, crack the windows for your dog and think he’ll be fine. After all, you’ll only be in the store a few minutes. If 10 minutes turns into 30 minutes, is your dog still okay in the car? The answer may surprise you.

Pets in Cars

A pet’s normal body temperature is between 101 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit. A pet, like a child, can only withstand a higher body temperature for a very short time before suffering irreparable brain damage, or even death. On a hot summer day the air inside of a car heats up very quickly. On an 85 degree day, for example, the temperature inside your car-even with the windows slightly opened-will reach 102 degrees in 10 minutes. In 30 minutes it will go up to 120 degrees.

The heated air in a closed car interferes with an animal’s normal cooling process. Unlike humans, dogs and cats do not perspire to cool their bodies down, they pant. According to experts, when the air an animal breathes is overheated, the evaporation that usually occurs during panting doesn’t take place and their body temperature rises.

What to do if Your Pet Gets Overheated

If your pet is overcome by heat, give immediate first aid by getting him out of the car at once, laying him on cool shaded grass, pouring cold water over him, and calling your veterinarian immediately.

Recently, a friend told me that she witnessed a dog locked in a vehicle in her office parking lot for 45 minutes. After attempting to find the owner, she called animal control. An animal control officer had to break into the car to get the overheated dog out and into safety. The dog lapped up water, was taken to a shelter and thankfully recovered. Many people in the office were surprised that even in early spring; a dog can become overheated so quickly.

Dogs in Pick-up Trucks

If the above scenario took place where a dog was left in the bed of a pick-up truck rather than inside the car, would he have been okay? Perhaps, if the truck was parked in the shade and the dog had water available. But how the dog traveled in that pick-up truck is another story.

If you travel with your dog in an open bed of a pick-up truck, not only are you putting your dog at risk, but you’re endangering the lives of other motorists. If you put on the brakes abruptly or if you turn a corner too fast, your dog can be thrown from the truck bed and into busy traffic. This could injure or even kill your dog. If the fall doesn’t kill your dog, he could be struck by another vehicle after falling out of the truck. In addition, other drivers may cause an accident by swerving to avoid hitting your dog.

In 1987, the state of California passed a law prohibiting unsecured animals from traveling in an open truck bed in order to protect dogs from possible injury or even death. If you must travel with your dog in your pick-up truck, you can secure him in a crate (airline kennel) in the truck bed or secure him to a cross tie in the open truck bed so that the dog can’t reach the sides of the truck.

When I was a manager at the Michigan Humane Society in Detroit, a deceased dog was brought in by a grieving owner. The owner told me his dog had been tied up in the bed of his pick-up truck and while rounding a corner, the dog went flying out and hung himself instantly. This proves that even securing your dog with a cross tie (as California law allows) isn’t fool-proof.

Play it Safe

Both of these cases illustrate that you should play it safe when traveling with your dog. It is my belief that if your dog doesn’t fit inside your pick-up truck, you should leave him at home. And if it’s hotter than 80 degrees outside, don’t leave your dog in the car for more than 10 minutes.


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