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Don’t think for a minute that dogs can survive in a hot car

Veterinarian Shawn Messonnier, with Rita, says that  "a matter of minutes, five or 10 minutes," is all it takes on a hot day for a dog to wind up organ-damaged or dead.

(Photo) Veterinarian Shawn Messonnier, with Rita, says that “a matter of minutes, five or 10 minutes,” is all it takes on a hot day for a dog to wind up organ-damaged or dead.

It’s 11 a.m., 75 degrees…

In the Safeway parking lot, two hairy dogs are panting and pacing in a car with windows cracked about 5 inches. They’re hot and unhappy, but not yet in distress, I think. I wait a couple of minutes, then call the humane society. I share the facts, including that one dog has just crammed itself under the steering wheel, evidently to get out of the blazing sunlight.

They believe the dogs will be OK until help can arrive — five minutes.

Animal-control guy rolls up in four, eyeballs the situation and decides to give the owner a few more minutes to emerge.

Owner blusters up just under the deadline, annoyed that people surround his car. Doors are flung open, water offered. Owner receives a stern lecture.

I hope it made an impact. Too many locked-in-cars dogs die horrible deaths every summer, their brains, their organs literally heated into mush.

I have to assume that most owners who take dogs in vehicles love those animals. And that until the awful moment of returning to a stifling car and discovering the tragic aftermath of a bad choice, they just didn’t fully understand (despite warnings from vets and humane organizations) how fast things go really bad.

So maybe this will help: a graphic description of exactly what occurs when a dog (and it’s almost always dogs, since few people take cats for rides) is closed in a hot car.

Plano, Texas, veterinarian Shawn Messonnier, who knows something about hideous heat and animals and who has written several books, including Unexpected Miracles: Hope and Holistic Healing for Pets, out next month, agreed to be brutally descriptive about the process and physiology of heat stroke.

First, he says, it’s important to understand that the temperature doesn’t have to be in the 90s for a car-bound animal to be in deep trouble. At much lower temperatures, particularly if the sky is cloudless, the humidity high or the car dark-colored, a vehicle becomes a sauna fast. And cracking windows a few inches accomplishes practically nothing (though many owners of now-dead pets thought it would).

In fact, researchers learned that when it’s a sunny 78 degrees, the temperature in a parked car with windows cracked rises at least 32 degrees in 30 minutes. So: 78 degrees to 110 in half an hour.

“A matter of minutes, five or 10 minutes” is all it takes on a hot day for a dog to wind up organ-damaged or dead, Messonnier says.

Here’s how it progresses: First, the dog pants hard, trying the only way it can to cool off. As the temperature rises and the dog realizes it’s in trouble, it becomes frantic, tries to get out, scratching at windows or digging at the seat or floor. It’s an awful moment, the dog’s moment of realization. “If you want to compare it to humans,” says Messonnier, “it would be this: The person is too hot, stifling, feeling trapped. But a person knows things can be done,” like smashing a window or blowing the horn for help. Dogs, of course, panic, since they can devise no strategies other than digging desperately. They often bloody themselves in this effort to survive. Some have heart attacks.

The panic doesn’t last long. Very quickly the dog goes prostrate, begins vomiting, having diarrhea and lapsing into unconsciousness. Organs are disintegrating. “All organs function properly within a certain temperature range, and when body temperature reaches a certain level, organ cells begin dying. There’s inflammation, white blood cells rush in … a cascade of things happens in minutes,” he says. Liver, brain, kidneys are dying.

“When you do an autopsy on a dog that died this way, the organs are soupy.”

If caught quickly enough, some dogs can be saved. It’s crucial to open car windows, turn on air conditioning and race to the nearest vet, dousing the dog in cool water if possible during the trip, putting something cool under each armpit and against the groin (“but don’t waste 20 minutes trying to gather up those last things,” Messonnier says, as it’s most important to get experts involved fast).

“If you’ve caught it early enough and you’re real lucky, there will be no permanent damage,” he says, though ascertaining that is a “waiting game” since some dogs that seem to have pulled through have liver or kidney damage that may not be obvious at first.

It’ll likely cost “several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars” to save a dog with heatstroke.

Not to mention the misery the animal has endured.

The reality is those “dashes” into the market while the dog waits in the car are rarely as quick as we expect. I know of an owner who ran into the bank, tripped while walking to the counter, knocked himself out, and by the time he regained sense (not long) and got someone to check on the dog in his car, it was too late. That’s the kind of thing that could happen, really, during any dash-in visit.

There’s also the person who left the car running with the air conditioner on to keep the dog cool. Car quit running. You can imagine the results.

And, by the way, snub-nosed dogs such as boxers and pugs have an even higher risk of overheating because they don’t cool efficiently.

I hate to be so grim.

But really, if it saves a dog …

Good Reminder!!  Thanks to Sharon L. Peters – Pet Talk, USA TODAY

Posted:  Just One More Pet

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July 16, 2009 - Posted by | animal abuse, Animal Rights And Awareness, animals, Just One More Pet, Pet Abuse, Pet Friendship and Love, Pets, Political Change, responsible pet ownership, We Are All God's Creatures | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 Comments »

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