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I see a fair number of people in my area leaving their dogs in the car while they eat at a restaurant.

This doesn't strike me as a particularly safe or healthy practice.

Aside from expected risks like criminal activities, having your car towed, etc., what are the objective risks associated with leaving a dog locked in an unattended car?

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  • The interior of a car is capable of reaching far higher temperatures than the outside environment, becoming an oven for a dog (or child, for that matter) left inside it. This can happen quite rapidly and affect swiftly.

  • Dogs rely on cooling their body temperature through their paws (which is where most of their sweat glands are - have you noticed a vet's exam table get wet from a dog's paws?) and through panting; this makes them even more susceptible to overheating in an enclosed environment like a car.

  • Even with the windows left down, a car can heat up quickly. People have been known to resort to smashing windows to remove a dog from a locked car. In places where it is illegal to leave dogs alone in cars, the cost of the window repair is not recoverable by the owner.

  • It's important to note that if any dog is left in a car, the dog is at a much higher risk of developing heat stroke; which can be fatal. (Thanks to @sulfureous) This Wiki How Article gives some good advice on managing heat stroke.

The RACQ study below demonstrates temperature changes in cars over time, with windows closed and open:

RACQ Temperature study

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    This is great information Skippy, I'd just like to add to your answer that the dog would usually go into a heat stroke and that usually turns out to be how they die inside a car on hot weather. Here's a link with more on Heat Stroke. wikihow.com/Treat-Heat-Stroke-in-Dogs – sulfureous Oct 20 '13 at 23:56
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Is it hot enough to "fry an egg"?

Then it's also hot enough to fry a dog's brain.

- U.S. Public Service Announcement from 1987

The answer to this question is common sense; you don't leave a child unattended in a car because the interior of a car can heat up intensely within minutes. Dogs in particular cannot sweat, they can only pant; this heat can affect them even more severely than other animals.

This is not to mention the other, less-obvious, reasons you wouldn't leave an animal unattended in a car: they can potentially press buttons, pull levers, set the car rolling or moving, lock the car on you, defecate on your upholstery, urinate on your clutch, etc.

But let's just chalk it all up to common sense.

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