Pets and hot cars: a deadly combo

Leaving your furry friends in vehicles this time of year will have devastating consequences

The author is city of Chico’s animal services manager and founder of The Mustang Project.

Leaving your pet in a vehicle, even on a moderately warm day, can become life-threatening in a very short time.

According to a Stanford University study, on a day when the outside temperature is 72 degrees, the inside of a car can reach 117 degrees within 60 minutes, with the majority of the temperature rise occurring within the first 15 to 30 minutes.

Leaving the windows cracked, even as much as 8 inches, has little effect on the heating process and does not decrease the maximum temperature attained. Even an air-conditioned car will reach outside temperatures within five minutes of the air-conditioning being turned off. Then it will begin to heat up at a similar rate as a non-air-conditioned car.

Dogs and cats have sweat glands only on their nose and their feet, and rely on panting to cool off, but that works only if the air is considerably cooler than the animal’s body temperature. Irreversible brain and organ damage can happen after only 15 minutes. Older animals, very young animals, short-nosed breeds, and animals that are obese or have respiratory or cardiovascular problems are especially susceptible.

In California, it is a misdemeanor to leave an animal in an unattended motor vehicle under conditions that endanger their health or well-being, and the owner can face both fines and jail time.

If you see an animal in a vehicle, make a note of the make and model of the vehicle, license plate number and location of the vehicle. If the animal does not seem to be in distress, try to find the owner by going into surrounding businesses to have the owner paged. If the animal appears to be in distress and is showing signs of heat stress or heat stroke, it is an emergency and you should call Animal Control (897-4960) or the Chico Police Department (897-4911). Give them the vehicle information and, if possible, wait by the car to direct the officer. If you can, offer the animal water through an open window while waiting.