Leaving pets in car is dangerous, even with AC, vets say after dog dies

Leaving pets in car is dangerous, even with AC, vets say after dog dies
World-Herald News Service

Following the death of a German shepherd in Omaha, veterinarians are reminding pet owners that parked cars, dogs and hot days can be a dangerous combination — even with the air conditioning left on.

The dog died Sunday after being left in an SUV for three hours in a restaurant parking lot. The owners of the dog told animal control officers that they had left their SUV running and the air conditioning on.

Omaha veterinarian Dr. Pete Bashara, along with a local veterinary technician and a veterinarian at Iowa State University, said a combination of factors possibly contributed to the dog’s death.

“You have this recipe for disaster,’’ said Bashara, of Gentle Doctor Animal Hospitals.

» Duration: It’s one thing to leave a dog in an air-conditioned vehicle for a few minutes on a hot day while you run into a store. But three hours is a long time to leave a dog unattended in a vehicle, even with the air conditioning running.

» Parked car: Vehicle air-conditioning systems don’t run as efficiently when the vehicle is stopped.

» Kennel: The dog had been placed in a plastic kennel in the far back of the SUV, next to the rear window. The kennel could have restricted the airflow, making it harder for the dog to keep cool. The kennel could have also kept the dog from following its instincts to get closer to the air-conditioning vents, get on the floor of the vehicle where the air would be cooler or move away from sunlight pouring through a window.

» Coat: German shepherds have a medium-to-thick coat, which would have made the dog hotter, compared with dogs that have thinner coats, such as a dachshund.

» Anxiety: A dog’s body temperature will rise if it becomes anxious. The dog could have become anxious because it missed its owners or because it was confined in the kennel for so long. It’s possible that the dog might have become frantic if it sensed it was becoming hotter and tried clawing at the opening of the kennel, which would have made its body temperature rise.

Dr. Bianca Zaffarano of the Iowa State University Veterinary Medical Center in Ames said the case is a sad reminder that dog owners must be careful with their animals when the weather turns hot, especially when taking them out in the car.

Kristi Hruska, clinic manager and veterinary technician at Ralston Vet, said finding restaurants and other businesses that allow dogs inside makes it easier when taking your dog with you for an outing. On hot days, Hruska said, it’s best to leave pets at home.

The couple with the German shepherd spent about three hours Sunday at DJ’s Dugout, 114th Street and West Dodge Road, said Evelyn Birkel, their server. The couple did not become inebriated, she said.

The temperature at about 3 p.m., when the couple returned to their car, was 87 degrees, and the heat index was about 90, according to the National Weather Service.

The couple, who live out of town, could not be reached for comment.

Mark Langan of the Nebraska Humane Society said the owners were not ticketed.

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