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Dangerous Consequences to Leaving Children, Pets in Hot Cars

Even leaving a child or pet alone in a hot car for a few minutes can result in serious injury or death.

We’ve all climbed into our cars on extremely hot days when temperatures hit the triple digits and complained that it feels like being in an oven. 

What many don't realize is that temperatures in cars can reach almost 200 degrees on hot days, meaning they are actually hot enough to cook certain foods, Christine Delise, a public affairs spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, says.

Delise says it’s important to get the word out that cars can become very dangerous in the heat and remind people that they should never leave a child or a pet unattended in a vehicle. 

“It’s enough of a safety concern that many safety advocates and officials have put together campaigns and are working on getting the word out,” she said.

Heat stroke, which can result from being left in a hot car for even a small amount of time, is the leading cause of non-crash vehicle deaths for children under 14, and in 2011, at least 33 children lost their lives as a result, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

This issue affects more than just children, however. Rebecca Myers, a technician at Beltsville Veterinary Hospital, says the heat can have very serious effects on animals.

“Last year we had a case where a pug was left outside for a long time when the temperature was about the same as it is now and he had horrible respiratory issues and heat exhaustion,” Myers said.

If this does happen to your pet, Myers cautions against taking measures into your own hands to cool your pet down. 

“People like to cool them off in cold water, but if you do it too fast, the animal can get brain damage from the extreme change in temperature,” she says. “When the owners brought in the pug he could barely move and had been put in cold water too fast, so we had to put him down.” 

Myers said that if possible, you should never bring your pet with you in the car if you know you will need to leave him or her there for even a short amount of time. 

“There can be lasting effects if animals are left in the car for just 10 minutes, and they could die if left longer than even 30 minutes,” she says.

Even taking pets for a long walk outside can be dangerous in the heat, so Penny Jones-Napier, the co-owner of Takoma Park’s pet store Big Bad Woof, says it’s a good idea to invest in a cooling coat. The coats hold water in and help keep pets cool in cases of extreme heat.

When going on vacation or traveling long distances with your pet, it’s important to remember not to leave an animal in the car while you take a bathroom or lunch break, according to a recent post on the store’s blog, Wooftales

The post cautions that leaving the windows down doesn’t help, and the car can still quickly and easily become a dangerous place for your pet.

If you see a child or pet in an unattended vehicle and cannot locate the car’s owner, Delise says you should call 911 immediately. 

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