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Here’s How Quickly Hot Cars Can Become Deadly for Dogs

On a hot day, the temperature inside a vehicle can quickly rise to dangerous levels for pets left inside — even for ‘just a minute.’

Design by Ruth Basagoitia

Anyone who’s seen the wildly popular YouTube video of veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward sitting in a car on a 95-degree day knows how quickly the inside of a vehicle can become dangerously hot.

After just 30 minutes the temperature inside the car reached 117°F (47°C).

And this wasn’t the Arizona desert. It was partially shaded coastal North Carolina, with all four windows cracked.

Veterinarians have been warning people for years about the dangers of leaving pets in a hot car, but this video struck a chord with many people. It’s been viewed millions of times online.

Ward thinks one reason the video was so popular is that it captures what an animal might feel while trapped in a car on a hot day.

“If you leave a child or a dog in a car, they can’t open the door, or let down the windows, or turn on the air conditioner. They’re just left there,” Ward says. “And that must be the most horrible feeling in the world.”

Temperatures can quickly spike in cars on hot days

Ward did his experiment on a 90°F day. But even cooler days can be dangerous for pets locked inside vehicles.

A chart on the American Veterinary Medical Association’s website shows that on a 70°F day, the inside of a vehicle can reach almost 100°F in 20 minutes.

In addition to the general temperature inside cars, a recent study published in the journal Temperature showed that surfaces inside a vehicle can become even hotter.

Researchers found that when vehicles were parked in the sun for an hour on a 100°F day, the dashboards reached 157°F on average, steering wheels 127°F, and seats 123°F.

It wasn’t much cooler for vehicles parked in the shade either. Dashboard temperatures averaged 118°F after an hour, steering wheels 107°F, and seats 105°F.

Researchers chose an hour because that’s about the time it takes to get groceries.

But even shorter trips can be a recipe for disaster.

Ward says people who leave their pets in a vehicle while running errands often rationalize it with: “I’m just going to go in for a minute.”

But with the rapid temperature rise inside a car on a hot day, each minute is a race against the clock for your pet.

“It seems like you’re just going to run into the store and be out in 5 minutes,” says Ward. “But it’s never that simple or quick — 5 minutes turns into 15, and 15 could be the difference between life and death.”

Ward hopes people who have seen the video keep in mind the image of him sweltering in a car before they take their pet with them on a hot day.

He says the popularity of the video has also “emboldened many municipalities and even states to take action and enact protections for children and pets left in hot cars.”

The Animal Legal & Historical Center at Michigan State University reports that approximately 28 states have laws on the books pertaining to animals…


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