Pet Safety Vital in Summer Temps

Sully enjoys the Black-eyed Susans. Photo: Dottie Wojciechowski 

By Duffy Perkins

Every pet owner knows the scenario: your shoes are on your feet, your wallet is in your hand, and just as you grab your keys to run a quick errand, your animal is in front of the door with that look. The “Don’t leave me” look. The “I love car rides” look. The “I can’t live without you” look. And while your pup may tug at your heartstrings just as strongly as their leash, allowing your pet to join you on car rides can spell an unseen disaster for you both. Leaving your wingman in a hot car can be not only cruel, but deadly.

A typical run into the grocery store might take you less than 10 minutes. But on an 85-degree day, a car left with windows cracked open can reach 102 degrees within just 10 minutes. After 20 minutes, it can reach 119 degrees. The average temperature in Anne Arundel County throughout the month of August is 87 degrees.

“Year-round, I would never recommend leaving a pet in a car,” says Robin Catlett, administrator at Anne Arundel Animal Care and Control. “If your pet can go in the store with you, it’s very different. But even at 70 degrees, things can become very hot, very quick.”

Perhaps instead of banking on your ability to sprint through the grocery store, it’s best if your pup stays on the couch this trip.

Humidity is also a factor. When you see your pet panting, they’re evaporating moisture from their lungs in an attempt to take heat away from their bodies. If an animal is stuck in a hot, humid car, they’ll be unable to cool themselves and instead their temperatures will spike to dangerous levels very quickly.

Cats and dog breeds with shorter muzzles (such as boxers, pugs, and shih tzus) have a much harder time breathing in extreme heat and should avoid it.

Signs of Heatstroke in Animals

Since your buddy can’t tell you when they’re too hot, the good pet owner needs to look for the signs of a heatstroke. Be sure to watch for:

•Heavier than usual panting

•Difficulty breathing

•Excessive thirst


•Dizziness or lack of coordination

•Profuse salivation and/or vomiting

•Seizure and unconsciousness

What to do if you see an animal locked in a hot car

Under Maryland Transportation Section 21-1004.1, “A person may not leave a cat or dog unattended in a standing or parked motor vehicle in a manner that endangers the health or safety of the cat or dog.”

That said, if you see an animal that has been left abandoned in a car and is not in visible distress, the first sign is to look for the owner. “We encourage people to go to nearby businesses to page owners and get them to the car as soon as possible,” says Catlett. Tell the store owner the make and model of the car, and the type of animal involved. Then call the non-emergency police line or Animal Control.

But if the animal is showing signs of distress and the owners are not around, the next move is to call 911.

“A police officer will get to the animal faster than animal control can, just due to numbers,” says Catlett. Law enforcement can be trusted to assess the situation and then use Animal Control as a care provider. And since leaving an animal in a car on a hot day falls under the authority of transportation jurisdiction, the police have the ability to charge the owners with neglect.

Maryland does not have a Good Samaritan law enabling the public to break into a car to save a distressed animal. Only law enforcement officers, animal control officers, public safety officers, and fire and rescue volunteers hold that authority. If you see an animal in distress, wait with the car until the appropriate authorities are on the scene. They will transport the animal to Animal Control or another care provider.

How to help a distressed animal

If your pet is experiencing the signs of heatstroke, immediate action is necessary. Getting the animal into the shade or preferably an air-conditioned area should be your first priority. Then, apply cool compacts to the animal’s head, chest, and neck. Rapid temperature fluctuations are not good for the animal, so make sure the compresses are cool, not cold. If possible, run cool (not cold) water over them, and give them small amounts of water to drink.

As soon as you are able, get the dog to a veterinarian for assessment. Heatstroke can cause significant neurological damage and organ failure, so getting the animal examined immediately is ideal.

Part of being a good pet owner involves making the best decisions for your animal ’s health and happiness. Until the temperatures cool, make the best call for your buddy and leave them at home. While they might give you the world’s most pitiful look as you walk out the door, you’ll know that you’re doing what’s best for everyone.

Non-emergency police line, Anne Arundel Co: 410-222-8050. In Calvert County, contact the Control Center: 410-535-1600 x2230.