Dogs are great. They’re cute, loyal and make for brilliant companions. However, it is important to understand that owning a pet is a huge responsibility, and the owner needs to be constantly aware of their requirements and tolerances. Dogs can’t tell us when something is wrong – they can’t tell us if the car we have left them in is too warm, or if they would like a drink.
Even on a mildly warm day, the temperature inside a vehicle can exceed that outside. On hotter days the temperature can easily reach 50 degrees Celsius.
As with many other animals, dogs are extremely sensitive to heat, and leaving a dog exposed to these temperatures is not only unfair, but also potentially dangerous.
Every year the Kennel Club receives numerous reports of dogs that have been left in vehicles in hot weather being literally cooked alive.
However, these are heartbreaking situations that can so easily be avoided.
Tips to protect your dog
The first tip to protect your dog is prevention. If you are thinking of taking Rover in the car while you pop for a coffee, or a spot of shopping, don’t.
Even if you leave the window open and provide plenty of water, your dog will be easily susceptible to overheating. To prevent this, you should take them with you or leave them in a secure, cool place with access to shade and water. Search on www.dogfriendly.co.uk for places that are part of the Kennel Club’s Be Dog Friendly campaign and will allow dogs in.
You should also avoid letting your dog take part in unnecessary exertion in hot weather, or stand in exposed sunlight for too long.
Plan your day in advance, taking into account your journey and the weather, especially if you don’t have air conditioning in your vehicle. Is it absolutely necessary you take the dog with you, or could it be left at home, where it would be much more comfortable.
If you do have to take the dog with you, and they will be spending any amount of time in the car, make sure they have plenty of space and aren’t squashed. Shade also needs to be provided so that they don’t have to sit in direct sunlight.
Take plenty of water with you, but store it in a thermos rather than a plastic bottle to keep it cold.
Make sure to make plenty of stops, to allow the dog to use the toilet, stretch its legs and cool down.
You should educate yourself on the signs of canine overheating. These include panting, disorientation, excessive thirst, dark gums, vomiting, diarrhoea and losing consciousness.
Finally, you should never pass by a dog if you see one suffering in a car.
What to do if you see a trapped dog
So, if you do see a suffering dog, what should you do?
Firstly, look around for the owner. If you see someone nearby, ask them if the dog is theirs, or if they have seen someone with the vehicle.
If the owner is not immediately apparent, you should let someone in authority, for example a car park security guard, know.
But, if there is no one around, you should call the police on 999.
The police will then contact the RSPCA if animal welfare specialists are required.
However, the RSPCA have no powers of entry to vehicles, even if there is a dog trapped inside. The police need to be the ones to force entry into the car.
What to do if your dog overheats
If you recognise any of the aforementioned symptoms in your dog after it has been exposed to a warm environment, you should contact the vet immediately.
They will give you advice on how to cool the dog down,
Firstly, you should move the dog out of the heat and into a cool area, preferably with a cool floor.
If the dog is still conscious, you should then offer it small drinks of cool, rather than chilled, water.
If you can, fan cold air onto the animal’s body.
Wrapping the animal in cool, damp towels is another good way to lower its body temperature. While doing so spray it with cool – not chilled – water, paying particular attention to the head.
Finally, you can cool your dog’s tongue by dabbing it with a cold, damp cloth.