Leaving your pets exposed to extreme heat can lead to health damage, criminal charges

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(Photo: Courtesy MGN)

(WFXR) — With the temperatures around southwest and central Virginia in the 90s this week, pet parents need to remember that as hot as it feels outside for you, it feels even hotter for your pets.

Not only could leaving your pet exposed to extreme heat — whether that means inside a hot car or outside without adequate shelter and water — endanger the pet’s health, but it could also lead to criminal charges against you.

“The extreme heat that Virginia can experience during the summer months can pose a real threat to health and safety, especially for animals or young children left in cars or outside without adequate shelter,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “…I am encouraging all Virginians to take care of yourselves, check on your friends and family, and don’t forget to take care of your animals and make sure they are not left exposed to the elements.”

Herring and his first-in-the-nation Animal Law Unit advise animal control officers to ask owners to bring animals inside or into shelter, ask the owner to surrender the animal if they are unable to provide adequate shelter, or take temporary custody of an animal under certain circumstances to ensure its safety.

Officials say leaving an animal trapped in a car or exposed to the elements with no shelter or with inadequate shelter can be considered animal cruelty in Virginia, which is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

Meanwhile, according to the Danville Area Humane Society, Virginia Code (3.2-6503) requires that, “Each owner shall provide for each of his companion animals” (including dogs, outside cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, etc.):

  • “Adequate feed”
  • “Adequate water”
    • The water must be clean, fresh, and of a drinkable temperature, as well as provided in a suitable manner, in sufficient volume, and at suitable intervals
  • “Adequate shelter that is properly cleaned”
    • The shelter needs to be properly shaded; not readily conduct heat; stay clean and dry; and protect each animal from injury, rain, direct sunlight, and the adverse effects of heat
  • “Adequate space in the primary enclosure for the particular type of animal depending upon its age, size, species, and weight”
  • “Adequate exercise”
  • “Adequate care, treatment, and transportation”
    • As of July 1, 2020, companion animals are not allowed to be tethered if the outside temperature is higher than 85 degrees, but an animal control officer can exempt the owner from the tethering prohibition if the officer feels the animal is safe from predators and able to tolerate the tethering
  • “Veterinary care when needed to prevent suffering or disease transmission”

Since pets cannot sweat like humans, they can only cool down through panting, according to the Humane Society of the United States. However, exposure to high temperatures can reportedly cause irreparable organ damage and even death in pets.

Here are a few statistics from the ASPCA about hot cars:

  • Even if it’s only 70 degrees outside, the inside of your car may be up to 20 degrees hotter.
  • On an 85 degree day, it only takes 10 minutes for the inside of your car to reach 102 degrees and 30 minutes to reach 120 degrees.
  • A car may overheat even if the windows are cracked open by an inch or two.
  • Even if you park under a shady tree, keep in mind that the shade moves with the sun and does not offer much protection on a hot day.
  • Pets at the highest risk of overheating are young, elderly, or overweight; those with short muzzles, and those with thick or dark-colored coats.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provided an easy way to prevent hot car deaths for pets: “look before you lock.”

Drivers are encouraged to check the back seats of their vehicle before locking it and walking away. A helpful reminder may be to keep a stuffed animal or pet’s toy in the back seat when it’s empty, and move it to the front seat as a visual reminder when a child or pet is in the back seat.

Even if you’re not taking your pets out for a car ride, you should still be aware of how to protect them from the heat. Here are some tips from the ASPCA:

  • Pets can get dehydrated quickly, so give them plenty of fresh, clean water when it’s hot or humid outside.
    • According to the Roanoke Valley SPCA, adult dogs should be drinking about an ounce of water per pound of their body weight each day. However, this number will vary depending on the weather, activity levels, age, and other factors.
    • As for cats, check with your vet to see if offering ice or ice treats would be appropriate for your cat when the temperatures spike.
  • Make sure your pets have a shady place to get out of the sun, be careful not to over-exercise them, and keep them indoors when it’s extremely hot.
    • The Roanoke Valley SPCA says you can keep your cats cool by allowing your air conditioner and/or fans to run on hot days, keeping your blinds closed during the day to keep the house cool, or buying a cooling mat from the pet store.
  • Know the symptoms of overheating in pets, which include excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, stupor or even collapse. Symptoms can also include seizures, bloody diarrhea and vomit along with an elevated body temperature of over 104 degrees.
  • Animals with flat faces, like Pugs and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heat stroke since they cannot pant as effectively. These pets — along with the elderly, the overweight, and those with heart or lung diseases — should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible.
  • Do not leave pets unsupervised around a pool because not all dogs are good swimmers. Instead, introduce your pets to water gradually and make sure they wear flotation devices when on boats. Also, rinse your dog off after swimming to remove chlorine or salt from their fur, and try to keep your dog from drinking pool water, which contains chlorine and other chemicals.
  • Open unscreened windows pose a real danger to pets, who often fall out of them. Keep all unscreened windows or doors in your home closed, and make sure adjustable screens are tightly secured.
  • Feel free to trim longer hair on your dog, but never shave your dog since the layers of dogs’ coats protect them from overheating and sunburn. Meanwhile, brushing cats more often than usual can prevent problems caused by excessive heat. Also, be sure that any sunscreen or insect repellent product you use on your pets is labeled specifically for use on animals.
  • When the temperature is very high, don’t let your dog linger on hot asphalt, and keep walks both short and during the early morning or evening hours. Your pooch’s body can heat up quickly since they’re so close to the ground, and sensitive paw pads can burn.
    • The Roanoke County Fire and Rescue Department shared a picture reminding people to “hike pet smart,” showing how the ground temperature can be 50 degrees hotter than the air temperature.
    • If it’s too hot for you to hold the back of your hand on the ground for five seconds, think about how much that will hurt your dogs’ paws. After all, at 125 degrees, skin destruction can occur in just one minute, so protect your pets’ paws with booties.

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