Life and Death in the Heat

On July 1, 2013, Ernie Ward, DVM uploaded a YouTube video about being locked in a parked car. This is a testament to how dangerous leaving an animal or person in a car can be. Dr. Ward is able to sweat, which allows his body to cool itself. A dog or cat cannot do this. They can only sweat through the pads of their feet and that is not very much. They can lose some extra heat from panting, but that still is not enough. Animals, children, and the disabled rely on us to take care of each other. It is our responsibility to take responsibility for our actions and to step up and save a life if needed.

Heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and sun stroke are all very real conditions. I have experienced them personally when I have done too much without enough shade and hydration. I have treated animals that were left in cars or were taken out in weather that they should not have been in. You must always remember what your pet is used to. I live in Wisconsin, we do not get really hot weather a lot – if my family uses our air conditioner at all in a summer it is usually only for a couple days. Therefore, we must remember what our pets are acclimated to temperature wise.

A couple of years ago, I experienced this situation. A person decided that a hot day was the perfect time to start exercising their large, obese, long haired dog. She decided to start their walk around noon and walked for almost 2 hours. A passer-by noticed the dog was dragging and asked if they needed some help. The girl did not realize that they did need help until after she told the passer-by “No, thank you. We are fine,” the passer-by left, and then about 30 minutes later the dog collapsed. He was then rushed into the veterinary clinic and had a core temperature of 0ver 105.0F (dogs should be between 100-102.5F, and once they reach 106F brain damage can occur). He was in cardiovascular collapse – his heart and lungs were not working properly due to the heat stress. The good news is that we were able to get a couple IV catheters into him and pushed fluids – he got 6 liters of fluids over a couple of hours and did other treatments to bring down his temperature. (Note: this is a lot of fluids that were required to rehydrate him and bring down his temperature). Amazingly, he was able to leave the clinic alive that evening. It was recommended that the family take him to a 24-hour emergency facility for continued treatment and monitoring, but they declined. To this day, I still wonder about this dog. I never saw him again. I hope that his family learned that heat is not something with which to mock or ignore.

Not all animals that I have seen have been this lucky. Some have come in dead from being left outside without enough shelter and/or water. Some have died after running around with the children and the family not realizing that the dog will keep playing as long as someone is playing along.

If you have outdoor pets, monitor them carefully as well. Their water supply will decrease faster in the heat and may get too warm. When I was a child, I took our rabbit and guinea pig outside to enjoy the nice weather, what I did not realize was that it was too hot for them. Their enclosed area was moved around the yard as we mowed, and ended up in the sun. Matilda (the guinea pig) died in my arms that evening and despite doing everything the veterinarian told us to do over the phone for the rabbit, Trix died overnight as well. It has been over 20 years, I still tear up when I think about the fact that I couldn’t save them. That I caused them pain and death. Please take this word of caution as I don’t want you or your children to experience this pain.

Please, watch your pets carefully. Don’t allow them to play too hard or for too long when the weather is too hot. If you don’t have air conditioning, make sure that you have fans and so forth going in your home. People have died from the heat in their homes, the same can happen for pets.

Stay cool, my friends.


One thought on “Life and Death in the Heat

  1. After posting this, my husband and I went to lunch with some friends. This is what happened while there.

    Someone came up to the people at the table next to us and said, “Is that your dog in the car? It is 95 degrees out and too hot for it to be in the car.”

    The owner then said, “He’s fine. He has water in the car.”

    I looked over and told him, “Actually, sir, I am a veterinarian and it is too hot for an animal to left if a parked car, even if the windows are rolled down.”

    The man went out to check on the dog after that. He then came back in and told his companion that they had to leave because someone was calling the police. This is not a laughing manner. I feel bad that I didn’t know there was a dog in the car as the people had been sitting next to us for at least 20 minutes already.


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