Steamboat Springs A pet confined in a hot metal vehicle is like a human sitting in a sauna. The only difference is that pets can't sweat to cool themselves they need access to proper ventilation so they can pant themselves to cooler temperatures.
With temperatures already rising into the 90s this summer, pet owners need to be aware of the dangers of leaving their pets in a vehicle while they run errands, state officials and local veterinarians say.
The Colorado Department of Agriculture is warning residents not to leave pets in parked cars during the summer heat. In a matter of minutes, on a day when it is 70 degrees outside, the temperature inside a car can reach more than 100 degrees even with the windows cracked.
Dr. Sally Palmer, a veterinarian at Steamboat Veterinary Hospital, said that three to four pets come into their office each summer suffering from heat stroke. They've either been over-exercised, unable to get out of the sun because their leash got caught while tied up in the back yard, or they were left in a vehicle without the windows rolled down enough.
"The car is the most common and problematic in terms of pets developing heat stroke," Palmer said.
The problem with leaving pets in a parked car is that, without the windows open, the car inevitably becomes hotter than outside and the confinement doesn't allow for effective heat exchange. Not all owners can leave their windows open, though, if their pets have the tendency to jump out.
The best solution, Palmer said, is to leave pets at home. Otherwise, keep the car parked in the shade with the windows rolled down. Also, keep water available for the pets in the car and check on them often to make sure the shade hasn't moved or they're struggling to stay cool.
"It's probably going to be a high-risk summer," Palmer said. "(Heat stroke) really is a life-threatening condition."
A pet's extended exposure to extreme heat could cause brain, kidney or heart problems. Time is of the essence in a heat stroke situation because the longer an animal is exposed to the heat, the worse off it is, Palmer said.
She advises owners to seek veterinarian care as soon as they become aware of their pet's over-heated condition. The key steps to take when caring for a pet before getting it to the vet is to put it in cool water, such as a nearby stream, or apply wet towels to the animal's neck and inside of its thighs. Then, get the pet to professional care.
It's important not to put them in an ice bath, Palmer warns, because the severe coldness can actually make the pet's condition worse. By going to the other extreme, the pet gets too cold too fast, which causes it to shiver, automatically heating up its internal temperature.
Pets with different body types or characteristics will handle heat differently, but generally speaking, dogs older than 10 and those with an underlying disease or heavy coat are more susceptible to heat strokes, Palmer said.
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