Hot under the collar

August 1st, 2015

Twenty degrees in ten minutes. Thirty degrees in twenty minutes. Forty degrees in an hour. That’s what can happen inside a parked car on a summer day. Add another two minutes and it could be a game-changer for a young child or pet locked inside a hot car on a summer day. On a ninety degree day, even with the windows partially rolled down, the temperature inside your car could easily reach one hundred and twenty degrees. Even on a seventy degree day, the inside of your car is one hundred and ten degrees.

This summer, more often than any other, I hear about children and dogs left inside parked cars. And regardless of how many of us beat the drum denouncing it, ironically it seems most of us don’t always practice what we preach. Kidsandcars.org, a National organization on the forefront of automobile child safety, reports that over six hundred children have died in the last ten years as a result of being left alone due to overheating in a vehicle. This doesn’t include the number of heatstroke victims who have survived.

When it comes to dogs, the statistics are staggering as well. It’s estimated that thousands of dogs die each year as a result of being left too long in a hot vehicle. For some reason that number is growing each year.

By now most of us have seen a dog locked in a hot car. So what did you do? What should you do? Don’t turn your back thinking “it’s not your problem, don’t get involved”. Do whatever it takes to save a life. Begin by quickly attempting to find the vehicle owner. If unable to, call 911. If a child or pet shows symptoms of distress, unconsciousness, or begins to become unresponsive, make it your last resort to safely break a window. Law enforcement will support your decision.

Sue Skaskiw, who heads up Vermont Volunteer Service for Animals in Bridgewater Vermont, knows how serious the issue of dogs being left in hot cars is and she’s taking matters into her own hands. So far, along with the help of several donors, she has purchased one hundred and thirty thermal laser guns which measure the internal temperature of a vehicle. “Just by pointing and shooting a laser beam through the car window a police officer can instantly get a read-out of the temperature inside that car. The device measures surface temperatures rapidly and accurately”, said Sue, who proudly announced that as a result of VVSA’s hard work every law enforcement agency in Vermont has one. “Sadly, it’s a given that people will still leave dogs and children in vehicles this summer, mistakenly thinking that cracked windows will supply enough cross ventilation”, she adds.

Most of us know that our bodies sweat to lower our temperature. Most dogs’ owners should know by now that dogs cannot sweat. Most veterinarians will explain that dogs expel heat from their bodies through their mouths by exhaling. But even exhaling several hundred times per minute, a dog left in a hot car can’t expel enough heat to stay within a safe zone. Heatstroke can set in within a matter of minutes. Dr. Susan Dyer, owner of the Bradford Veterinary Clinic, has seen it all too many times. “Hyperthermia has claimed many dogs’ lives”, she says. Clinical signs, according to Dyer, are excessive panting, reddish gums or tongue and an overly fast heartbeat. When it comes to a dog left in a hot car, these signs can progress to collapse, staggering, vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, muscle tremors, loss of consciousness and even seizures. At 105-110 degrees, all major organ systems are affected and can even begin to fail. After just fifteen minutes at this temperature, a dog can have a stroke or heart attack. Dyer says immediate first aid is critical. ” Spray the pet with tepid or lukewarm water. Cooling with ice or cold water causes blood vessels to constrict and actually hampers the pet’s ability to cool itself by limiting blood flow. The end result is an increase in body temperature. Also, if pets are cooled to a point that is too low, they have a poorer chance of recovery. Whatever you do, get them to your veterinarian as soon as possible”, she adds.

Most of us can exit a car at our own will when we can’t beat the heat. Children and pets cannot. Remember, every second counts. So the next time you think to yourself you’ll only be “just a minute”, think again.

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