What Should I Do If an Animal Is Left Unattended in a Hot Vehicle?
As the weather warms up, we want you to be aware of the dangers of leaving an animal in a vehicle. Never leave an animal unattended in a vehicle on a warm day. If you see an unattended animal in a vehicle in distress, call your local police or animal control immediately. While several states have “good samaritan” laws that give an individual civil immunity for breaking into another person’s car to rescue an animal, Utah does not. As such, it is incredibly important to report an animal in distress to the local authorities as quickly as possible for intervention and the best possible outcome for the animal.
Warm Weather and Animals in Vehicles: A Dangerous Mix
The temperature inside a vehicle increases by about 40 degrees in an hour, with the bulk of the temperature increase occurring within the first 15-20 minutes. That 40-degree climb is an average, not a limit. This means that, even on a 60-degree day, the temperature inside a vehicle can easily reach above 100 degrees within an hour. As we enter the summer months and temperatures average between 85 and 100 degrees throughout most of the state, the temperature inside a vehicle will become dangerous to humans and animals within minutes. For most companion animals, heat exhaustion occurs at 105 degrees. At 110 degrees, irreparable damage occurs in an animal’s body, and death is likely. This is further complicated by an animal’s anatomy. Dogs, for instance, control their body temperature through panting. Though they do have sweat glands in their feet, these glands do very little to control their body temperature. The reliance dogs have on panting to cool down makes some breeds, particularly brachycephalic breeds (e.g., “smush face” breeds, such as pugs), more susceptible to overheating due to reduced breathing capacity.
What If I Park in the Shade/Roll Down My Windows?
A vehicle traps heat, regardless of being parked in the shade or having the windows rolled down. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, an independent study performed on the temperature rise in enclosed vehicles found that cracking the windows had very little effect on the temperature rise inside the vehicle. Another study, performed by the Louisiana Office of Public Health, found that neither a lighter color of vehicle nor cloudiness reduced the heat trapped in a vehicle.
How Do I Know If an Animal Is in Danger?
Signs of heatstroke and distress in companion animals include:
- Panting – increasing in intensity as heatstroke progresses
- Drooling and salivating, with the drool getting thicker as the animal becomes more dehydrated
- Agitation and restlessness; often pawing at the air
- Bright red tongue that may swell
- Dizziness, stumbling, trouble standing
- Muscle tremors
What Do I Do If I See an Animal in Distress?
Local ordinances regarding animals in hot vehicles vary from municipality to municipality, but Utah state law criminalizes cruelty to animals. Cruelty to animals includes inadequate protection from extreme weather conditions. If there is any indication that an animal is in distress, call your local authorities for assistance. If you aren’t sure who to call, call 911 and they can direct you to an appropriate officer. Please note that it is not legal in the state of Utah for a citizen to break into another individual’s car to rescue an animal. If you do this, you will likely face criminal charges and/or civil liability.
Treating Heatstroke in Dogs and Cats
If you come across an animal that has been pulled from a hot vehicle and is experiencing heatstroke, seek professional help immediately. A veterinarian is best equipped to handle heatstroke in animals, but in an emergency situation, the following can be performed:
- Move the animal to a cooler, shady spot
- Wet a towel with cool (NOT cold) water and lay the animal on the towel
- Offer small amounts of room temperature water for the animal to drink frequently, but DO NOT force the animal to drink water
- Put a small amount of cool water around the ears and paws to help cool them down
- Lay the animal in front of a fan to dry off
Advocating for Pets left in Hot Cars in Utah
Find out what your local ordinance is for pets left in hot cars by checking out your city’s code webpage or by calling your local animal control. If your city doesn’t have a local ordinance and you want to get one on the books to further protect companion animals in your city, contact our Advocacy Department. We are happy to guide you on how to go about making that change. In addition to the steps above, you can help advocate for animals in your community by increasing awareness of the dangers of leaving pets in hot cars by sharing this on social media.