Deadly peril dogs trapped in sun-baked cars
Even random warm days can be dangerous to your canine friends
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By Mickey Zeldes  March 15, 2013 12:00 am

There’s always a week or so around this time of year that gets unseasonably warm.  If I could predict when that would be I would time this column appropriately, but it always comes as a surprise.  And each time it does, we get in at least one animal that has been left in a car and had to be rescued from the heat.  It happened again just the other week when our weather was so warm and beautiful.

A Rohnert Park Dept. of Public Safety officer was dispatched to the Foxtail Golf Course for a dog in distress in a car.  The dog, a handsome adult boxer, was panting heavily, and the officer was told that the dog had been in the car for at least an hour.  The officer unlocked the car, gave the dog a bowl of water, which he gulped down, and brought him to the shelter.  It was a good thing he intervened when he had.  The body temperature of the dog at that point was 103.8 degrees (high normal is 102.5  degrees and organ damage can begin at 105 degrees).  The scariest part is the inner body can still be heating up even after the dog is removed from the car unless steps are taken to actually cool the body down.

All dogs are susceptible to heat stroke, but dogs with heavy fur coats and those with pushed in faces (brachiocephalic) have an extra hard time dealing with hot weather.  Cracking a window is not enough if the car is in direct sunlight.  The metal acts as a heat conductor, and the car becomes like an oven.  Dogs don’t sweat the same as humans and rely on panting to keep from overheating.  That doesn’t work if the air they are breathing in is too hot to cool them down.  Would you recognize the signs of heatstroke and know what to do for your pet?

Early signs of heatstroke are called heat exhaustion – even better if you can catch the problem at this point.  Symptoms include heavy panting, hyperventilation (deep breathing), increased salivation early on then dry gums, weakness, vomiting or diarrhea, confusion or inattention.  Advanced symptoms can include pale gums, convulsions, collapse, coma and death.  Ideally get the animal into an air-conditioned building or into shade if that is all that is available.  Cool the body down by soaking the dog with cool (not cold – that can add to the shock) water, especially in the groin area, armpits, ears and other places where circulation is close to the surface.  Placing a fan to blow over the dog can be helpful, and take the temperature rectally so you can know if your efforts are working.  Offer small amounts of cool water for the dog to drink – not too much or it may induce vomiting.  If the body temperature is high and/or the dog doesn’t respond fairly quickly to these steps immediately transport the dog to a veterinarian.

The boxer responded well to the treatments we gave and was reclaimed by his chastened owner that evening.  He said, of course, the car had been parked in the shade but he was longer than expected and didn’t think about the sun shifting.  When he realized how close he came to losing his best friend he promised to leave him safely at home in the future – a lesson we should all keep in mind as warmer weather approaches.

Upcoming events:  Still some spaces available in our “Fur, Feathers & Friends 2” Spring Break Camp for third through sixth graders.  Program is held March 26-28 from 9 a.m.-noon for only $65 per camper.  For applications and a flyer, go to our Web site: or stop by the shelter.

Free microchips extended until we do 500 animals.  Come in during any of our open hours (Wednesday 1-6:30 p.m., Thursday-Saturday 1-5:30 p.m. and Sunday 1-4:30 p.m.) with your dogs and cats – no appointment necessary.  The offer is for residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati only (proof of residency required).

Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at

Post Your Comments:
George Barich
March 15, 2013
Great article. Thank you.
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