By Danielle Boudreau | Yahoo Finance Canada

As obvious as it sounds, there are some people who still don’t understand how dangerous this practice is for their animals.

In fact, earlier this month, a community relations police dog in Alabama died after being left in a patrol vehicle by his handler, Cpl. Josh Coleman. The three-year-old yellow lab named Mason was taken to a veterinarian, but died from respiratory distress. Coleman was disciplined by the police force, but criminal charges won’t be laid.

Unfortunately that incident isn’t as rare as you’d hope. Last year the Washington Post reported that at least three police dogs died in hot cars during that summer.

Toronto media relations officer Victor Kwong said that Toronto Police Service has some neat features for their service dogs, including cars that have automatic air conditioning that regulates the temperature “even if the officer is not there or the car is not on.”

When asked how quickly a dog could be in trouble in a hot car, Nancy Kersey DVM, a veterinarian in Halifax, said it could be as fast as two minutes.

“Even faster if the dog is a brachycephalic, that classic squished-in faced dog,” said Kersey. “They have a triad of potential problems making respiration more difficult. They overheat very quickly – it should just never happen, summer, spring, fall, winter for a brachycephalic dog. But literally minutes is what we’re talking about.”

The veterinarian said that she had a dog with signs of head stroke in her clinic earlier that week, on a day that wasn’t above 20 C. The dog had been in a car, and was seizing with a temperature of over 104.

“It can happen so quickly and we just don’t get them back. If it has been a short amount of time and they’re near a veterinarian we can go through some great effort and they may be lucky,” said Kersey.

What should you do if you see a dog in a car?

“You can call police or animal services. If you feel the animal is in imminent threat of their life, then 911 would work,” said Kwong. He doesn’t recommend breaking a car window, noting that they have heard of cases where someone has taken the matter into their own hands, only to find out that the other window was open. “It hasn’t happened here yet, but to be safe, notify authorities.”

Penalties for leaving your dog in danger

There are charges available along the lines of cruelty to animals, and that’s only the police side, there’s also the animal services side, said Kwong.

According to the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (OSPCA) website, “Owners who choose to leave pets unattended in vehicles may face charges under the Ontario SPCA Act or the Criminal Code of Canada.”

Kersey suggests that it’s better to leave your dog home where they’ll be happier and less stressed. But if you must travel with your dog in the summer, the dog should never stay in the car alone, it doesn’t matter if you’re popping into the store for a couple of things, that’s enough time, she says.

If you are bringing your pet in the car, Kwong suggests planning ahead. “If you’re going to a restaurant, is there a patio where you can tie your dog outside, or is a store in a pet-friendly area? The alternatives are leaving the dog in the car or tying the dog outside, where there’s a risk of theft.”

Quick Tips

  • Dogs have a limited ability to sweat; even a short time in a hot environment can be life-threatening
  • “When the outside temperature is 83° F (28 C), even with the window rolled down 2 inches, the temperature inside the car can reach 109° F (42.7 C) in only 15 minutes.”
  • A study funded by General Motors of Canada found that within 20 minutes the air temperature in a previously air-conditioned small car exposed to the sun on a 35 C day exceeded 50 C. Within 40 minutes the temperature soared to 65.5 C.
  • In warm weather, a vehicle can warm to dangerous, life-threatening levels in only 10 minutes.
  • If you suspect your dog has hyperthermia, move him to a shaded, cool place and direct a fan at them
  • Cool the body with wet towels, wet the ear flaps and paws with cool water.
  • Take the animal to a veterinary facility immediately
  • Do not overcool the pet or attempt to force water into the pet’s mouth

(Sources: OSPCA, U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Canada Safety Council and VeterinaryPartner.com)

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