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The Dangers of Keeping Dogs in Cars

Amelia Catling,

Dog Health , +1

May 19, 2020

Black Labrador dog looks out of the window of the car.

Black Labrador in a car

Written by: Zoe Russell, BSc (Hons)   

Nutrition Officer, Skinner’s Pet Foods  

Some dogs enjoy spending time in the car and will travel calmly and safely. This is beneficial as it allows owners to take them to the vets, to competitions or even to the beach or the park. Travelling safely in cars is also a necessity for many working dogs as part of their role. Some dogs such as police dogs and customs dogs can spend from 3.5 to 5.5 hours of their day inside a vehicle, as part of a normal day’s work (1). 

The Risks 

It’s not just during transportation that we must keep our dogs safe, but at all times when inside a vehicle. This can be difficult, as the cabin temperature of a car can reach up to 60°C, which can be detrimental to a dog’s health if they are exposed for too long (2). As internal temperatures increase, dogs can be susceptible to heatstroke, hyperthermia, dehydration and in extreme cases, even death. This was seen in 2009 when two police dogs; an adult and a young German Shepherd died after being left inside a work vehicle on one of the hottest days of the year. Alarmingly, other calls during the same heatwave recorded dogs dying in just 20 minutes, as temperatures exceeded 40°C (3). 

“The cabin temperature of a car can reach up to 60°C, which can be detrimental to a dog’s health if they are exposed for too long.”

Areas of Good Practice 

Lots of dog owners are very careful when it comes to looking after their pet’s health- especially those who regularly utilise their vehicle for shows, work or competitions. These owners will try to manage risks by ensuring their pets are inside their vehicle for minimal amounts of time and will utilise specialised equipment such as sunshades, ventilated transport crates and fans to keep their dogs cool while inside the vehicle. 

In our experience, event organisers and staff will often prioritise the welfare of animals at their shows by providing free access to fresh water and shaded areas for dogs. They are also vigilant in identifying any animals who may be in distress in vehicles and will notify the owners as quickly as they can.  

Vehicle Safety 

Here are some top tips for keeping your dog safe when they are inside a vehicle: 

1. Only take your dog in the car if absolutely necessary.  

2. Be prepared: Pack a pet travel kit that includes food, water, bowls, a lead, poo bags, medication, pet first-aid kit, toys and any relevant travel documents. 

3. Time to digest: make sure to feed your dog in plenty of time before you travel. 

4. Make sure your dog is suitably restrained when the vehicle is in motion. Providing a secure, comfortable, well-ventilated crate can be highly beneficial (4). 

5. Try to avoid leaving your dog unsupervised in a vehicle if possible. 

6. Make sure your dog has constant access to fresh, clean water (travel bottles and bowls are available). 

The Kennel club suggest that is you do see a dog in distress in a car, evaluate the urgency of the situation and if you are concerned then phone 999 immediately and ask for the police. If the dog is not yet distressed then stay with the car and notify the supermarket or shop (if applicable) and pass on details of the car’s make, colour, registration and location so they may notify the owner (5). If you are concerned about a dog’s health then please seek veterinary assistance immediately. 

References

1. Skånberg, L., Gauffin, O., Norling, Y., Lindsjö, J., Keeling, L.J . (2018). Cage size affects comfort, safety and the experienced security of working dogs in cars. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Vol. 205, pp.132-140. 

2. Kolhe, M., Adhikari, S. and Muneer, T. (2019). Parked electric cars cabin heat management using photovoltaic powered ventilation system. Applied Energy, Vol. 233-234, pp.403-411. 

3. Sturcke, J. (2019). RSPCA to prosecute Officer who left police dogs to die in hot car. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/jul/21/police-dogs-heatwave-died-prosecute [Accessed 23/04/20]. 

4. The Highway Code (2019). Other animals (56 to 58). [online] The Highway Code. Available at: https://www.highwaycodeuk.co.uk/rules-about-animals-other-animals.html [Accessed 24/04/2020]. 

5. The Kennel Club (no date). Dogs die in hot cars. [online] The Kennel Club. Available at: https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/our-resources/kennel-club-campaigns/dogs-die-in-hot-cars/

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