I just recently lost a patient to heat stroke. She was not the first one, but after helplessly witnessing one of the most horrible and agonizing deaths I have ever seen I feel compelled to do what I can to keep this from happening to anyone else.
This lovely puppy had recently been adopted. Her owners were so enamored with her that they did not want to go anywhere without her. (and possibly they were worried about getting caught with a dog in the apartment when they were not allowed to have one) Whatever the reason, I am fairly certain that they did not set out with the intention to cause the death of their pet. When they would stop to eat lunch they said they tried to choose places where she could come too, and if not they would order their food to go so that she would not have to wait in the car for too long. When they came back from one lunch they may not have really noticed that the puppy seemed unusually sleepy. By the time she made it into the clinic she was already severely brain damaged and her gastrointestinal system was starting to disintegrate. She quickly progressed to hemorrhaging from her rectum, lapsing into a coma, and dying. There was nothing I could do, the damage had already been done and there is no treatment I know of to uncook a body. The owners had a hard time believing that such a short amount of time in the car could cause such catastrophe.
The problem hinges on two factors. The first is that a dog’s cooling mechanism is very inefficient. Dissipating all excess body heat through evaporation from the tongue doesn’t work for long in extreme conditions. A person, who has a much more effective cooling system with all over sweating, would be able to survive considerably longer than a dog in the same car. The second is that our perception of how long an errand takes is often not as accurate as we would like.
I used to think that it was my own personal superpower to have the ability to make the people in front of me in the checkout line have confusing and time consuming issues that bog down the process of getting out of the store. I once went to the grocery store for a bottle of steak sauce thinking it couldn’t possibly take more than fifteen minutes. The guy two places in front of me in line had a coupon for 40 cents off his chicken and he was as determined to get his forty cents off as the clerk was to not honor the coupon. As they battled I looked around to see if I could abandon this line for a shorter wait , but everyone else had realized that mine was not the line to be in and had instead chosen to wait in much longer lines at every other register. Finally the chicken man got his satisfaction and we moved ahead one notch, where the lady in front of me had unfortunately chosen an item with no price tag, no UPC symbol, and that apparently nobody had ever seen or heard of before. This triggered a very involved store-wide search for the mystery product in order to be able to check her out. My steak sauce purchase went remarkably smoothly, but by the time I walked out the door one hour and fifteen minutes had elapsed. If my dog had been waiting in the car for me he would have died.
I know how dogs love to go for rides and how people hate to deprive their pets of the things they love. I also know that some dogs will eat the couch if left at home unattended, so taking the dog with you may seem like a good solution to a very real problem. However, the next time you think about bringing your dog along in the car to some place where he will have to wait in the heat while you conduct your business you may want to save yourself the effort of loading him up and worrying that he will damage the inside of your car while waiting in boredom. Just set your oven for 200 degrees and place your dog in there while you are gone. If your are one of those thoughtful people who crack the window to allow some air circulation when the dog is in the parking lot you can just crack the door of the oven and get the same amount of relief. (That should provide at least two or three more minutes before the temperature proves fatal.) You can rest assured that your dog will be safe in the oven for the same amount of time he would be safe waiting in your car.