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Pets & Cars

Cars, Pets and Heatstroke

A very preventable cause of death of pets is heatstroke. It occurs when owners leave their pets in the car for “just a few minutes”.  “People mean well by taking their pet along with them while they work, visit, shop or run errands. However, warm temperature can turn a car into a death trap, “said UAN President and CEO Nicole Forsyth.


It is for this reason that United Animal Nations (UAN) operates an educational website: It is a valuable resource to spread the word on the dangers of leaving pets in cars.

The site features include:

  • “It’s Hot” fliers to leave on car windshields.

  • A weather forecasting tool. This allows people to enter their zip code and find out if it’s too hot to take your pet in the car.

  • Free downloadable “Hot Weather Warning” posters to hang in store fronts.

San Francisco State University, Louisiana Medical Society, Stanford University and the Animal Protection Institute have all done separate studies and reached the same conclusion. It doesn’t matter if the windows are open. It doesn’t matter what the color of the car is. It doesn’t matter if you park in the shade. In temperatures as low as 72 degrees, the inside temperature of the car will rise 19 degrees in 10 minutes. In 20 minutes it will rise 29 degrees and so on. In as little as 15 minutes, the car can become deadly. Temperature Chart.

What are the principals behind vehicle warming?

The atmosphere and the windows of the car are transparent to the suns’ shortwave radiation. This is why it doesn’t matter if the windows are opened or closed. This shortwave radiation heats solid objects such as the dashboard and seats. These objects heat the adjacent air by conduction and convection. The objects give off longwave radiation which warms the trapped air in the vehicle.

Leaving the air conditioner on while your pets are waiting for you is not a good idea either.  For one, it is a mechanical device and mechanical devices are subject to breakdown. Instead of cooling the vehicle, it may warm it instead. Secondly, in your pets’ excitement, they may be all over your car. They could inadvertently turn it off.

Heatstroke begins when your pets’ body temperature surpasses 104 degrees. This happens when the temperature in their environment (car) becomes higher than their body temperature with little or no air circulation (car), high humidity (heavy panting) and close quarters (car). Signs include lethargy, heavy breathing and panting, bright red gums and tongue, vomiting and diarrhea.

Heatstroke can cause shock, respiratory distress, kidney failure, heart abnormalities among other complications. Damage can become irreversible once their body temperature reaches 106 degrees. Death follows.

What can be done if heatstroke occurs?

  • Remove the pet from the hot environment!

  • Turn on the A/C if possible.

  • Lower the body temperature by wetting with cool water.

  • Do not use cold water or ice water. It is counterproductive. It will shock the system and cause a thermal barrier. The pet will be unable to cool itself.

  • Contact a veterinarian for instructions.

  • Transport to veterinarian as soon as possible.


If you seen a pet in a vehicle exhibiting signs of heatstroke, call local animal control, police, or 911. In addition, ask the management of the nearby businesses to make an announcement.


Every year every animal control officer has the same story to tell. One they are tired of telling. Please leave your pets home if you have to leave them in the car.


“I’d like to thank Mary Oquando for her contribution of this invaluable literature.”  

Lisa Rojas

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