Despite a major annual campaign each summer, last year saw a three-year high for the number of reports of animals suffering heat exhaustion with 8,290 reports to the RSPCA’s emergency line in England & Wales. This upswing in calls to RSPCA is also in the face of campaigners’ advice for members of the public to report dogs in distress in hot cars to the police via 999, as officers can attend more quickly and have power of entry to locked vehicles.
The message is: Dogs Die in Hot Cars.
PDSA Vet Olivia Anderson-Nathan said: “Dogs can only sweat through their paws, so they mainly rely on panting to cool them down. This means when the air is baking hot around them, they can’t cool down very well. Trapped in a hot car, dogs can quickly succumb to heatstroke, which can be fatal without urgent medical attention. Even if they don’t get heatstroke, imagine how painful, distressing and frightening it must be for them being trapped and overheating.
“Parked in the shade with the windows open, a car can quickly heat up like an oven, even when it doesn’t feel that warm outside. On a mild summer day of around 22°C, a car parked in the sun can reach a temperature of over 47°C within just an hour – dangerous for humans and dogs to be trapped in. In hotter weather, cars can even heat up to 60°C. So our message is clear: ‘not long’ is too long.”
Holly Barber, Campaign Manager at RSPCA, said: “Last year was our busiest for three years, with almost 8,300 emergency calls made to the RSPCA about this issue – that’s a 5% increase from 2017 and a 15% rise from 2016.
“It’s extremely concerning that despite all of our campaigning, dog owners are still ignoring our warnings and risking their pets’ lives by leaving them alone in cars on warm days.
“How many more dogs need to die before people realise that that split second decision – usually made due to convenience – could have a life-changing consequence?”
A quarter (26%) of vets surveyed as part of the British Veterinary Association’s autumn 2018 survey said they’d seen cases of dogs requiring treatment for heat-related conditions over the summer. The survey also found that almost one in seven vets (13%) had seen a dog coming into their practice suffering as a result of being left in a car.
What to do if you see a dog in a car on a hot day
In an emergency, it is best to dial 999 and report a distressed dog in a hot car to police. The RSPCA may not be able to attend quickly enough and, with no powers of entry, they would need police assistance at such an incident anyway.
Signs of heatstroke can include
- panting heavily
- drooling excessively
- becoming distressed
- appearing drowsy, lethargic or uncoordinated
If the situation becomes critical and police can’t attend, many people’s instinct is to break into the car to free the dog. But please be aware that, without proper justification, this could be classed as criminal damage. Make sure you tell the police of your intentions and take photos or footage of the dog as well as names and numbers of witnesses. The law states that you have a lawful excuse to commit damage if you believe that the owner of the property that you damage would consent to the damage if they knew the circumstances.
Once removed from the car, it’s necessary to give first aid to cool a dog with heatstroke down, but not so quickly that they go into shock. Move the dog to a shaded area and douse them with lukewarm (not cold) water. Allow the dog to drink small amounts of room temperature water. Keep cooling them until they come round and their breathing settles, then tell the owner to have them to be checked by a vet, even if they seem normal.
If the dog isn’t displaying signs of heatstroke, establish how long the dog has been in the car and make a note of the registration. Ask a member of staff to make an announcement of the situation over the tannoy, if possible, and get someone to stay with the dog to monitor its condition.
For more advice, and other resources such poster and leaflet downloads, go to www.pdsa.org.uk/dogsdieinhotcars
You can call the RSPCA’s 24-hour emergency cruelty line on 0300 1234 999 for advice but, if a dog is in danger, dialling 999 should always be the first step.