Animal experts and police are issuing a stern warning as the weather gets warmer: don’t leave your pets in vehicles, even with the windows open.
“Under no circumstance” should you take your pet in your car if you think you might have to leave it in there — even if only for five minutes, Markham, Ont., veterinarian Dr. Cliff Redford said Tuesday.
“I take a pretty hard line on this,” he said.
“Things happen. You only plan to be five minutes and then stuff happens and it turns into 15 and 20 (minutes) and that can get pretty tragic pretty fast.”
Redford’s words of caution come as Environment Canada issued heat warnings this week for many areas of Ontario and parts of southern Quebec. As temperatures soar, some local police departments say they’re already fielding some calls reporting pets left in hot vehicles.
A spokesperson for Halton Regional Police, which serves the City of Burlington and the town of Halton Hills, Milton and Oakville, said its dispatch centre received two calls on Monday for pets left in hot cars in Halton.
Other local police departments in the province said the calls haven’t started pouring in yet, but expect they will soon.
“With the heat it will only be a matter of time,” Sgt. Andy Pattenden of York Regional Police said in an email.
It’s a reminder that animal advocates and police and bylaw departments issue year after year: similar to a baby or a young child, don’t leave your pets in cars when it’s hot outside.
Shopping trips are one of the most common scenarios where this occurs, according to Bruce Roney, president and CEO of the Ottawa Humane Society, which formerly had the power to investigate cases of animal neglect and cruelty.
So why doesn’t the message stick, year and after year? Redford said he thinks problems arise when pet owners “treat their animals like a person” and forget they can’t sweat to stay cool. Often, it’s just “absent-mindedness,” he added.
“They honestly don’t think it’ll happen to them so they hear the stories on the news and they probably make fun of the person and say nasty things about them: ‘How dare they do that? I would never do that,'” Redford said.
“And then they realize: ‘Oh, shoot, I just did that because I got something at the store and I ended up going back in, forgetting that my dog was in the car.”
In 2018, Redford filmed himself sitting in a hot vehicle to demonstrate how animals locked in a vehicle can be affected by high temperatures, wearing a sweater to mimic a coat of fur.
Even though that day wasn’t “super hot” and the windows were rolled down, the temperature in the car hit over 50 C within 30 minutes, Redford said on Tuesday.
“It was intolerable,” he said. “If you cannot bring the dog with you when you leave the car, the dog does not come with you when you leave the house.
“Just keep your dog at home.”
During any given summer season, Redford said his Markham clinic usually fields a handful of heat exhaustion-related calls from clients and treat two to three dogs for heatstroke. Occasionally, some don’t recover, he added.
Asked whether he anticipates any change in pet owners’ behaviour this summer due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and people’s shift in behaviour due to public health restrictions, Redford was split.
People might be less inclined to bring their pet along for the ride if they know they might have to line up to get into a store and can’t make a quick stop. But pet owners still might bring along a companion to wait with them for a curbside pick-up or service during the warmer months.
“I don’t think they’re going to, unfortunately, put two and two together, that I believe we are going to see a problem like this every summer,” he said.
For his part, Roney expects the issue might worsen as people grow anxious to get out of the house after staying indoors for much of the past two months.
Tips for keeping your pets cool in hot temperatures
The best thing an owner can do on a hot day is to leave their pet at home, “in a cool spot with lots of water,” Roney said.
If you must take your pet with you in the car, make sure someone is always with them, said Const. Jenifferjit Sidhu, spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service.
If you are taking your dog for an outing or a long walk outdoors, remember they can’t sweat and need to be hydrated and cooled off, said Redford.
“One of the best ways to cool them off is to soak their fur, so you can take a bottle of water and literally soak (them) — especially their ears and their feet,” he said.
In addition, exercising in warm weather can cause a pet to overheat so be aware of and watch for signs of heatstroke, said Hannah Sotropa, public relations specialist with Toronto Humane Society.
Those include excessive panting, fatigue, glazed eyes or a dazed expression and vomiting. Those symptoms can be signs that your pet needs veterinary attention, she said.
“An immediate response to if your animal is overheating would include removing them from that heat and placing them in a cooler area,” Sotropa suggested.
Trying walking your pet earlier in the morning or later at night to avoid the hottest part of the day, she added, noting that asphalt can hurt their paws.
When it comes to dogs, pay extra attention to younger, older and heavier pets, dog breeds who have short noses and any pets with health issues, Sotropa said.
-With files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly and Jessica Patton