I was running an errand other day on the east side of Rochester, when I saw a dog locked in a car in the parking lot. It was a large dog, possibly a lab. The windows were all rolled up, except for one window in the back, which was cracked about 6 or 7 inches, just enough for the dog to get his snout up for a sniff.
I’d been in the store just a few minutes and I’d had the air conditioning running at top speed before I got out of the car. I keep a thermometer in my car all of the time to record the inside temperature, and on this day, when I got back into the car the temperature inside had risen to 80 degrees in just the few minutes I’d been in the store.
It might not seem like a big deal, leaving a dog in a car that’s about 80 degrees; after all, dogs lie out in the sun in temperatures that high.
But inside of a car is different. Here are a few reasons why:
1) The balance point between storing and getting rid of heat for a dog is 60 degrees Fahrenheit for a smooth-coated sled dog, Lorna and Raymond Coppinger write in their book, “Dogs: A new understanding of canine origin, behavior and evolution”. As their weight rises to over forty-five pounds, dogs have increasing problems getting rid of heat. (In comparision, that balance is 70 degrees for a human, who also has the ability to sweat to cool, something dogs can’t do.) All of which means that when the temperature is higher than 60 degrees, your dog is trying to cool himself off.
2) Dogs can’t sweat to cool themselves down, the way humans can. The only way they can cool off is to sweat through their paws or to pant. But panting means taking in air as well as breathing it out. As the website Weather.com explains,
“Air moves through the nasal passages, which picks up excess heat from the body. As it is expelled through the mouth, the extra heat leaves along with it. Although this is a very efficient way to control body heat, it is severely limited in areas of high humidity or when the animal is in close quarters.”
In close quarters – a kennel, a closed car – the ability for the dog to take in fresh, cool air is severely limited. And it only takes a few minutes for a dog to overheat and suffer brain damage.
3) The temperature outside the car is not an indicator of how hot is it inside the car. Last year, I conducted an experiment, reading the temperature outside and then inside my car at half hour intervals. I know that it’s dangerous to leave a dog in the car in the heat, but even I was surprised by what I found. At noon, for example, the outside temperature was 78 degrees and very comfortable; inside the car was 115 degrees. In partial shade. With the windows cracked. Even though I could feel the heat, I had no idea how hot it actually was. A dog left in that car for even a few minutes would have been in distress or even dead.
It’s fun to take the dog with you as you go out and about. But the sad reality is that it’s not always fun for your dog, and sometimes it’s downright dangerous. Even when you don’t think it’s too hot, it probably is.
If you insist on riding around with your pup, do your dog a favor: get a digital thermometer and for a few days before you let Fido tag along, record the temperature inside your car. Note how long you’ve been in the store and how quickly the temperature rose while you were away. Remember that any temperature over 60 degrees means your dog will be trying to regulate his body heat by panting and sweating through his paws. By leaving him in the car, you’ve essentially removed his ability to do that.
Or if you’re still not convinced, try wearing a fur coat all day when the temperature is 70 degrees or higher. All day. Without using any means to cool yourself off other than natural sweating, which you’ve hampered with the coat. That will give you a sense of how your dog feels when he’s left in the car.
To see the results of my experiment, check out this article.
(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved. For permission to reprint, visit me at www.JoanneBrokaw.com. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @joannebrokaw!