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With some areas of the country experiencing shocking and unprecedented high temperatures recently, it’s a good time to review the dangers of leaving pets in cars.
Most pet parents know better than to leave a pet in the car when temperatures reach into the 80°s or 90°s (F), but a dangerous temperature is much lower than that. Even 60°F is too hot for pets in cars, according to Accuweather.
If you’ve ever sat in your car on a sunny, but relatively cool day, you may have experienced this “greenhouse effect” where sunlight can pass through glass easily, but the heat is trapped in the car.
Even on a 70°F day, it will take only 20 minutes to reach 100°F inside the car, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. See the infographic to the right to learn how quickly the car warms to a dangerous level at different temperatures.
Left too long in a hot car, pets will suffer heatstroke and quite possibly die in as little as 10 minutes. How long your pet can withstand heat will depend on the breed (brachycephalic or short-nosed breeds such as pugs and French bulldogs are especially at risk) and the amount of fur they have.
One common misconception is that cracking windows will allow enough airflow or cool air to keep pets cool. One study on children left in cars concluded that open windows offer little to no relief.
What to do if you see an overheated dog in a car?
If you are out on a warm day and see a dog in a car who appears distressed, this can present a real moral dilemma.
If you can’t find the owner quickly, the first step should be to call 911. The Animal Legal Defense Fund says that most states allow a police officer to break into a car to save an animal whose life is at risk.
“We recommend calling right away even if the dog does not yet seem to be in distress. Parked cars can quickly reach deadly temperatures, even on relatively mild days with the car parked in the shade and the windows slightly open,” said Scott Silvia, an inspector with the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Finally, if a pet appears about to pass out or expire, some people might choose to break a window themselves to save their life. Eleven states have made it legal for people to break a window if they believe a pet is in distress. Outside of those states, you could be held liable for property damage, or even charged with a misdemeanor.
You also risk enraging the pet parent and getting into a confrontation, or worse. If you do break a window to remove an animal, be prepared to show that it was a last resort and that all other options were exhausted or unavailable.
What if you have a Tesla with ‘dog mode’?
If you happen to own a Tesla electric car, you may be able to leave a pet in your car safely with dog mode. This feature, which was added via a software update, leaves the car’s air conditioning or heater on to keep the interior of the car at a safe temperature for your pet.
Tesla says that the temperature stays where the owner sets it for as long as you are away from the car. If the pet parent is gone for a long time and the car’s battery gets low, they will receive a push notification on their phone.
And should anyone walking by become concerned because they see a pet in a car on a hot or cold day, a screen displays a message:
“My owner will be back soon. Don’t worry! The heater (or cooling) is on and it’s XX degrees)”.
However, one Seattle man reported in 2019 that his dog was exposed to extreme heat while his Tesla was in “dog mode” when he failed to choose the right setting. Fortunately, the man had his Tesla app open and could see the temperature rising to a dangerous level and returned to the car.
When he tweeted about it, Tesla promised to fix the problem.
Nevertheless, all technology can fail so if you own a Tesla, don’t trust it 100%, and check the temperature on the app frequently to make sure it remains safe.
Let’s hope that other electric car makers take a cue from Tesla and implement this feature on all new cars.
The best course is to never leave your pet in your car unattended. If you think you will be leaving your car and can’t take your pet with you, it’s best to just leave them at home.
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