19 August 2012

Hot dogs belong on supermarket shelves - not in cars

Yesterday and today have been the hottest (and perhaps the most humid) days of the year so far (in the UK) and I thought that by now everyone knew about the dangers of leaving dogs in cars.  However, on a visit to my local supermarket today, this doesn't appear to be the case.

Despite, a number of well documented tragic deaths and the high profile Don't Cook your Dog campaign, which is spearheaded by Dogs Today magazine, it appears that the message still isn't getting through to some people.

The temperature today was between 27-30 degrees and it has been excessively humid.  Even with the air conditioning on, my car took a while to cool down for me to feel comfortable, let alone if I had any of the hounds with me (which, I hasten to add, I didn’t).  When I arrived at the supermarket I saw a small van with its windows cracked open and I could hear barking.  At the time I wasn’t sure whether the barking was coming from the van and I couldn't see inside as there were no windows in the back - just windows in the front.

I popped to another shop, mulling over the thought of a dog in an unbearably hot van. I must have been gone about 10 to 15 minutes and when I came back, the van was still there and this time, I was sure the barking was coming from inside the van.  I went into the supermarket and reported my concerns to the customer service desk, providing them with the car registration number.  They explained that all they could do was provide a tannoy announcement with the car make and registration number, asking the owners to come to the customer service desk.  They would then tell them that a member of the public had complained - unfortunately, they don't have any more power than a simple announcement.

In contrast to the humidity outside, the air-conditioned supermarket was a haven of cool - a sharp contrast to the environment that the poor dog was trapped in.  Just as the tannoy announcement was being made I saw that a family had gone to the van and were driving away and hopefully, a disaster had been averted.

Biologically, dogs can't cope with extremes of temperature*...

The simple biological fact of the matter is that dogs are terrible at regulating their body temperature.  If dogs can’t get rid of excess heat through their normal mechanisms such as panting or sweating through their paws, their body temperature can rise rapidly and quickly become a medical and life threatening emergency.

The dog’s average body temperature ranges between 100-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, with the average being 101.5 degrees.  If their temperature rises above 105 degrees Fahrenheit heatstroke is invariably fatal.

Age, breed type, physical condition and the environmental temperature all have an impact on how the dog’s temperature increases.  As is similar with humans, the very young and the old have less heat tolerance and are therefore at increased risk of heatstroke.  The Brachycephalic breeds are also more susceptible as they are more prone to respiratory distress when they try to increase their rate of panting when it’s hot.

Leaving a sunroof or windows cracked open isn't enough. If you do that you've consigned your dog to the equivalent of a car shaped oven. Still not convinced? Watch the video from the Kennel Club, which shows how quickly a car can heat up.

There's no excuse for being ignorant about the dangers of cars in hot cars

There are a wide range of resources that provide a wealth of advice on how to look after and protect your dog in the heat, including:

There really isn't any excuse, in my opinion, to plead ignorance over the dangers of heat and leaving dogs in cars.  I never want to find myself in another situation like today's.

I could have kicked myself for not having a supply of the Don't Cook your Dog leaflets and cards in my car (I have their lifesaver pack, as I give out stickers, leaflets and cards in my puppy classes).  So, I've now put a supply of them in my glove box and several of the cards in my purse.  I've also followed the campaign's advice and stored the RSPCA's 24 hour cruelty line number in my mobile phone.

From now on, the only hot dogs I ever want to see are those that you buy on a supermarket shelf and serve in a bun with onions and ketchup.

*References: Case, L.P. (2005), The Dog It's Behavior, Nutrition & Health. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd


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