You likely know about the dangers of leaving your dog unattended in a hot car. But, what about when it’s cold outside? While you might think it’s safe to park your pet during the winter months, the potential for harm, while not as high as in the summer, is still substantial. Your dog may enjoy the winter weather and colder temperatures while on walks, but dangers still remain for dogs left unattended in cars in any weather.
Risk of Hypothermia
A car can act like a greenhouse in the summer, becoming much hotter than the environment outside. Likewise, in winter, cars without heaters running become rolling refrigerators, conducting cold from the outside. Cars have little to no insulation against outside conditions. So while your vehicle may shelter your dog from the wind and elements, it does not protect from frigid or freezing temperatures. And it’s dangerous to assume that your dog’s fur will be enough to protect it from extreme cold.
Left alone in a cold car for too long, dogs can develop hypothermia, a dangerous condition that occurs when the core body temperature drops too low. For dogs, mild hypothermia begins to set in when their temperature drops below 99 degrees Fahrenheit. Frostbite can become an issue at extreme low temperatures. If left untreated, hypothermia can also result in cardiac and respiratory failure, brain damage, coma, and even death.
Signs of Hypothermia in Dogs
Shivering and curling up for warmth are some of the first signs of mild hypothermia in dogs. Other signs to watch for, according to the USAR Veterinary Group, include the following:
- Increased heart rate, followed by a slow heart rate
- Rapid breathing, followed by progressively slower and shallower breath
- Sluggishness and delayed reflexes
- Dilated pupils
- Loss of consciousness
Dogs At Risk In Cold Cars
While it can be dangerous for any breed of dog to be left too long in extremely cold temperatures, some dogs tolerate the cold weather better than others. Northern breeds with thick coats, such as Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, or Saint Bernards are bred to withstand colder climates and harsher conditions. But single-coated and short-haired breeds have a much lower tolerance for cold temperatures.
Puppies and senior dogs of any breed are also more susceptible to hypothermia, as are naturally thin breeds such as the Italian Greyhound. Small dogs and toy breeds are also less able to tolerate cold temperatures than larger breeds. Lastly, hairless breeds like the Xoloitzcuintli are especially ill-insulated against cold temperatures
How To Help
Ideally, if you’ll be stopping somewhere your dog isn’t allowed, leave your dog at home, or bring a human passenger who can stay with them and keep the heater running. If you must leave your dog alone in a parked car, keep your stop as short as possible, and dress your pooch for the occasion with a coat or sweater. Provide plenty of blankets for your pup to burrow into and trap their own body heat. If you notice shivering or other signs of hypothermia starting to set in, quickly cover your dog and turn on the heat to warm them up. For more serious signs, get them to a veterinarian immediately.
Mind The Law
Many states have laws against leaving your dog in a parked car, regardless of the season. There also exist statutes that protect anyone who breaks into your car to rescue an endangered dog. While not all states have laws that address leaving dogs in cars, some have prosecuted dog owners for parking their pets in dangerous conditions under animal cruelty laws. If your dog requires treatment for hypothermia after being left in a car, you could face criminal prosecution.
As much as your dog may love to ride in the car, you can’t take your pet everywhere you go. The risks of leaving dogs behind in a parked car are simply not worth it. Plan special outings for your car-loving dog that don’t involve stopping places where pets aren’t allowed, and save other errands for when your pup’s not with you.
Your dog will rely on you to keep him in good health. A proper diet, regular exercise and grooming, and routine check-ups at the veterinarian will help keep your dog in top form. It’s also important for you to get to know your dog’s habits — eating, drinking, sleeping, and so forth — since sometimes a variation in those habits can be an indication that he isn’t feeling well.
Ask your veterinarian for advice on healthcare and prevention and be sure to seek medical advice if you think your dog is ill or hurt. The AKC Pet Healthcare Plan can help with the cost of providing quality healthcare throughout your dog’s life.
Signs of Good Health
Healthy skin is flexible and smooth, without scabs, growths, white flakes, or red areas. It ranges in color from pale pink to brown or black depending on the breed. Spotted skin is normal, whether the dog has a spotted or solid coat. Check your dog for fleas, ticks, lice, or other external parasites. To do this, blow gently on your dog’s stomach or brush hair backward in a few places to see if any small specks scurry away or if ticks are clinging to the skin. Black “dirt” on your dog’s skin or bedding may be a sign of flea droppings.
A healthy coat, whether short or long, is glossy and pliable, without dandruff, bald spots, or excessive oiliness.
Healthy eyes are bright and shiny. Mucus and watery tears are normal but should be minimal and clear. The pink lining of the eyelids should not be inflamed, swollen, or have a yellow discharge. Sometimes you can see your dog’s third eyelid, a light membrane, at the inside corner of an eye. It may slowly come up to cover his eye as he goes to sleep. The whites of your dog’s eyes should not be yellowish. Eyelashes should not rub the eyeball.
The skin inside your dog’s ears should be light pink and clean. There should be some yellow or brownish wax, but a large amount of wax or crust is abnormal. There should be no redness or swelling inside the ear, and your dog shouldn’t scratch his ears or shake his head frequently. Dogs with long ears that hang down may need extra attention to keep the ears dry and clean inside and out.
A dog’s nose is usually cool and moist. It can be black, pink, or self-colored (the same color as the coat), depending on the breed. Nasal discharge should be clear, never yellowish, thick, bubbly, or foul smelling. A cool, wet nose does not necessarily mean the dog is healthy, and a dry, warm nose doesn’t necessarily mean he’s sick. Taking his temperature is a better indication of illness.
Mouth, Teeth and Gums
Healthy gums are firm and pink, black, or spotted, just like the dog’s skin. Young dogs have smooth white teeth that tend to darken with age. Puppies have 23 baby teeth and adults have around 42 permanent teeth, depending on the breed. As adult teeth come in, they push baby teeth out of the mouth.
To check your dog’s mouth, talk to him gently, then put your hand over the muzzle and lift up the sides of his mouth. Check that adult teeth are coming in as they should, and not being crowded by baby teeth. Make sure the gums are healthy and the breath is not foul-smelling. Look for soft white matter or hard white, yellow, or brown matter. This is plaque or tartar and should be brushed away.
Mouth infections can lead to serious problems in the gums and other parts of the body, including the heart, so it’s important to give your dog’s teeth and mouth special attention.
A dog’s normal temperature is 101 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 to 39.2 degrees Celcius). To take your dog’s temperature, you’ll need a rectal thermometer. Put some petroleum jelly on the bulb of the thermometer. Ask someone to hold your dog’s head while you lift his tail and insert the thermometer about an inch or so into the rectum. Do not let go of the thermometer. Hold it in until the temperature is read (about 3 minutes for a mercury thermometer), and then remove gently.
Heartbeat and Pulse
Because dogs come in a wide range of sizes, their heartbeats vary. A normal heart beats from 50 to 130 times a minute in a resting dog. Puppies and small dogs have faster speeds, and large dogs in top condition have slower heartbeats. To check your dog’s heartbeat, place your fingers over the left side of the chest, where you can feel the strongest beat. To check the pulse, which is the same speed as the heartbeat, press gently on the inside of the top of the hind leg. There is an artery there and the skin is thin, so it’s easy to feel the pulse.
Urine is a good indicator of a dog’s health, and should be clear yellow. Most adult dogs have one or two bowel movements a day. Stools should be brown and firm. Runny, watery, or bloody stools, straining, or too much or too little urination warrant a call to the veterinarian.
A healthy dog’s weight is the result of the balance between diet and exercise. If he is getting enough nutritious food and exercise but still seems over- or underweight, he may have a health problem. Don’t let your dog get fat by giving him too many between-meal snacks; obese dogs often develop serious health problems. The best way to tell if your dog is overweight is to feel his rib-cage area. You should be able to feel the ribs below the surface of the skin without much padding.
Regular vaccinations from your veterinarian can keep your dog from getting serious and sometimes fatal illnesses such as distemper, parvovirus, hepatitis, leptospirosis, coronavirus, and rabies. A vaccination is also available for kennel cough, a respiratory problem that affects young dogs or dogs exposed to many other dogs.
A puppy’s first vaccines ideally should be given at five or six weeks of age and continue over a period of several weeks, up to sixteen weeks. Afterward, regular booster shots provide the protection your dog will need. Be sure to stick to the schedule your veterinarian gives you to ensure immunity.
When to Call the Vet
You should alert your veterinarian if your dog exhibits any unusual behavior, including the following symptoms:
- Vomiting, diarrhea, or excessive urination for more than twelve hours.
- Loss of balance, staggering, falling.
- Constipation or straining to urinate.
- Runny eyes or nose.
- Persistent scratching at eyes or ears.
- Thick discharge from eyes, ears, nose, or sores.
- Coughing or sneezing.
- Difficulty breathing, prolonged panting.
- Whining for no apparent reason.
- Loss of appetite for 24 hours or more.
- Weight loss.
- Dramatic increase in appetite for 24 hours or more.
- Increased restlessness.
- Excessive sleeping or unusual lack of activity.
- Limping, holding, or protecting part of the body.
- Excessive drinking of water.
- When the dogs gums are white.